GENEVA, Jan. 25 – For the first time in its history, the UN’s culture and education agency is preparing to condemn Syria and expel it from a human rights committee, revealed a Geneva-based human rights organization today, releasing a motion filed by the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Qatar, Kuwait and six other countries, now backed also by Japan and South Korea. Click here for motion and related memo; see text below.
After UNESCO in November elected Syria, which already sits on its 58-member executive board, to a committee that judges human rights complaints, the independent UN Watch monitoring group launched a campaign of 55 parliamentarians, religious groups and human rights activists urging member states to reverse the decision.
In response, according to diplomatic documents obtained exclusively by UN Watch, the U.S., its EU allies, Canada, Japan and a handful of Arab states are now among a growing coalition of countries that is formally requesting an agenda item for next month’s UNESCO board meeting to “review” Syria’s controversial membership.
The initial request to UNESCO, which diplomatic insiders say was initiated by the U.S. delegation in Paris, was signed last month by 14 member states, while several others, including Japan and South Korea, have since added their support.
“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,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.
"Our coalition is thankful to Ambassador David T. Killion, the U.S. representative to UNESCO, for his delegation's leadership in seeking now to reverse this incomprehensible election.”
“I am not aware that UNESCO has ever before expelled a member state from one of its committees, or passed a resolution condemning Syria, so both actions would be unprecedented, and we hope—for the sake of the Syrian victims—that there will be sufficient support among the 58 UNESCO board members to shame, pressure and weaken this murderous regime,” said Neuer.
The letter by the 14 ambassadors, after invoking calls by a UN inquiry and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, says that “UNESCO must respond to these appeals for concerted action to address the egregious human rights situation in Syria.”
The letter notes that Syria’s membership on UNESCO’s Committee on Conventions and Recommendations allows it to participate “in the examination of cases involving alleged human rights violations.”
“In view of the current situation in Syria, the Executive Board must review the participation of Syria in this aspect of its work.”
“In addition,” the letter states, “in view of documented concerns about the effect of the situation in Syria on its people, including, in particular, children and journalists, the Board should review this situation having reference to other areas of UNESCO’s competence, namely, education, cultural preservation and press freedom.”
Timeline of UN Watch Campaign to Expel Syria from UNESCO
Nov. 11 - UNESCO's 58-member executive board, including major democracies, unanimously elects Syria to human rights committee.
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 obtains an exclusive copy of the motion, memo and member states seeking to condemn and expel Syria.
Below are the letter and memo sent to UNESCO, and list of
supporting states, exclusively obtained by UN Watch
December 14, 2011
Ms. Alissandra Cummins
Chairman of the Executive Board
7 Place de Fontenoy
75353 Paris 07 SP
Dear Madame Chairman,
The world has been witnessing, and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has verified (AlHRC/S-17 /2/Add. 1), the Government of Syria's repressive actions in violation of the human rights of the Syrian people. The situation in Syria challenges UNESCO's basic Constitutional objectives, in particular, “--- to further respect for justice, for the law and for human rights and fundamental freedoms ---” (Art. 1.1)
UNESCO must not fail to respond to the call for action by the UN Human Rights Council (AlHRC/Res/S.18/1). As the Director General said in marking Human Rights Day this year, “--- the observance of human rights is not negotiable.”
We are writing, pursuant to Rule 5 of the Rules of Procedure of the Executive Board to request the inscription of an item entitled, “Response of UNESCO to the Situation in Syria”.
An “Explanatory Note” which provides additional information will follow.
12. United Kingdom
Response of UNESCO to the situation in Syria
1. The United Nations Human Rights Council at its 17th Special Session on 23 August 2011 decided to establish an Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in Syria since mid-March 2011. The evidence gathered by the Commission led it to express grave
concern that crimes against humanity have been committed by Syrian military and security forces. The Report documents widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including atrocities which have resulted in the deaths of over 300 children.
2. The Commission called upon the Government of Syria to put an end to the ongoing human rights violations and recommended, inter alia, that the Government allow immediate and full access
for the Commission, outside observers and other human rights monitoring bodies. It also called for full access for media without harassment or intimidation (A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1)
3. The United Nations Secretary-General has urged the international community to act to protect the Syrian people and the Human Rights Council has echoed this call. The Council transmitted the Commission Report to all relevant United Nations bodies and recommended that the main bodies of the UN consider
the Report and take appropriate action (A/HRC/Res/S.1S/1).
4. UNESCO must respond to these appeals for concerted action to address the egregious human rights situation in Syria. Syria, a member of the Executive Board, is also a member of the Board's
Committee on Conventions and Recommendations. In that capacity, Syria participates in the examination of cases involving alleged human rights violations under the “104 Procedure”. In view of the current situation in Syria, the Executive Board must review the participation of Syria in this aspect of its work.
5. In addition, in view of documented concerns about the effect of the situation in Syria on its people, including, in particular, children and journalists, t-he Board should review this situation having reference to other areas of UNESCO's competence, namely, education, cultural preservation and press freedom.
6. In order to conduct a review and take appropriate action, (names of co~sponsors) request the inscription of a new item on the agenda of the 189th session of the Executive Board entitled, “Response of UNESCO to the Situation in Syria”.
Supporting states as of January 12, 2012:
16. United Kingdom
17. United States