Sauerbrey nomination criticized

Head of aid group says pick suggests weakening of U.S. stance on refugees

September 02, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The head of a humanitarian group said yesterday that President Bush's plan to nominate Ellen R. Sauerbrey to a major State Department post suggests "a weakening of the administration's commitment" to refugee protection.

Kenneth H. Bacon, president of Refugees International, pointed out that Sauerbrey, a two-time Republican nominee for Maryland governor who has worked on international women's issues in the Bush administration, has no experience with refugees or coordinating responses to humanitarian emergencies.

The White House announced Wednesday that Bush would nominate Sauerbrey, 67, to the post of assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. Sauerbrey, who served for 16 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, has been the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women since January 2003.

She could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Earlier this year, Sauerbrey sparked controversy at the United Nations when she pushed for an amendment to a 1995 women's rights declaration that would have specified that achieving equality of the sexes did not include a right to abortion. That portion of the amendment was eventually dropped after protests from other nations and groups.

Bacon said Sauerbrey's opposition to abortion rights seems to be what prompted the Bush administration to select her for the job.

Bacon acknowledged that Sauerbrey has been a strong advocate for women in several areas, including education and economic and political empowerment. But he said that before her Senate confirmation vote, lawmakers have an obligation to find out whether she is up to the task of handling the administration's refugee and humanitarian policies.

"My main concern here is that she doesn't seem to have the type of experience that would allow her to hit the ground running in this job, when we're dealing with some major issues," he said.

Bacon said Sauerbrey's lack of experience is likely to raise questions from other groups that deal with refugee issues and that her statements on abortion may also generate controversy.

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