NEW YORK - The United States is facing new criticism at the United Nations from officials who accuse the Bush administration of undermining an effort to define housing as a "human right."
Miloon Kothari, the U.N. rapporteur on housing issues, fired the opening salvo at the beginning of a three-day housing conference this week, accusing the United States of watering down a draft declaration that initially defined housing as a legal entitlement.
"Through negotiation, it was taken out," Mr. Kothari said. "It is not an innocent omission.
"The United States in particular has been opposed to any mention to the right to adequate housing."
Michael Southwick, a State Department human rights official, yesterday dismissed the criticism as "sloganeering."
"We don't like the sloganeering aspect of this rights debate, which everyone knows is very big in the U.N. system right now," said Mr. Southwick.
"There's the right to housing, the right to food, there's a right to everything, sometimes, that you can think of," he said. "It tends to become an entitlement and a legally enforceable kind of thing."
Instead, Mr. Southwick said, "an economy, good government, the rule of law, democracy - those are the kinds of things that create housing."
The Bush administration prefers the language that is now part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which calls housing "a component to an adequate standard of living."
The dispute within the housing conference reflects a pervasive anger at the United States that has marked the first four months of the Bush administration.
Many, if not most, members of the world body are upset over the United States' unpaid U.N. dues, its rejection of a treaty on global warming, and President Bush's effort to develop a missile-defense system.
The United Nations recently voted to kick the United States off the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission, where it was a frequent defender of Israel and critic of China.
It also ousted the United States from the International Narcotics Control Board.
In Washington, many members of Congress are equally angry at the United Nations, which is widely viewed by conservatives as a forum to bash the United States.
Congress recently voted not to pay some dues to the United Nations next year unless the United States gets back its seat on the Human Rights Commission. …