According to UN Watch, an independent human rights group based in Geneva, Syria is now running for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council: "The murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad is a declared candidate for a seat on the 47-nation U.N. body, in elections to be held next year at the 193-member General Assembly."
The Syrian regime will be one of four nations from the 53 block of Asian nations running as part of a fixed slate of "faux elections" for the Council, in which regional groups plan, devise and orchestrate uncontested elections -- precisely the same way some of the current human rights luminaries on the Council, such as Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and Cuba "won" their positions.
Unless another Asian country is nominated, Syria will win a three-year term on the UN body charged with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. As the decision is up to the block of Asian nations themselves to determine who will run, the United States cannot propose an alternative candidate. The US can, however, put "pressure" on the United Nations – if it wished -- and as it supposedly did in 2011 after receiving news about Syria's original attempt for a seat on the Council. Kuwait then ran instead, and Syria agreed to put its application on hold.
News of Syria's candidacy broke after UN Watch discovered that Syria was vying for a seat from a US-sponsored and EU-backed draft resolution, debated last week in Geneva. The resolution sought to pre-empt Syria's candidacy by declaring it ineligible on the basis that it "fails to meet the standards for Council membership" as set forth in its founding charter.
According to Hillel Neuer, the Executive Director of UN Watch, no sooner was the draft resolution submitted, than it was met with immediate resistance by Syria's allies and fellow human rights abusers on the Council, including Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt -- all of whom were "totally opposed."
These nations may well have deduced that if a human rights violator such as Assad could be declared ineligible, they could be next.
In what can only be described as a pitiful display of U.S. foreign policy which has become the hallmark of this Administration, the U.S. caved in to the demands of Syria's allies who also abuse human rights; the U.S. in the final resolution dropped the reference calling for Syria's ineligibility. The watered-down resolution was ultimately adopted Friday by a vote of 41 in favor, 3 against (Russia, China and Cuba) and 3 abstentions (India, Philippines and Uganda).
It is unclear if the U.S. received any concessions in return for dropping the clause. At the very least, one would hope that the American vote was linked to an undertaking that a fifth Asian nation would run for UNHRC elections in 2013, thereby necessitating an actual vote instead of automatic appointment for Syria. However, this remains to be seen.
After the vote, Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. Ambassador in Geneva tweeted that she was "celebrating" because "today was a good day." No, a cause to celebrate would have been if the U.S. had stood its ground to ensure that Assad would never have a chance to sit on the Human Rights Council.
Syria's candidacy should not have come as a major revelation: it had declared its intention to run for the Council over a year go, in May of 2011. Although the Syrian regime at that time stepped out of the race at the last minute to make way for another champion of human rights, Kuwait, Syria's UN Ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, made clear that the regime was "reconsidering our priorities" and would run for the Council again in 2013.
At the time that Syria first declared its candidacy, which happened to coincide with the beginning of Assad's murderous rampage, Ja'afari said, "Promotion and protection of human rights are of the highest importance to Syria." The actions of the Syrian regime, however, speak otherwise, with as many as 18,000 people having been mercilessly slaughtered by Assad's forces.
But for Ja'afari and the regime which he represents, the term "human rights" does not even enter their lexicon; Ja'afari previously said, "[t]he so-called turmoil does not affect our candidacy." He added, "[t]hese are two different issues." If the UNHRC's record is anything to judge by, he is right.
That Syria is even able to be nominated for the UNHRC, let alone stand in a strong position to win a seat, is reflective of the endemic problem with the body: not only is disregarding human rights no barrier to becoming a member; even actively assaulting human rights is no barrier to becoming a member.
The UNHRC was formed in 2006 specifically to create a new body to tackle human rights abuses in light of the failures of its discredited predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission, which was largely criticized for its one-sided obsession with Israel and the make-up of its members, which included the likes of Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Saudi Arabia. Libya even chaired the Commission in 2003.
The "new" Commission, the Council, however, is nothing more than a carbon copy of its predecessor: it continues its obsession with Israel, passing resolution after resolution repeatedly attacking the sole democracy in the Middle East, while giving a pass to wholesale abusers of human rights such as China, Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.
It is high time that the U.S. stopped lending legitimacy to, and funding, a non-transparent and unaccountable body that is adversarial to both human rights and the West. The U.S. should withdraw its involvement (and funding) from the Council altogether -- as had been the policy under the Administration of George W. Bush.
President Obama has apparently decided instead to seek a second term on the Council, while American taxpayers continue unconditionally to fund 22% of the budget of the United Nations, which has increasingly become the antithesis of everything the United States stands for: free speech, rule of law, equal justice under the law, democracy, separation of religion and state, and individual liberty and human rights.
In announcing the decision last March to seek a new term, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "We believe that U.S. engagement in the Human Rights Council has directly resulted in real progress." The reality could not be any more different. The Council has maintained its unremitting anti-Israel obsession. Violators of human rights, who have an automatic majority at the UN, continue to sit in judgement of democracies, including the United States. Meanwhile around the world, the pleas of millions of the real victims of human rights abuses go unanswered.
The Administration's attempt to reform the Council are at best naïve, at worst damaging to United States' national security interests, and illustrative of the Obama Administration's willingness to outsource American foreign policy to unaccountable international organizations.
It is time to disband this inversion of moral values and replace the entire organization with a United Democratic Nations before it makes an even further mockery of human rights.