UNHRC headquarters 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Kuwait has told Western officials it will bid for the Arab seat on the UN Human Rights Council, reported on Tuesday by Turtle Bay, the UN’s foreign policy blog. Such a move would most likely bring a conclusion to fellow Arab nation Syria’s controversial campaign to join the council.
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While Syria has not announced a decision to withdraw from the race, a UN-based diplomat told the blog that Syria has been engaged this week in talks with Kuwait and other Arab countries about “the prospect of swapping Syria’s rights seat for another UN-based post in the future.”
The UN General Assembly is scheduled to select via vote the Human Rights Council’s 15 new members on May 20. Syria, one of four nations originally chosen as part of the UN Asian bloc up for a possible seat, has come under fire for its violent crackdown on unarmed protestors at home.
Similarly, Iran abandoned its campaign to join the council last year in the face of widespread opposition. In exchange, Iran received a seat on the UN Commission of the Status of Women. Most recently, the council suspended the membership of Libya over concerns regarding its brutal treatment of demonstrators.
UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO which has taken the lead in opposing Syria’s candidacy, hailed the news that Syria is expected to drop its bid, but expressed concern that it might be replaced by Kuwait – “far better than Syria, but another non-democracy nevertheless.” UN Watch also expressed opposition to Syria receiving a different position instead, tantamount to a consolation prize for abandoning its pursuit of a council seat.
“The defeat of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s cynical candidacy is a welcome message to his brutalized population that the world is repulsed by the regime’s ongoing massacres,” Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, said in a press release. “The Asian states at the UN never should have endorsed the brutal Syrian regime in the first place. And now it would be squandering a golden opportunity if Asia’s replacement for Syria will be yet another Middle East regime that fails to meet the election criteria, which require a genuine record of promoting and protecting human rights.”
Kuwait is not without human rights issues of its own. According to the US State Department, Kuwaitis are subjected to “limited freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion” and women are denied equal rights.
More than 25 human rights groups and dissidents have joined the UN Watch campaign against Syria’s bid, which was recently accepted for publication by the UN General Assembly.