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Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad
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Small Victory: Syria Abandons Pursuit of Seat on U.N. Rights Council

by George Baumgarten, UN Correspondent for Winnipeg Jewish Review, May 10, 2011

Amidst all the furor over the Palestinian rapprochement and their efforts to declare a state unilaterally, a small victory was scored this week, with the defeat—or rather, abandonment—of  Syria’s drive to be elected to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, based at the U.N.’s European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, has been a dubious body, at best. Formed (or arguably, re-formed) to correct the abuses of the previous rights body, it has done little to do so. And it has maintained its predecessor’s fixation with the State of Israel…to the lamentable exclusion of far-worse offenders, all over the world.

Operated by the office of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has been scarred by connection to that office’s  Durban Conference on Racism (2001), the 2009 Durban Review ( “Durban 2”) Conference in Geneva, and the forthcoming one-day Conference next September, on the “margins” of the U.N.’s 66th General Assembly, already dubbed “Durban 3”. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay of South Africa, is a distinguished jurist who was involved with the reconciliation process, after that nation’s transition to majority rule. But she has been often powerless, in the face of governments with questionable human rights records…and dubious agendas.

The story first surfaced in March, when—after Libya was suspended from her Council seat, the government of Bashar al-Assad announced that it would seek a seat at the upcoming elections, to be held May 20th at the General Assembly in New York. The human rights organization UN Watch immediately raised the alarm. Its director, Hillel Neuer, called Syria’s candidacy “an outrage”, noting that Syria runs “a notorious police state”, he said that “Qaddafi was just ousted by the UN on grounds that a government which brutalizes its own people doesn’t belong on the world’s highest human rights body”.

And he noted that Syria “…sponsors some of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups and has assassinated journalists and   opponents in Lebanon”.

Hillel Neuer, an international lawyer originally from Montreal, is the founder of UN Watch, and has become much the conscience of the United Nations…or at least of its Geneva operations. He has never shied away from pointing out and exposing those individuals or countries that have backgrounds or histories which make them obscene choices for certain offices or positions, most particularly any  concerning human rights. He deliberately aimed his efforts at the Ambassadors of India, Japan and South Korea. This was because candidates are elected specifically from different geographic regions.

He urged them not to replace Syria with “another non-democracy” . When Syria’s support began to wane, Neuer  said that he welcomed “…reports that that Bashar al-Assad’s candidacy…is now doomed”.

On Tuesday, May 10th came word that Syria was about to drop its candidacy, in favor of Kuwait. While Kuwait is certainly no prize, it avoids the membership of one of the most violent, egregious human rights violators in the Middle East. A small victory, to be sure. But a victory for right, justice and reason.

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