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Syria, Iran Bid For UN Human Rights Council Seats Met With Understandable Incredulity

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This Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009 file photo shows Syrian President Bashar Assad, seen, during a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, unseen, at the presidency in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File) | AP

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States on Thursday slammed Syria and Iran for seeking seats on the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, saying their own rights violations are under U.N. investigation.

Syria and Iran are candidates to join the 47-nation Geneva-based Council, along with other often-criticized nations such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Chad, Vietnam and Russia.

Syria is embroiled in a brutal civil war, with human rights groups blaming both President Basher Assad's government and the Syrian rebels for abuses. Iran is a key Syrian ally, and is also criticized for jailing political prisoners, executing drug offenders.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Rosemary DiCarlo told reporters Thursday that "attempts by either country to join the Human Rights Council are highly inappropriate given existing Human Rights Council mandates to investigate human rights violations in these countries, their egregious records on human rights, and their on-going collaboration to suppress the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people."

A Western diplomat confirmed that Iran and Syria had become candidates, but doubted they would win enough votes from their Asia/Mideast regional group to advance their candidacies. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, said, "The Syrian government is either delusional, or it is purposefully insulting the very ideals at the heart of the Human Rights Council. Either way, a reality check is coming in the form of a humiliating defeat, even though Syria is facing candidates such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam or China, who would be well inspired to work on their own abysmal rights records before seeking to become world arbiters in these matters."

But Hillel Neuer, the director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, a watchdog group that often criticizes U.N. practices, warned: "Given that Iran was recently elected to the U.N. Commission on Women's Rights, and Syria to UNESCO's human rights committee, we cannot take anything for granted.

"Syria is certainly less popular now, but Iran chairs the largest UN voting bloc – the non-aligned movement – through which it hosted a Tehran summit last year that drew many world leaders including U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon," Neuer said. "We need to seriously fight these candidacies."

DiCarlo noted that Syria and Iran had apparently not yet filed all the needed paperwork to formalize their candidacies.

The 193-member U.N. General assembly will vote in November to elect 14 nations to three-year terms on the Human Rights Council.

Regional groups within the General Assembly hold caucuses to select their preferred candidates. The regions and their candidates are:

_ Western Europe "and others": Britain and France, for two open seats. The United States is already on the Council serving a 2012-2015 term.

_ Eastern Europe: Latvia, Macedonia and Russia, contesting two open seats.

_ Africa: Algeria, Chad, Morocco, Namibia, South Sudan and Tunisia, contesting four open seats.

_ Latin America: Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay, contesting two open seats.

_ Asia/Mideast: China, Iran, Jordan, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam, contesting four open seats. Syria had launched a bid in 2011 but withdrew it under criticism from other members of its group.

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