Exclusive: UNESCO vote today will keep Syria on human rights committee

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

GENEVA, March 7 – Despite vigorous efforts led by the US and Britain, a resolution on Syria to be adopted today by the UN’s education, science and culture agency will 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.

“That UNESCO will keep President Bashar al-Assad on its human rights committee — at the same time as the regime mercilessly murders its own people — is a moral outrage,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights group.

“Today’s appalling decision calls into question the credibility of UNESCO as an agency dedicated to human rights, and casts a shadow upon the reputation of the UN as a whole.”

After UNESCO elected Syria to its human rights committee in November, UN Watch led a campaign of 55 parliamentarians, human rights and religious groups calling on the agency to reverse its decision. In response, the US and Britain initiated today’s debate at UNESCO.

“While today’s text rightly condemns Syria, 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.

Today’s vote is expected around 4:30 pm Paris time. The weakened resolution is expected to pass 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.”

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

UN Watch