|Syria's crackdown on anti-government protests has been widely criticised [AFP]
Syria has officially dropped its bid for a seat on the United Nations' top human right body, in the wake of an intense campaign against the Syrian regime for its ongoing crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising..
Syrian diplomats told a closed meeting of Asian UN members on Wednesday that it agreed to trade candidacies with Kuwait, which was slated to run for the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in 2013.
Bashar al-Assad's government is facing growing international pressure for violently responding to the anti-regime protests that began in March, with the European Union imposing an arms embargo and sanctions on 13 senior regime figures - though not Assad himself - for violence against protesters.
Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, denied reports that the move was an yield to intense "political" pressure from Asian and Arab nations to withdraw from the May 20 election.
"It is a sovereign decision based on the Syrian government's will to reschedule the timing of our candidacy, based on reconsidering our priorities," Jaafari said on Wednesday.
Jafari described the swap with Kuwait as "a common understanding between the two governments" to exchange candidacies.
"There is no room for any political approaches in the Asian group," he added.
Syria was chosen in January as one of the four candidates, alongside India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, for seats to be filled by Asia under a convention that stipulates UN bodies be filled by regional blocs.
'Writing on the wall'
Human rights groups and some governments have been campaigning to keep Syria off the council.
Their efforts have intensified since Damascus deployed security forces against pro-democracy protesters calling for an end to Assad's 11-year presidency and the Baath Party's decades-long rule.
A British mission spokesman said Syria's withdrawal "is absolutely the right thing to happen."
"We consider it completely inappropriate for a country conducting such violent repression against peaceful protestors to be seeking membership of the Human Rights Council," said the spokesman.
Human Rights Watch, a global rights monitor, welcomed Syria's withdrawal.
"This election had become a referendum on Syria's violent suppression of protests, and Syria withdrew rather than face a resounding defeat," Peggy Hicks, HRW's global advocacy director, said.
Geneva-based UN Watch hailed the news but voiced concern over Kuwait being its replacement.
Kuwait is "far better than Syria, but another non-democracy nevertheless", the group said on Tuesday, in response to rumors of Syria's drop out.
According to the National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria, over 750 civilians have been killed and around 9,000 people arrested since the crackdown on protests began.
The Syrian government has barred journalists from entering the country to report on the uprising. Dorothy Parvaz, an Al Jazeera journalist, has not been heard from since she arrived in Damascus on April 29.