Syria, under pressure, drops bid for UN rights council. Is that progress?
Syria cuts a deal and gives up its quest for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, for now. Some see a victory for higher standards on human rights, but critics of the body say the selection process is still flawed.
Syria ended its quest to join the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on Wednesday, bowing to pressure from the United States and other Western powers who had railed against a government seeking the seat even as it carries out a repressive campaign against its own citizens.Skip to next paragraph
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Syrian and Kuwaiti diplomats announced at the UN in New York that the two countries will switch their candidacies for the council – Kuwait will take Syria’s slot in elections next week, while Syria will now wait and go for the seat in 2013 that Kuwait was expected to seek.
Because of minimal competition for seats on the council, candidates ordinarily are virtually guaranteed election by the UN General Assembly.
Syria said the switch had nothing to do with the continuing protests shaking the country. But the face-saving arrangement clearly came in response to the growing international controversy over repression in Syria that human-rights experts say has resulted in more than 700 deaths.
Some analysts of global institutions deemed Syria’s stand-down a sign the international community is demanding more rigorous human-rights standards.
“Yes, the US and other Western powers opposed Syria’s candidacy, but if the opposition had stopped there this probably would have gone through,” says Edward Luck, senior vice-president for research and programs at the International Peace Institute (IPI) in New York.
Saying opposition to Syria winning a seat on the council was growing in the General Assembly, he adds, “The larger point is that Syria was publicly campaigning for this, so it’s got to be embarrassing when it’s your peers saying you are not fit. It’s a significant slap in the face.”
Others counter, however, that Syria coming within a week of joining the world’s top human rights body hardly qualifies as progress.
“Do we really have to wait until a government is gunning down its own citizens in the streets before its membership on the council is deemed unacceptable?” says Steven Groves, an expert in international institutions at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
The fact the seat Syria wanted will now go to Kuwait is also no reason to declare great progress, Mr. Groves says. Kuwait will very likely vote just as Syria would have – in particular on issues relating to Israel – and if anything, Kuwait may have a worse record on women’s rights than the regime of Bashar al-Assad, he says.