Middle East

Syria 'pulls out' of race for UN rights council spot

Anti-government protests in Homs, Syria (6 May 2011)
Image caption Hundreds of civilians have been killed in Syria's unrest, human rights groups say

Syria has dropped plans to run for a position on the United Nations Human Rights Council and will be replaced by Kuwait, UN diplomats say.

Damascus has come under increasing pressure to pull out of the race following its crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

But there has been no official confirmation of the move.

Syria's Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, told the BBC that so far Syria's position has not changed.

"I'm still waiting for instructions," the envoy said.

Some Western diplomats say Kuwait has quietly indicated that it will replace Syria as a candidate for the spot.

A campaign to keep Syria off the council has gathered steam since its violent crackdown on anti-government protesters, and Damascus been coming under increasing pressure from some Western and apparently Arab and Asian states to pull out of the race.

Lobbying

The council is the main UN body charged with monitoring human rights violations, but critics say some of its members use their position to block censure of themselves or their allies.

Candidates are not elected according to their human rights records, but by regional groups in which there is a lot of horse-trading for support.

Syria also came up at the UN Security Council on Tuesday. UN officials and some member states voiced concern about its refusal to grant humanitarian access to cities where the armed forces are trying to crush protests.

So far Russia and China, among others, have opposed any Security Council action on Syria, but some Western counties have renewed lobbying for a resolution condemning the crackdown.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the unrest in Syria which began in mid-March, human rights groups say.

Demonstrators have been calling for political reforms. The authorities say they are combating an insurrection by "armed terrorists".

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