Britain calls for Syria’s removal from UNESCO c'tees

Minister says UK will “explicitly address” Syria’s membership in the UN cultural body.

January 12, 2012 14:30
2 minute read.
36th session of UNESCO

36th session of UNESCO. (photo credit: Reuters)


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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.

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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 reputation.”

The spokesman also expressed hope that other members of the executive board would join London in ending what he called “this abhorrent [and] anomalous situation.”

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 said.

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 thing.”

“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.”

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