Human Rights Day Marred by Election of Slave-holding
Mauritania as VP of UN Human Rights Council
Syria remains on UNESCO human rights committee
GENEVA, Dec. 10 – UN Watch condemned today's election of Mauritania, a country that allows 800,000 of its citizens to live as slaves, as Vice-President of the UN Human Rights Council.
In addition, the Geneva-based group also announced the failure of its yearlong campaign, with 55 MPs and NGOs, to get UNESCO to remove Syria from its human rights committee.
1. Mauritania Elected Today as VP of UN Human Rights Council
The UN Human Rights Council met today in Geneva and elected Mauritania as its Vice-President and Rapporteur for the next year, the second highest position at the world's top human rights body.
"It is obscene for the U.N. to use the occasion of Human Rights Day, when we commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to elect the world's worst enabler of slavery to this prestigious post," said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director.
"The U.N. is making an arsonist head of the fire department. It defies both morality and common sense."
According to a recent report by the Guardian, "up to 800,000 people in a nation of 3.5 million remain chattels," with power and wealth overwhelmingly concentrated among lighter-skinned Moors, "leaving slave-descended darker-skinned Moors and black Africans on the edges of society."
In today's session, Poland was elected president, while Ecuador, Maldives, and Switzerland were also elected as vice-presidents.
Neuer also objected to Ecuador's election, citing its "notorious record of censoring independent journalists and shutting down newspapers."
UN Watch expressed regret that while the dictatorship of Belarus took the floor in today's meeting to criticize the election of Poland, none of the democracies said a word about the election of Mauritania or Ecuador.
2. One Year Later, Despite Appeals, Syria Still on UNESCO Human Rights Committee
Despite having murdered tens of thousands of its own people, the Bashar al-Assad regime remains a full member of UNESCO's human rights committee, "and no one at UNESCO seems to care the slighest bit," said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.
This week marks one year since UN Watch launched its campaign of 55 parliamentarians, human rights and religious groups calling for Syria's expulsion, following UNESCO's inexplicable election of the regime to a committee that rules on invividual human rights complaints 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.
"UNESCO is allowing the Assad regime to strut in Paris as a U.N. human rights arbiter -- it's indefensible and an insult to Syria's victims."
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.
U.S. ambassador David Killion had urged UNESCO to revisit the decision. The watered-down text included language suggesting UNESCO chief Irina Bokova could raise the issue again, but she has failed to do so. (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.
"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."
Timeline: The UN Watch Campaign to Expel Syria from UNESCO
Nov. 11, 2011 - 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, 2012 - 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.pp
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."