NEW YORK – An international NGO campaign to oppose Syria’s candidacy for the United Nations Human Rights Council is under way, with the hope that Syria’s move to be included in the Geneva body can be blocked at the scheduled mid-May election.

The nongovernmental organization UN Watch expects to publish an initial appeal, signed by 50 human rights groups, this week, and has planned that several human rights groups, together with Syrian dissidents and victims, will appear at UN headquarters on May 19, the eve of the UN General Assembly election, for a press conference to lobby against Syria’s election.

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Syria’s election to the UN’s Human Rights Council is a virtual sure thing, unless another candidate enters the race or Syria fails to win a majority of votes in the May 20 election in the 192-member General Assembly.

Diplomats are working behind the scenes to determine whether a special session of the Human Rights Council could be called for later this week to address the current crisis in Syria, in which Syrian security forces have opened fire on crowds of peaceful protesters.

“Choosing Syria to be a global judge of human rights would be like appointing Bernard Madoff to defend victims of financial fraud,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based monitoring group. “It’s a moral outrage.”

Neuer said Syria’s current unopposed bid for a Human Rights Council, “only underscores the pathologies of that body, where abusers like China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia control the ruling faction and routinely shield human rights criminals from accountability, ensuring that selectivity and politicization trump genuine human rights.

“The refusal of the council to address Syria’s month-long massacre of its own civilian population highlights the council’s systemic failure to respond to emerging human rights situations, just as it has disregarded this year’s killings of peaceful protesters by the regimes in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia,” Neuer said.

He added that he is troubled that the Arab League and Islamic states are endorsing the Assad regime for a human rights post in the first place, to say nothing of other UN member states, with the exception of the US, “turning a blind eye to the absurd Syrian candidacy.”

“If Syria is elected to the UN Human Rights Council, it will be yet one more indication of an organization that has totally lost its moral clarity and betrayed the lofty ideals on which it was founded,” Advancing Human Rights executive director David Keyes said.

“Allowing one of the worst human rights violators in the world to join a body dedicated to upholding human rights would be comical, if it wasn’t so sad. The Syrian dictatorship is slaughtering civilians in the streets by the hundreds and arresting them by the thousands.

“Is there anything at all that would disqualify one from serving on the Human Rights Council? How exactly will human rights be advanced by augmenting the voice of the Assad tyranny and allowing it to sit in judgment of democratic nations?” Keyes asked.

He added that these questions must also be asked of Saudi Arabia, “which despite treating women as chattel slaves, sits on the UN’s highest body to uphold human rights.

The mind boggles at such absurdities.”

American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris wrote in the Huffington Post on Tuesday that, “The world should be watching closely.

“It will reveal a great deal about how the Council works, how regional blocs – in this case, Asia – either embrace or reject murderers in their midst, and how individual countries act. Remember that each country has one vote, and those votes will determine the outcome.”

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