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189th Executive Board

Explanation of Vote for Agenda Item 24, Response of UNESCO to the Situation in the Syrian Arab Republic

Statement as delivered by U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO,  Ambassador David Killion, on 8 March 2012

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

The United States is profoundly disappointed that this resolution does not call for the outright removal of Syria from the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations – something for which we have repeatedly called for.  We agree with Director-General Bokova that, given the actions of the Assad regime, it is not clear how Syria can contribute to the work of the committee.  We hope that UNESCO will revisit Syria’s membership following the UNESCO's Director General’s report on Syria.

Nonetheless, we are pleased to have joined with our Arab League colleagues to decry the abuse and atrocities currently unfolding in Syria.  Today, UNESCO becomes the third UN agency – following the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council – to successfully address the increasingly dire human rights situation in Syria.

In Commission of Inquiry’s second Report, issued on February 22, the Commission describes the effect of the conflict on the children of Syria.  More than 500 children have been killed.  Some children have been killed or wounded by snipers and other state forces, including those 10 years old or younger.  Others have been arrested, tortured, and sexually abused in detention.  Children cannot go to school.  The streets are not safe and more than 1000 schools have been vandalized, burned or destroyed.

Syrian villages, towns and cities are facing devastation, and Syria’s rich cultural heritage is imperiled.  How many dead and wounded journalists must be carried out of Syria before we recognize that the situation in that country is an affront to the very purposes for which UNESCO was founded?

UNESCO should also respond to the pleas of the Syrian people to the international community for help as part of UNESCO’s essential role in protecting the cultural, historical and natural heritage of humanity, and facilitating the free flow of ideas.
UNESCO must be committed to acting responsibly.  Member states must join together in a single voice to say that the suffering and gross violations of human rights happening today in Syria will not be ignored by this Organization.  Today, mindful of our obligations under UNESCO's Constitution, the Executive Board has adopted a clear and robust resolution in response to the situation in Syria.  We look forward to further action by this committee to address Syria’s membership on the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations.

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.