Bashar Assad eyes seat on UN Human Rights Council

Bashar Assad eyes seat on UN Human Rights Council

'Syria’s candidacy would be virtually assured of victory,' according to UN watchdog group

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (CC BY-US Mission Geneva/Flickr/File)
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (CC BY-US Mission Geneva/Flickr/File)

Even as reports of massacres and widespread torture in Syria continue to surface daily, the country is a serious contender for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, according to a UN watchdog group.

From a US-sponsored and EU-backed draft resolution debated Wednesday in Geneva, it emerged that Syria is vying for a seat on the council starting 2014, UN Watch reported. Although Damascus’s brutal crackdown on protesters — which has already cost the lives of at least 10,000 people — has been widely condemned by the international community, including Arab and Muslim nations, it is not unlikely that Syria would win its bid.

“As part of the UN’s 53-nation Asian group, Syria’s candidacy would be virtually assured of victory due to the prevalent system of fixed slates, whereby regional groups orchestrate uncontested elections, naming only as many candidates as allotted seats,” the pro-Israel watchdog group wrote on its website.

Elections to the UNHRC, which includes 47 nations, take place in 2013 at the United Nations General Assembly.

Fearing that Syria could indeed win a spot on the UNHRC, the US and Europe have taken an unusual step by demanding the council declare Syria ineligible for a seat. Condemning President Bashar Assad’s regime for the “indiscriminate targeting of civilians” and other crimes and human rights violations, their draft resolution “stresses that the current Syrian’s government’s announced candidacy for the Human Rights Council in 2014 fails to meet the standards for Council membership.”

But the attempt to keep Syria from running is being met with heavy opposition by countries such as China, Cuba and Egypt, according to UN Watch. Russia and India argued that no action should be taken before Syria has formally submitted its candidacy, the group reported, adding that Damascus was unanimously elected last year to two human rights committees of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

While even many Arab states have spoken out against the violence in Syria, with the Arab League suspending Assad membership in November, some experts say that Damascus could still be voted into the UNHRC, because of backroom deals and the fear that some day Syria could seek revenge and vote against other countries’ applications.

The UNHRC is often criticized as unduly critical of Israel, including by senior UN officials themselves. After the council decided earlier this year to launch a fact-finding mission into Israel’s settlement enterprise, Jerusalem decided to cease cooperating with the body.

Just this week, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, Richard Falk, compared Israel’s “discriminatory” legal system to apartheid and said the peace process was “a trick” the international community plays in order not to have to find a solution to the conflict. Falk is scheduled to present a report to the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next Monday.

Earlier this week, at a session of the UNHRC in Geneva, Syria’s envoy to the council, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, was allowed to spend six minutes hurling harsh accusations at Israel, slamming its alleged “systematic and persistent violations of human rights in occupied Palestine and Syrian Golan.”

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