Jewish World Review July 3, 2003 / 3 Tamuz, 5763

Ryan T. Balis

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U.S. must wrest control of its major landmarks from contemptuous U.N. officials | On this Fourth of July among all others, it's disturbing to contemplate that we've handed the U.N. jurisdiction over such national landmarks as the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall and Yellowstone National Park.

National symbols have an unmistakable allure - especially at a time when the United States remains under siege by terroristic thugs. Our flag flying over these shrines of common heritage reminds us of the liberty, equality, strength and justice that define America at its best.

Since 1972, the United Nations - with the approval of various U.S. presidents - has placed 20 cultural and natural landmarks in the United States and 730 worldwide on its list of "World Heritage Areas" sites to be protected and monitored by the United Nations. Other American treasures so designated include Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon.

The U.N.'s World Heritage program is run from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris. It designates natural or cultural sites that are considered to be of "outstanding universal value" and places them under the protection of the 1972 World Heritage Treaty, which the United States has ratified.

Unfortunately, the program poses a threat to our national sovereignty. A World Heritage Area designation can be used by another nation operating in bad faith to interfere with our self-government on both the local and federal level.

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France, Germany or Belgium - all major mischief-makers during our recent overthrow of Saddam Hussein - readily come to mind. Any of those nations, for instance, could use the World Heritage Areas designation to ask the United Nations to ban or restrict traffic in Manhattan and parts of northern New Jersey by contending that air pollution generated by motor vehicles was damaging the Statue of Liberty.

If that sounds far-fetched, it's not. Belgium already has moved to try U.S. high-ranking military officers as war criminals for their role in liberating Iraq.

The chances of similar scenarios - or worse - occurring are chillingly realistic because the United States has essentially ceded a degree of authority over many of its most treasured landmarks to the United Nations.

In 1995, the Clinton administration appeased German officials along with a coalition of radical environmentalists who complained diggings at a nearby mine - already ruled environmentally safe by our EPA - posed a threat to Yellowstone National Park.

The United Nations quickly listed Yellowstone as a "World Heritage Site in Danger." The designation forced the United States to close the mine and run its private owner off its land. Jobs were lost, the local economy took a nosedive and the feelings of local residents were completely ignored.

Although the United Nations claims the right to bypass national sovereignty to preserve irreplaceable world treasures, its record at actually accomplishing those goals is dismal.

In 2001, over United Nations objections, the Taliban destroyed two of Afghanistan's monumental Buddhas - imposing figures carved from desert rock that dated back at least 1,500 years.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the Taliban to spare the Buddhas, but he failed to schedule a meeting on the matter until two weeks after the relics were destroyed.

Preserving important places for future generations is important, but giving the United Nations control or even influence over our most previous treasurers invites trouble. The idea that U.N. officials - many of whom spew their contempt of America on a daily basis - over America's most loved buildings, parks and monuments is alarming.

The House of Representatives tried to do something about this sorry state in 1999 by passing the American Land Sovereignty Protection Act - legislation that would require congressional approval before any more U.S. properties are designated as U.N. World Heritage Areas. Inexplicably, the Senate did not even vote on the bill.

Now more than ever, it's time to revive that legislation. With a flourishing preservation movement in this country, Americans need no help from international busybodies in safeguarding their heritage.

If America is to restore the full measure of liberty that we celebrate anew this Independence Day, it must have sole ownership and control of these sacred sites.

Ryan Balis is a research associate at The National Center for Public Policy Research. Comment by clicking here.


© 2003,National Center for Public Policy Research Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services