Kuwait will run for a seat on the U.N.'s Human Rights Council this month instead of Syria, U.N. diplomats are telling several news outlets. The news comes after human rights groups mounted a campaign against Syria's candidacy in light of the regime's crackdown on pro-democracy protests. According to human rights groups, the crackdown has killed almost 800 civilians. Foreign Policy's Colum Lynch points out that Syria hasn't yet confirmed its decision to withdraw but that Kuwait wouldn't be throwing its hat into the ring if it hadn't struck a deal with Syria to swap spots, with Syria perhaps eyeing another bid in the near future when the unrest in the country quiets down. The human rights group U.N. Watch says Kuwait is "far better than Syria, but another non-democracy nonetheless" and points out that, according to the U.S. State Department, Kuwaitis have "limited freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion" and women don't enjoy equal rights.
The news comes a day after the European Union joined the U.S. in imposing sanctions--including asset freezes, travel bans, and an arms embargo--on top Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad's brother, Maher, who Al Jazeera descripes as the "prinicipal overseer of violence against demonstrators," and Rami Makhlouf, who owns Syria's largest mobile phone company, Syriatel. The Telegraph fueled speculation this morning that international pressure and domestic unrest could be spooking the regime by quoting a "high-ranking Arab diplomatic source" who said Syria's first lady, Asma Assad, had fled to London. Yet in a rare interview with The New York Times on Monday, an Assad adviser said the regime had gained the advantage in its seven-week-long crackdown on protesters, calling the demonstrators "fundamentalists, extremists, smugglers" and ex-convicts and stating that "you can't be very nice to people who are leading an armed rebellion," though she added that she was reaching out to some opposition figures for talks.