Rights group: “Syria’s membership is a lingering stainupon the reputation of the U.N. as a whole”
GENEVA, Aug. 16 – Yesterday’s suspension of Syria from the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation creates a new window of opportunity for a top U.N. human rights committee to cancel its “shameful” November election of the Bashar al-Assad regime, said UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights organization which heads a campaign of 55 parliamentarians, human rights and religious groups calling for Syria’s expulsion.
“Now that both the OIC and the Arab League have suspended Syria, there is no longer any excuse — neither morally or politically — for UNESCO to insist on keeping Bashar al-Assad’s regime on its human rights committee, which is mandated to help victims worldwide. It’s time for UNESCO to stop legitimizing a government that mercilessly murders its own people,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.
“Having Syria as a global judge of human rights is like appointing a pyromaniac to be a firefighter,” said Neuer. “UNESCO is allowing the Assad regime to strut in Paris as a U.N. human rights arbiter — it’s immoral, indefensible and an insult to Syria’s victims.”
After UNESCO elected Syria to its human rights committee in November, UN Watch launched a campaign to reverse the decision, prompting the US and Britain to initiate a March debate at UNESCO.
However, while a resolution was adopted censuring Syria’s violations — a welcome first for UNESCO — the promised call to oust the regime from UNESCO’s human rights panel was excised. U.S. ambassador David Killion urged UNESCO to revisit the decision. The watered-down text included language suggesting UNESCO chief Irina Bokova could raise the issue again. (See links at bottom.)
Earlier this year, UN Watch had received notice from the British Foreign Office that it would seek to cancel Syria’s “abhorrent” membership. In an email to UN Watch, the UK said it “deplores the continuing membership of Syria on this committee and does not believe that Syria’s presence is conducive to the work of the body or UNESCO’s reputation. We have therefore joined with other countries in putting forward an item for the first meeting of the Executive Board at which we will seek to explicitly address Syria’s membership of the body.”
The UK also expressed hope that other members of the executive board will join London in ending what it called “this abhorrent [and] anomalous situation.”
Paris insiders say that UNESCO diplomats from non-democratic regimes are afraid to create a precedent of ousting repressive governments.
“However, now that both the OIC and the Arab League have suspended Syria, we must take advantage of the new political momentum. It’s time for the U.S. and Britain to uphold their pledge and demand Syria’s expulsion,” said Neuer.
“The Assad regime’s ongoing membership calls into question the credibility of UNESCO’s mission to promote human rights, and Syria’s membership is a lingering stain upon the reputation of the UN as a whole. By maintaining Assad in a position of global influence on human rights, UNESCO is sending absolutely the wrong message. It an unconscionable insult to the suffering people of Syria.”
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Timeline: The UN Watch Campaign to Expel Syria from UNESCO
Nov. 11 - By a consensus decision, UNESCO’s 58-member executive board, including major democracies, elects Syria to two human rights committees, ratifying the Arab group’s nomination.
Nov. 23 - UN Watch launches campaign urging democracies to reverse Syria’s election after story is first reported in the U.S. by FoxNews.com. UN Watch obtains a renunciation by UNESCO director Irina Bokova of of the Assad regime’s election. UN Watch’s protest is reported by CNN’s Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Fox News, and the Tribune de Genève.
Dec. 2 - In testimony before the UN Human Rights Council plenary, UN Watch formally calls on UNESCO to “cancel its recent decision to elect Syria to two separate committees that deal with human rights. Even the head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, concedes that this is wrong. Her spokesperson told UN Watch: ‘Given the developments in Syria, the director-general does not see how this country can contribute to the work of the committees.’ ” UN Watch submits the UNHRC condemnation of Syria to UNESCO, requesting Syria be expelled forthwith.
Dec. 15 - UN Watch launches campaign of of 55 parliamentarians, human rights groups and religious groups calling on UNESCO to reverse the election of Syria, and sends appeal to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and UK Foreign Minister William Hague.
Jan. 6 - UN Watch receives notice from the British Foreign Office that it will seek to cancel Syria’s “abhorrent” membership. In an email to UN Watch, the UK said it “deplores the continuing membership of Syria on this committee and does not believe that Syria’s presence is conducive to the work of the body or UNESCO’s reputation. We have therefore joined with other countries in putting forward an item for the first meeting of the Executive Board at which we will seek to explicitly address Syria’s membership of the body.” The UK also expressed hope that other members of the executive board will join London in ending what it called “this abhorrent [and] anomalous situation.” Al Arabiya, Fox News and the Jerusalem Post report the story.
Jan. 25 - UN Watch reveals an exclusive copy of the motion, memo and member states seeking to condemn and expel Syria. The story is reported by the New York Times, AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg News, and covered in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Le Figaro, and many other newspapers.
March 8 – Despite vigorous efforts led by the U.S. and Britain, UNESCO’s board votes 35-8 to reject move to expel Syria, but under pressure agrees for the first time to censure the Assad regime. Click for resolution. The text “Invite[d] the Director General to report on the implementation of the present decision and on the consequences of the current situation concerning UNESCO’s activities and tasks,” which the U.S. appeared to cite as evidence that the membership issue would be revisited.
March 8 – Statement by U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO, Ambassador David Killion:
“The United States is profoundly disappointed that this resolution does not call for the outright removal of Syria from the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations – something for which we have repeatedly called for. We agree with Director-General Bokova that, given the actions of the Assad regime, it is not clear how Syria can contribute to the work of the committee. We hope that UNESCO will revisit Syria’s membership following the UNESCO’s Director General’s report on Syria…. We look forward to further action by this committee to address Syria’s membership on the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations.”