UNESCO’s executive board, which includes the US, France, the UK and other Western democracies, unanimously elected Syria to a pair of committees – one dealing directly with human rights issues – even as the Bashar al-Assad regime maintains its campaign of violence against its own citizens.Israeli media had the story last week but the UNESCO website had nothing on it. And it still doesn't.
The Arab group at UNESCO nominated Syria for the spots, and though the 58-member board approved the pick by consensus on Nov. 11, the agency has not yet posted the results on its website.
Syria’s election came just a day before the League of Arab States moved to suspend Syrian membership of that body.
“The Arab League’s suspension of Syria is stripped of any meaning when its member states elevate Syria to UN human rights committes,” says Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch.
“It’s shameful for the UN's prime agency on science, culture and education to take a country that is shooting its own people and empower it to decide human rights issues on a global scale. Regrettably, the pressure to bow to consensus – part of the go-along-to-get-along tradition at the UN – can drag everyone down to the will of the lowest common denominator.”
Neuer highlights that the executive board’s decision should not be all that surprising, given the body “recently welcomed serial human rights abusers as new members, like Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Pakistan and Russia.” Syria was already on the executive board, noted Neuer, "as were other countries with poor human rights records, including Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus, China, Vietnam and Algeria."
The UN says Syria’s crackdown on opposition protests has left more than 3,500 people dead over the past eight months.
Syria will serve a second two-year term on the 30-member Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, which examines “communications … relating to the exercise of human rights,” according to UNESCO’s Web site. Syria also joins the 23-member Committee on International Non-Governmental Organizations, which is mandated to encourage approved activist groups to help further UNESCO’s overall goals.
In a bid to insulate UNESCO’s administration from criticism, the agency’s executive director, Irina Bokova, insists her hands were tied. She has even broken with protocol in commenting that the executive board’s choice was not a good one.
“The director-general and secretariat are bound by the decisions of member states and are not supposed to comment on them,” said Sue Williams, UNESCO chief spokesperson.
“Yet given the developments in Syria, the director-general does not see how this country can contribute to the work of the committees.”
I've seen the same lack of transparency at UNRWA where it ignores many Palestinian Arab strikes and threats on its website.
(h/t many but Ian for reminding me....)