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Syria Drops Bid for Human Rights Council

Samara Greenberg

Under pressure amidst its brutal crack-down on demonstrators, Syria has reportedly dropped plans to run for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and allowed Kuwait to replace it as a candidate. “It is not really the time for Syria to become a member of the council of human rights,” French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said on Monday in what could be considered the understatement of the year.

With the Asad family or anything like it in power, it’s hard to imagine there will be a time for Syria to join the international council that monitors member states’ compliance with human rights norms. But a history of rights violations has never prevented the UN’s 192 member nations from voting states into the Human Rights Council. Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and China all currently hold seats on the council. Libya was elected to the council in May 2010, but was suspended two months ago for its gross human rights violations during the latest uprising.

Boys hold a banner during a demonstration in Syria.

While almost any country is better than Syria at this point, Kuwait is no personal freedom-loving state. “The Asian states at the UN never should have endorsed the brutal Syrian regime in the first place,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch. “And now it would be squandering a golden opportunity if Asia’s replacement for Syria will be yet another Middle East regime that fails to meet the election criteria, which require a genuine record of promoting and protecting human rights.” Indeed, the State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report notes that Kuwaitis are subject to “limited freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion” and women do “not enjoy equal rights.” And according to Human Rights Watch, Kuwaitis in 2010 saw a tightening of “restrictions on public gatherings” and “violent methods of enforcement.”

Moreover, the news that Syria’s submission at this time to Kuwait comes with “the prospect of swapping Syria’s rights seat for another UN-based post in the future,” is concerning. It is reminicent of last year’s event in which the UN elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women days after Tehran abandoned its bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council. Backing down from a seat that a country doesn’t deserve in the first place does not require a reward.

Neither Syria nor Kuwait are fit to serve on an international body charged with monitoring countries’ compliance with human rights. The inclusion of either one would – yet again – make a mockery of the Human Rights Council. As this blog previously noted, it’s time for U.S. funding of the UN, which reached over $6 billion in fiscal year 2009, to be contingent upon the international organization’s behavior.