AP reports that the United States is leading a diplomatic push to block Syria from winning a seat on the Human Rights Council. Right now, Syria is one of four candidates for four of the Asian seats that are opening up in May.  If no fifth candidate emerges, Syria is likely to win the 96 votes (a simple majority of UN member states) to win a seat on the council.

This kind of diplomatic push is a pretty decent proxy to measure American influence on human rights issues at the UN. Elections are conducted by secret ballot, so countries can make all the promises they want, but there is no real way to ‘enforce’ the kind of vote trading that is pretty common at the UN. With encouragement from the USA and Europe, a fifth Asian candidate will presumably emerge.  The real contest is then for support from swing states in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Last year, the USA and its allies were able to successfully block Iran’s candidacy Human Rights Council; after it became that they would face an uphill battle Tehran withdrew their candidacy. This time around, the fact that the Syrian government is apparently waging a violent crackdown on protesters will probably undermine their cause.

In the meantime, here in the United States the Human Rights Council is coming under increasing criticism from a newly empowered anti-UN wing of Congress.  The Obama administration has been adamant that American engagement with the council is critical to making the council a better functioning body and to advancing American human rights interests around the world. Having Syria as a newly elected member might complicate that message.

So, this election is certainly one to watch.

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