Foreign Affairs

Iran Elected to UN Commission on Women

The United Nations’ flair for the ironic was on full display last week when its members elected Iran to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

The commission is the "principal global decision-making body" on the advancement of women, its mission to "evaluate progress on gender quality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender quality and advancement of women worldwide."

And let’s face it, nothing says "gender equality" quite like Sharia law. As a member of the commission, the Islamic Republic of Iran may well bring a whole new perspective to the subject of women’s rights. Among the many rights currently enjoyed by Iranian women include the right to be stoned to death if suspected of adultery; the right to be married off by one’s father at the age of nine, and the right to cover themselves from head to toe.

Those Iranian women who do allow a bit of hair to creep out from their headscarves are to blame for, among other things, devastating earthquakes, according to a leading Islamic cleric.

"Many women who do not dress modestly…lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes," said Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi as reported by Iranian media in April.

Iran’s nomination to the commission was approved by acclimation April 29, meaning that there was no roll-call vote and no dissention. This show of multi-national bonhomie came despite a protest statement issued by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, which called the news of Iran’s candidacy "shocking" and urged the U.N. to make any approval conditional on Iran’s agreement to join in world human-rights accords.

The group noted that Iran has actively opposed the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and earned "international condemnation as a gross violator of women’s rights."

"Discrimination against women is codified in its laws, as well as in executive and cultural institutions, and Iran has consistently sought to preserve gender inequality in all places, from the family unit to the highest governmental bodies," said the human-rights group in a statement.

IRNA, the Iranian news agency, dismissed the protest as the product of "hostile groups and western media." IRNA also pointed out that "their efforts were ignored by members of ECOSOC [the United Nations Economic and Social Council]," in what may be the most accurately reported statement in IRNA history.

Anyone who keeps tabs on the United Nations should now be experiencing deja vu. It was only seven years ago that Libya was elected to chair the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, even though it was still under U.N. sanctions for its role in the Lockerbie airline bombing. Back then, the United States played the role of international spoilsport by forcing a roll-call vote on Libya’s candidacy, saying that it could not "reward Libya’s terrible conduct," according to Reuters.

There was no such unpleasantness this year from the Obama Administration, although it did scold the UN for holding an uncompetitive election. The Commission on the Status of Women had two vacancies available for nations within the Asian bloc, and only two applicants—from Iran and Thailand—meaning that their membership was automatically approved, said State Department spokesman Fred Lash.

"Iran’s treatment of women falls far short of international standards and does not merit their membership in a body dedicated to advancing the status of women," said a State Department statement. "The U.S.’s clear preference is for competitive elections to UN bodies like the CSW rather than the so-called ‘clean slate.’"

The post came as something of a consolation prize for Iran, which had tried unsuccessfully this year to join the U.N. Human Rights Council. Iran abandoned that effort April 23, just days before winning the CSW seat. The unfortunate sequence of events seems to suggest that while other nations don’t want Iran mucking around on human rights, they’re fine with having it run roughshod on women’s rights.

Kenneth Timmerman, president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, said Iran has a history of using its commission posts to cover up its record on civil-rights issues while creating a diversion by attacking other nations. One potential target would be European nations that have banned or are considering banning the wearing of the hajib, or headscarf, by schoolgirls.

"They’ve tended to use membership in these committees to whitewash their own gross abuses on human rights," said Mr. Timmerman. "Then they try to turn it around against the U.S. and Western nations. They may try to use their membership to punish Belgium for banning women from wearing the full hajib."

However Iran decides to behave, he said, the damage to the U.N.’s reputation has been done.

"What a joke," said Mr. Timmerman. "Another example of how the U.N. is out of step with the ideals of human freedom and democracy we champion here in the West."

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