REUTERS - Under pressure from fellow U.N. member states, Syria dropped plans to run for a seat on the top U.N. human rights body and allowed Kuwait to replace it as a candidate, U.N. diplomats said on Tuesday.
Several U.N. diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Kuwait had confirmed to Western officials that it planned to declare its candidacy for a spot on the 47-nation Human Rights Council in the Asian category.
They said Syria planned to trade candidacies with Kuwait, which was slated to run for the rights council in 2013, and drop out of the 2011 race for one of the four spots available to Asian countries. Other Asian candidates running this year are India, Indonesia and the Philippines.
There was no immediate confirmation from Syrian officials. Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, asked by Reuters if Damascus had agreed to trade places with Kuwait and postpone its candidacy until 2013, said there was "so far nothing."
One diplomat told Reuters that an "Asian group meeting will have to be called to confirm these changes." Other envoys said the Asian voting group, which includes Asia and the Middle East, would meet to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
Another Western diplomat said Syria's withdrawal from the 2011 race and Kuwait's candidacy was "great news."
The 192-nation U.N. General Assembly will hold its annual elections for one third of the seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on May 20.
France: not the time for Syria
The council is the main U.N. body charged with monitoring member states' compliance with international human rights norms. Critics say it spends too much time bashing Israel while ignoring violations by countries such as Sri Lanka, Bahrain, China, Russia and others.
The original slate of Syria, India, Indonesia and the Philippines had been endorsed by Asia's U.N. voting group and the Arab League.
But Syria's violent crackdown against anti-government protesters prompted some Western, Arab and Asian U.N. member states to suggest that Damascus should not be on the rights body when it was facing accusations of gross violations, Western envoys said.
"It is not really the time for Syria to become a member of the council of human rights," French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters on Monday.
The United States under former President George W. Bush had shunned the rights council, considering it a tool of anti-Israeli forces at the United Nations.
President Barack Obama reversed that policy two years ago, saying the United States could improve the rights council from within. The United States ran for and secured a seat.
Had Syria won a seat on the council, it would have followed other states accused of human rights abuses by rights watchdog groups including China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Muammar Gaddafi's Libya is a member of the rights council, but the General Assembly suspended its membership rights in response to its violent crackdown this year against anti-government demonstrators that sparked a civil war.