36th session of UNESCO.
(photo credit: Reuters)
LONDON – The British government joined a campaign this week to remove Syria from
two committees dealing with human rights in the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Foreign Office Minister
for the Middle East and South Asia Alistair Burt announced on Friday that he
would seek to “explicitly address” Syria’s membership in the body at UNESCO
executive board meeting, set for early March.
A Foreign Office spokesman
said Britain “deplores” the continuing membership of Syria on the committees and
that its presence there is not “conducive to the work of the body or UNESCO’s
The spokesman also expressed hope that other members of the
executive board would join London in ending what he called “this abhorrent [and]
Last November, UNESCO’s 58-nation executive board,
which includes the UK, US, France, Britain, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Italy and
Denmark, approved Syria’s nomination to two panels – the Committee on
Conventions and Recommendations, which examines communications relating to the
exercise of human rights, and the Committee on International Non-Governmental
Organizations, charged with overseeing the work of civil society and human
rights groups within UNESCO.
“Syria membership on the Committee on
Conventions and Recommendations, which handles human rights cases in UNESCO’s
fields of competence, is an anomaly and absolutely inappropriate,” the spokesman
Recalling that the Syrian regime “committed crimes against
humanity, including the murder of 5,000 of its citizens, the torturing of
children and rape,” the Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch is leading the
campaign to remove the Syrian regime from the posts. It has galvanized support
from across the spectrum, with 55 parliamentarians, religious groups and human
rights activists signing an appeal.
“Each day that Syria continues to sit
on the aforementioned UNESCO human rights committees constitutes an affront to
the memory of the innocents who continue to be killed by the Assad regime, and
casts a shadow upon the reputation of UNESCO, and of the UN system as a whole,”
the appeal stated.
The appeal calls to “urgently remove” Syria from the
committees and to publicly apologize to the victims of the Syrian regime “for
having elected it [to the panels] in the first place.”
UN Watch executive
director Hillel Neuer congratulated “the UK and its allies for doing the right
“It’s shocking that only two months ago the UN’s leading agency
on science, culture and education gave two seats of global influence on human
rights to a regime that is raping, torturing and killing its own men, women and
children,” Neuer said. “This was an unconscionable decision that must be
reversed immediately, and we hope that all 58 countries on the UNESCO board will
join the UK in doing do.”
The Obama administration also sent a letter to
UNESCO’s executive board calling for Syria’s removal.
According to Fox
News Channel, the US Mission to UNESCO sent a letter on December 16 that had
been signed by 14 other nations, including Kuwait. A diplomatic source involved
with the negotiations told Fox that the US had “certainly been part of a strong
and concerted effort to remove Syria. That effort is being led by members of the
Arab delegation, which reflects the broader agenda for the Arab League.”