Following an international outcry over Syria being voted on to a human rights committee at the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November, Fox News has learned that the Obama administration has sent a letter to UNESCO's executive board calling on Syria to be removed from the so called Committee on Conventions and Recommendations which deals with human rights.
According to diplomatic sources the letter was sent by the U.S. Mission to the executive board of UNESCO on December 16, and has so far been signed by 14 other signatories and significantly includes the Arab nation of Kuwait. A U.S. diplomatic source directly involved with the negotiations tells Fox News that the U.S. has "certainly been part of a strong and concerted effort to remove Syria, that effort is being led by various members of the Arab delegation which reflects the broader agenda for the Arab league"
Fox News first reported that the U.S. failed to stop Syria last November from joining the committee by not stopping the Mideast country from being elected when it, and other allies including the U.K. and France who sit on the 58 member executive board were seemingly caught asleep at the wheel as Syria was re-elected by a consensus vote to serve on the committee.
Following the Fox News article, the Geneva based human rights organization U.N. Watch initiated an international campaign to have Syria removed from the UNESCO human rights committee, which seems to have had some success.
In a press release sent to Fox News the Geneva based group's executive director, Hillel Neuer said that his group received an email from the British government confirming that Britain had joined with several other countries in "putting forward an item for the first meeting of the Executive Board at which we will seek to explicitly address Syria's membership of the body...The U.K. also expressed hope that other members of the executive board will join London in ending what it called "this abhorrent [and] anomalous situation."
"It never made any sense that only two months ago a regime that was and is enforcing a brutal crackdown on legitimate and peaceful calls for democracy could be elected to a U.N. body involved in promoting human rights, our campaign shows that without oversight of the U.N. by outside monitoring groups, the default switch at the world body can so often be oblivious to what is happening on the ground," Neuer told Fox News.
According to the U.N., Syrian security forces have killed some 5,000 people as the revolt in Syria enters its tenth month. Syrian rights groups say that figure has grown in the last few weeks and that thousands of Syrians have been injured, with thousands more imprisoned and tortured by the regime.
UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams told Fox News in November that UNESCO's director-general, Irina Bokova "doesn't usually 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."
The 58 member UNESCO executive board will next meet in March, but it remains to be seen if enough of them believe Syria should remain on the committee. U.N. Watch's Hillel Neuer says the onus will be on the Arab group of members of the executive board, which includes Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Syria! Neuer says
"The fact that the Arab group nominated Syria for a post on the UNESCO human rights body is a poor reflection of the group's judgment, and raises serious questions about the level of commitment to human rights by the Arab League's current human rights mission in Syria."
Ben Evansky reports for Fox News on the United Nations and international affairs.
He can be followed @BenEvansky