Really? Syria? On the Human Rights Council?
Many of the criticisms of the UN Human Rights Council are totally justified. A few of the criticisms are not. For example, the U.S. can’t combat some of the well-known biases in the Council with our own selective biases- we need to be more consistent. However, irrespective of anything, this makes a mockery of the Council and it just gives its critics even more ammunition:
In recent months, according to human rights groups, Syria’s security forces have used live ammunition to put down peaceful, unarmed demonstrations, killing more than 100 people, while detaining at least 516 protesters, including more than 250 who are still being held incommunicado.
So, what better time to mount a campaign to become a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, right?
In January, the U.N.’s Asia Group endorsed a slate of four candidates — Syria, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines — to fill four open seats on the U.N.’s premier human rights body. The agreement ensured that all four will get voted onto the 47-nation rights body based in Geneva, Switzerland.
This week, a group of more than 30 Asian, African, and Western human rights organizations have launched a campaign aimed at embarrassing the Asia Group into ditching Syria, or at least changing its practice of presenting preordained slates of candidates. Otherwise, they are hoping that Syria will withdraw its candidacy to avoid drawing undue attention to its repressive practices at home.
“Since the Asia Group’s decision was taken in January, security forces in Syria have responded to largely peaceful protests with lethal force, including live ammunition,” a group of activists wrote in a letter that was delivered on Tuesday to members of the Asia Group. “Given the significant deterioration in the human rights situation in Syria, we urge the Asia Group to reconsider its slate for the May 20 election.”
The leaders of three Syrian rights groups, including Razan Zaitouneh, the editor of the Syrian Human Rights Information Link, and Radeef Mustapha, the president of the board of the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria, signed the letter. It was also signed by well-known Western rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and organizations from Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Thailand.
“Instead of propping up an abusive regime blind to the winds of change sweeping the region, the members of the Asian group should side with the hundreds of peaceful protestors who have been killed, wounded or arbitrarily detained by the Syrian security forces in recent weeks,” Radwan Ziadeh, the U.S.-based director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, said in a statement.
“Syria shouldn’t be rewarded by the Asia group for using the same appalling tactics that led to Libya’s unanimous suspension from the council,” added Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
In the past, human rights groups and Western countries have successfully derailed the candidacies of flagrant rights abusers, including Belarus and Iran. But a number of countries with poor rights records, including China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia still have seats on the council. Libya got onto the committee last year, but on March 1 its membership was suspended — the first time a member state has had its membership suspended.