U.S. Doesn't Object, So Iran Gets a Seat on U.N. Women's Rights Body

Patrick Goodenough | April 24, 2014 | 5:10am EDT
Font Size

U.N. Economic and Social Council president Oh Joon looks around to see whether any country objects to the candidates for seats on the Commission on the Status of Women during a session in New York on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. No country did, and Iran was among those elected ‘by acclamation.’ (Image: U.N. Webcast)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration on Wednesday criticized Iran’s election to the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – but neither the U.S. nor any other delegation objected when given the opportunity to do so, thus allowing Iran to get the seat “by acclamation.”

Iran will now serve on the CSW, a body dealing with gender equality and the advancement of women, for another four-year term, having already been a member since 2011.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power took to Twitter to express her views: “Yet again Iran unopposed & was ‘elected’ to Commission on Status of Women. Given record on women’s & human rights, this is an outrage.”

But Richard Grenell, who served as spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration and is a close observer of the world body, was unimpressed with her reaction.

“Ambassador Power can tweet her outrage after the fact all she wants,” he said. “She should have been in the room for the vote and demanded a secret ballot rather than allow an automatic acclamation by her silence.”

CSW members are elected by the 54-member U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

There were 11 vacancies to fill on the CSW, and each of the five regional groups put forward “closed slates” – the same number of candidates as there were vacancies available for that group.

Even so, had just one ECOSOC member objected to Iran’s candidacy, a secret ballot vote would then have been called. And had Iran not received the required minimum 28 votes, that would have allowed another member state from Iran's regional group, Asia, to step in as an alternative.

Yet neither the U.S. nor any other member of ECOSOC objected. Other democracies on the council include 13 European nations, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and India.

A webcast of the ECOSOC session shows just how the process unfolded.

First, the meeting secretary read out the names of the 11 countries put forward by their respective regional groups for the 11 available seats – Iran, Mongolia (Asia); Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Malawi (Africa); Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina (Eastern Europe); Colombia (Latin America and Caribbean); and Belgium, Liechtenstein and Spain (Western European and others).

Then ECOSOC’s president, Oh Joon of South Korea, said, “Since the number of candidates from all regional groups is equal to the number of vacancies, may I take it that the council wishes to elect the proposed candidates by acclamation?”

He looked around, then hearing no protestations, continued, “I hear no objection. It is so decided.”

The entire process took 103 seconds.

A few minutes after the CSW vote, a similar exercise saw ECOSOC hand Iran a seat on a body that oversees accreditation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This enables Iran to attend and express their views at meetings of various U.N. bodies, including the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.

Again, no ECOSOC member raised objection to any of the 19 countries nominated for the 19 vacancies, and again the chair used identical language to declare the outcome:

“Since the number of candidates from all regional groups is equal to the number of vacancies, may I take it that the council wishes to elect the proposed candidates by acclamation? I hear no objection. It is so decided.”

Other countries making it onto the NGO Committee through this exercise Wednesday included several which, like Iran, have fractious relationships with NGOs, particularly with NGOs that deal with human rights. They include China, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Mauritania, Sudan and Pakistan.

Democracies winning seats onto the NGO Committee included the U.S., Israel, Greece and India.

Power issued a statement later, decrying the election on the NGO Committee of “repressive regimes that systematically limit the activities of non-governmental organizations.”

“The unopposed candidacy of Iran, where authorities regularly detain human rights defenders, subjecting many to torture, abuse, and violations of due process, is a particularly troubling outcome of today’s election,” she said.

“Today is a black day for human rights,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based NGO U.N. Watch. “By empowering the perpetrators over the victims, the U.N. harms the cause of human rights, betrays its founding principles, and undermines its own credibility.”

‘A regressive regime against gender equality’

When Iran first won a seat on the CSW, in April 2010 for a four-year term beginning in 2011, virtually the same thing happened. Neither the U.S. nor any other ECOSOC member raised an objection, and Iran was elected “by acclamation.”

On that occasion, the Asia group had put Iran forward at the last minute as part of an apparent deal that saw it withdrew its even more controversial candidacy for the HRC.

Because of that, the silence of the U.S. and others during the CSW vote suggested they were willing to go along with the Asian group’s arrangement, in order to see an end to Iran’s HRC bid.

Three National Iranian American Council board members reacted to Iran’s election that day by saying it was “indicative of the ways in which women’s rights are continually sold down the river in exchange for political favors and horse trading on other issues at the U.N.”

The Iranian government, they wrote, “has taken every conceivable step to deter women’s progress and institute a regressive regime against gender equality.”

Days earlier more than 200 Iranian women’s rights activists in an open letter to ECOSOC warned that Iran’s membership would be “a serious threat” to the CSW’s “goals and mission,” and that the government in Tehran would use it “to curtail progress and the advancement of women.”

Iran’s record on women’s rights has not improved visibly since it first joined the CSW.

A Sept. 2012 U.N. report noted that under Iran’s Islamic penal code, “a woman’s testimony in a court of law is regarded as half that of a man’s and, despite amendments … a woman’s life is still valued as half that of a man’s.”

Another report, from the U.N.’s “special rapporteur on violence against women” and delivered to the U.N. General Assembly last November, cited abuses against women in Iranian prisons including the rape of virgins before execution, forced marriages and other forms of sexual violence and torture.

mrc merch