‘Syria on UN Human Rights Council a new Guinness record’

‘Syria on UN Human Rights Council a new Guinness record’

Israel’s United Nations envoy waxes sarcastic over news that serial human rights violators could gain a seat in the committee

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The United Nations General Assembly hall in New York (photo credit: CC BY-linh.m.do/Flickr/File)
The United Nations General Assembly hall in New York (photo credit: CC BY-linh.m.do/Flickr/File)

Diplomats and NGOs greeted with skepticism and incredulity the news that Syria and Iran intend to run for spots on the UN Human Rights Council. The elections, which will be held in November, are for three-year terms running from January 2014 through December 2016.

“A new Guinness record at the UN?” said a sarcastic Ron Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador. “Syria and Iran in the Human Rights Council is like giving organized crime bosses responsibility for the witness protection program.”

“Syria’s candidacy, if maintained, would be a cruel joke, but would almost certainly be met with a resounding defeat,” Human Rights Watch’s Philippe Bolopion told Reuters. “Iran too falls far short of the most basic standards expected of Human Rights Council members and sticks out even in an overall disappointing pool of candidates in the Asia group, with deeply problematic contenders…”

China, Jordan, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam are also vying for the four seats allotted to Asia. There are 14 seats open in the 47-member body.

Israel's UN ambassador, Ron Prosor (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Syria first declared its intention to campaign for a spot on the human rights body in 2011. In May of that year, Kuwait announced it would run for the seat in place of Syria. Kuwait’s UN ambassador said simply that Syria and Kuwait had swapped terms, and that Damascus would offer its candidacy in 2013.

The US initially circulated a draft resolution in July 2012 attempting to torpedo Syria’s bid, which read, “The current Syrian government’s announced candidacy for the Human Rights Council in 2014 fails to meet the standards for Council membership set forth in paragraph 8 of General Assembly resolution 60/251.”

According to the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch, at an off-camera UN session, Russia, China, Cuba, Egypt, and Brazil expressed their firm opposition to any specific mention of Syria’s HRC bid. The United States ended up offering a watered-down resolution with a general mention of “the standards for Council membership as set forth in paragraph 8 of General Assembly resolution 60/251.”

“We had urged the U.S. and the EU to resist the pressure by Syria’s allies and not to water down a council statement rejecting the candidacy of Syria’s Assad, who is a tyrant and mass murderer,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.

But Neuer is not entirely confident human serial rights abusers like Iran and Syria will fail in their efforts to join the human rights body.

“Because both regimes were recently elected to other UN human rights panels — Iran on the women’s rights commission, and Syria on UNESCO’s human rights committee — we cannot take anything for granted,” he told Reuters.

Still, the UN has censured both countries over their human rights records. In 2012, the UN General assembly voted 135-12 with 36 abstentions in favor of a resolution demanding an immediate end to “widespread and systematic” gross human rights violations by Syrian authorities.” It also approved a resolution calling for an end to Iran’s continuing use of torture, the death penalty and execution of minors by a vote of 86-32 with 65 abstentions.

Syria’s civil war, which began as an uprising against Assad’s regime, has killed more than 93,000 people, displaced over 5 million and turned over 1.5 million into refugees, according to UN figures.

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