U.S. condemns Syrian membership on U.N. human rights committee as it meets in Paris

GENEVA, April 10 – UN Watch welcomed U.S. condemnation today of Syria’s membership on a 30-country United Nations human rights committee that is meeting in Paris this week, part of a two-week UNESCO Executive Board session that opened today.

UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights NGO, heads a global campaign of more than 50 parliamentarians,human rights and religious groups that has repeatedly called for Syria’s expulsion and urged action by US, the EU and the UN.

“Having the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad 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.”

Syria is an elected member of the UNESCO executive board, and in 2011 was also elected — after the Assad regime’s massacre of its citizens already began — to two of its human rights committees: the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, which rules on individual human rights complaints against governments, and meets today and tomorrow; and the 23-member Committee on Non-governmental Partners, which oversees the work of human rights groups, and meets tomorrow.

David Killion, U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO, in response today to a question by UN Watch, said that “the Syrian regime’s actions are an affront to the dignity and human rights of the Syrian people, and it is not fit to sit on this body.”

Ambassador Killion reaffirmed the U.S. government’s strong objection to Syria’s participation in the UNESCO Committee on Conventions and Recommendations stating, “It is indefensible for the Syrian regime to be allowed to stand as a judge of other countries’ human rights records while it systematically violates the human rights of its citizens, commits acts of sexual violence against women and children, and murders its own people.

UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer saluted the U.S. for speaking out, and urged France, Germany, the UK, and the EU to similarly condemn Syria’s “obscene” membership on the committee, and to take concrete action to remove it. Neuer also called on UN chief Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO director Irina Bokova “to use their moral voice to spur action.”

“Now that both the OIC and the Arab League have removed Assad’s regime from their organizations, there is simply no longer any excuse — morally or politically — for UNESCO to insist on keeping Assad’s regime on a human rights committee that is charged with helping victims worldwide. It’s time for UNESCO to stop legitimizing a government that mercilessly murders its own people,” said Neuer.

Ambassador Killion also told UN Watch that “The Assad regime has repeatedly acted to silence the voice of the Syrian people and to repress independent media attempting to report on its misdeeds. The regime’s brutality has sparked a humanitarian crisis, causing innocent suffering and senseless tragedy. This is a regime willing to exact collective punishment on innocent communities, import fighters from Iran and Hizbollah to help carry out its evil deeds, and destroy the country and its heritage for the sake of its own survival.”

After UNESCO elected Syria to its human rights committee in November 2011, UN Watch launched a campaign to reverse the decision, prompting the US and Britain to initiate a March 2012 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.

Last year UN Watch 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 the Arab League recently removed Assad’s regime, we must take advantage of the new political momentum. It’s time for Britain to uphold its 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.”

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