More than two dozen governments are backing an initiative to expel Syria from UNESCO’s human-rights committee, a move that would mark the first time the United Nation’s culture and education agency has taken such targeted steps to remove a member.
The U.S., the U.K., Japan, Italy, Chile, Kuwait and Qatar are among 26 countries supporting the initiative after Syria was elected in November to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization panel that judges human-rights complaints. Over half the countries signing on to the proposal are members of UNESCO’s 58-member executive board.
“We should not allow the Syrian regime to stand as a judge of other countries’ human-rights record while it systematically violates the human rights of its citizens, commits acts of sexual violence against women and children, and murders its own people,” David Killion, the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO, said in a statement. “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.”
More than 5,000 people have been killed since last March in Syria’s crackdown on unrest, according to the UN. Navi Pillay, the UN’s top human-rights official, has called for a probe into President Bashar al-Assad’s government for crimes against humanity and said “gross violations” by Assad’s security forces should be referred to the International Criminal Court.
“What is shocking is how UNESCO ever decided in the first place to legitimize the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- which is shooting its own people in cold blood -- by elevating it to a committee that judges human-rights issues on a global scale,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based human-rights monitoring group UN Watch, said in an e-mailed statement today.
A letter signed by 14 ambassadors urges UNESCO to “respond to these appeals for concerted action to address the egregious human-rights situation in Syria. They want UNESCO to add the item to the agenda of its board meeting next month, according to a copy of their memo supplied by UN Watch.
Arab and Western nations are planning a diplomatic push at the UN to persuade Russia to back an Arab League call for Assad to relinquish power. Qatar, Morocco, the U.S. and the U.K. are among nations trying to overcome Russian resistance to sanctioning Syria by promoting a UN Security Council draft resolution that has strong Arab backing, according to a UN diplomat who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
The measure “condemns the continued and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” by Syrian authorities and calls for the Assad regime to implement Arab League resolutions for a “political transition,” according to a copy of the document obtained by Bloomberg News.
Russia provides both political support and arms to Syria. Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, blocked a European-led Oct. 4 attempt to sanction Syria.