PRESS RELEASE

Despite bid by US & UK to expel Assad regime, UNESCO waters down draft resolution; Syria to keep seat on UNESCO board and rights panel

NGO: “Syria’s membership is a lingering stain upon the reputation of the UN as a whole”

GENEVA, March 8 – A resolution on Syria slated for adoption today (at 3:30 pm Paris time) by the UN’s education, science and culture agency will — despite vigorous efforts led by the US and Britain — keep the Assad regime on its human rights committee, revealed UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights monitoring organization, which exclusively obtained a copy of the draft. Click here for draft resolution.

“For UNESCO to keep President Bashar al-Assad on a human rights committee while his regime mercilessly murders its own people is simply immoral, indefensible and an insult to Syria’s victims,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, which heads a campaign of 55 parliamentarians, human rights and religious groups calling for Syria’s expulsion.

“Today’s appalling decision 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,” said Neuer.

After UNESCO elected Syria to its human rights committee in November, UN Watch launched a campaign to reverse the decision, prompting the US and Britain to initiate today’s debate at UNESCO, which was postponed from yesterday.

“While today’s text rightly condemns Syria’s violations — a welcome first for UNESCO — the promised call to oust the regime from UNESCO’s human rights panel has been completely excised.”

“We’re left with words, but no teeth. By maintaining Assad in a position of global influence on human rights, UNESCO today is sending absolutely the wrong message. It an unconscionable insult to the suffering people of Syria,” said Neuer.

The weakened resolution is expected to pass today with numbers similar to last week’s vote, when Russia tried but failed to remove the Syria discussion from the agenda.

UN Watch predicts that some 34 nations, headed by the US and Britain, will vote in favour of today’s watered-down resolution, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Egypt, Italy, Japan, Slovakia, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.

Some seventeen are expected to oppose, including Syria itself (it is also a member of the Executive Board), Russia, Cuba, China, Brazil, Angola, Namibia, India, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Several weeks ago, 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.”

Neuer applauded the efforts of the US and Britain, but said “it’s sad that a moral majority at UNESCO today to remove Syria could simply not be found” said Neuer.

 

Timeline: The UN Watch Campaign to Expel Syria from UNESCO

Nov. 11 – 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 – 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 ArabiyaFox 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, andBloomberg News, and covered in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Le Figaro, and many other newspapers.

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