Published November 23, 2011
The Obama administration seems to have to have put itself in the firing line over its handling of the crisis in Syria by not stopping the Mideast country from being elected to a UNESCO committee that deals with human rights.
Critics say that granting Syria a seat on the committee, a consensus decision that happened without much fanfare at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris earlier this month, has enabled the Assad regime to claim it's doing nothing wrong and has the moral authority to pass judgment on others.
The U.S. sits on the 58-member UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) executive board, which through consensus allowed the Arab regional group's candidate, Syria, to be re-elected to the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations.
That committee, according to UNESCO's website, "examines communications relating to cases and questions concerning the exercise of human rights ..." Syria was also elected to be on the Non Governmental Organization Committee.
The U.S. Mission to UNESCO forwarded Fox News’ request for a comment to the Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) at the State Department as to why the U.S. went along with the consensus, given Syria's ongoing human rights violations. The IO spokesman told Fox News that he would not have “any on the record comment.”
According to its website, the Bureau of International Organization Affairs is the “U.S. Government’s primary interlocutor with the United Nations and international organizations.”
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch, told Fox News that "someone dropped the ball" by allowing Syria to join the committee. "[T]he go-along-to-get-along tradition at the UN has once again dragged a key agency down to the will of the lowest common denominator," Neuer said.
UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams told Fox News that neither UNESCO's director-general, Irina Bokova, nor UNESCO's Secretariat is involved in such decision-making and "are not supposed to comment" on the committee’s makeup, but, "given the developments in Syria, the director general does not see how this country can contribute to the work of the committees."
Asked what it would take for Syria to be expelled from the committee, Williams said, "The committees themselves cannot expel or suspend members: only the Executive Board can "undo" one of its decisions if Member States decide so.”
Zuhdi Jasser, a Syrian-American activist and founding member of the group Save Syria Now!, said: "Is it any wonder our families on the front lines against tyranny feel abandoned by the U.S. and that America's soft power for liberty is waning globally to the point of extinction?
“If the United States cannot take a moral stand against barbaric thugs like Assad, we have lost our way."
According to Syrian rights groups, the death toll in Syria has climbed to nearly 4,000, with thousands more injured and as many as 10,000 detained by security forces.
Those forces were accused in a United Nations Human Rights Council report in August of "perpetrating acts of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment against persons detained in connection with the demonstrations, resulting in deaths in custody in some cases."