U.N. Body Dealing With Women’s Rights Criticizes Israel, But Not Iran or Syria

March 13, 2012 - 5:10 AM
CSW

The U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) opens its 2012 session in New York on February 27, 2012. For the second consecutive year, the CSW adopted only one one country-specific resolution, accusing Israel of violating the rights of Palestinian women. (UN Photo by Paulo Filgueiras)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday heard a report detailing Iranian human rights violations, including abuses against women, but just three days earlier another U.N. body – one dealing with women’s rights – ended its annual session with a measure condemning neither Iran nor its ally Syria, but Israel.

For the second consecutive year, the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) wrapped up its gathering in New York with only one country-specific resolution, which accused Israel of “systematic violation” of the human rights of Palestinian women.

No place was found on CSW’s agenda to discuss the deadly crisis in Syria or the plight of women in Iran.

The resolution criticizing Israel was adopted by a 29-2 vote, with the United States and Israel alone opposing it. Ten mostly European members abstained.

Although introduced by Algeria on behalf of Arab states (with support from Turkey and Brazil), the resolution’s appearance on the agenda was not merely the work of Israel’s customary Arab-Islamic critics. In her opening address to the CSW session on February 27, U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet drew attention to the Palestinian issue, at the top of a short list of what she called “a number of important reports before us.”

Other items she listed were thematic – women hostages, women and HIV/Aids, empowerment, preventable maternal mortality and “the right to sexual and reproductive health.”

Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor questioned the CSW’s priorities, telling the Ha’aretz daily that the CSW, abetted by European members’ decisions to abstain rather than oppose, “turns its back on the tortured and murdered women of Damascus and continues to obsessively deal with Palestinian women.”

Iran is a member of the 45-country CSW. Iranian envoy Eshagh al-Habib used his speech to call Israeli treatment of Palestinian women and children “one of the gravest tragedies in modern history.”

He then went on to extol Iran’s treatment of women, highlighting life expectancy, education and employment statistics, and increased rates of female participation at decision-making levels, and saying that the “inspiring school of pure Islam” is opening new horizons for women.

In contrast to al-Habib’s comments, the Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday considered a grim report on Iran’s human rights record.

It was presented to the HRC by the U.N. “special rapporteur for human rights in Iran,” Ahmed Shaheed. The post and mandate was established by the HRC a year ago at the behest of the U.S. and other democracies, which only succeeded in getting the measure passed because Saudi Arabia led a group of Islamic states in abstaining. (China, Cuba, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ecuador and Mauritania voted “no.”)

Iran has refused to cooperate with Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, and has barred him from visiting the country.

Iranian women face abuses, discrimination

In his first annual report, presented on Monday, Shaheed said the Iranian government was engaged in a “striking pattern of violations” of human rights under international law.

Among the many he cited were those directed at women:

--A bill now under consideration allowing men to enter into multiple marriages without the knowledge or permission of their wives. Shaheed said the measure “would seriously curtail women’s marital rights and ability to determine issues that have a significant socio-economic impact on their lives.”

--Discrimination against women in Iran’s newly-ratified penal code:  Although stoning as a punishment is omitted, “severe punishments may still be issued at a judge’s discretion in accordance with sharia law or fatwas.” Shaheed cited reports saying that at least 15 men and women were currently facing death by stoning for adultery.

--After eight children were severely burned in a fire in which the education ministry was found guilty of negligence, a court ruling had allocated twice as much “blood money” (a compensatory arrangement permitted under shari’a) to girl victims as they did to boys. Shaheed said the decision was only overturned after a public outcry. He urged the government to reassess all laws discriminating against women, “especially those that place unequal value on their lives and bodily parts.”

--In contrast to Iran’s assertions at the CSW about women’s participation at decision-making levels, Shaheed cited reports saying women do not hold positions as presiding judges and are deprived of the right to hold certain other offices of the state. He urged Iran to “improve female representation in decision-making positions of the judicial system and in other government offices where they are underrepresented.”

--Shaheed did comment favorably on improved female literacy, education and mortality reduction figures, but noted that women still face discriminatory practices that hinder equal access to academic and professional opportunities and quotas limiting the numbers of women who can enroll in some programs.

(Iran places near the bottom – in 125th place out of 135 countries – in the World Economic Forum’s 2011 “Global Gender Gap,” a rating of how successfully countries have closed gaps between women and men in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival.)

The U.S. and various European members of the HRC welcomed Shaheed’s report on Monday, while Iran’s envoy called the allegations baseless.

Other members, including Cuba and Pakistan, backed Iran and said they oppose country-specific mandates and resolutions at the HRC because they are politicized and discriminatory. (Pakistan and Cuba are among the council’s strongest advocates of frequent country-specific resolutions targeting Israel.)