Iran Wins Seat on UN Women's Rights Commission

Iran Wins Seat on UN Women's Rights Commission

Iran made significant strides in gaining power in the United Nations Economic and Social Council this week, confirming their place on five sub-committees. Most controversial among these is their appointment to the Commission on the Status of Women, which would give the nation influence over global women’s rights.

In a press release announcing a new term for the committees under the Economic and Social Council– whose theme this term will be “the future of humanitarian affairs: towards greater inclusiveness, coordination, interoperability and effectiveness”– the UN announced that Iran will serve on the Commissions on Population and Development, Science and Technology for Development, the Committee for Programme Coordination and on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Commission on the Status of Women.

The United States has objected to Iran’s election to these positions. UN Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement: “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.”

Iran’s history makes it a clearly unworthy steward of international human rights, though two of those appointments are far more distressing than the others: the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations and the Commission on the Status of Women. Power’s statement preceded a promise to continue supporting NGOs that work to expose human rights violations abroad, many of which have clashed with the Iranian government when attempting to investigate its abuses. 

The appointment to that committee reaches the Iranian government at a time when they are attempting to quell uprisings triggered by a massive human rights scandal. The head of the Iranian prison system was removed and appointed to a position of less power this week after relatives of political prisoners at the nation’s notorious Evin prison called for justice for their relatives. Political prisoners at Evin allege that an inspection at the institution resulted in more than one hundred guards savagely beating and abusing dozens of prisoners. Iranian legislators have promised to investigate the situation.

The appointment to the Women’s Rights commission follows statements that some are interpreting as an attempt to limit the abuses of women in Iran by President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani noted that “there are still so many deficiencies with regards to the vindication of women’s rights,” but that Islamic law provided an equal footing for both men and women: “they both have the same human dignity and none is superior.”

The UN itself has disputed the idea that the Iranian government sees men and women as possessing “the same human dignity.” In a report released last month, the UN chastised the government of Iran for imprisoning women’s rights activists, relegating women to outsider status in politics, and introducing “laws that permit gender discrimination and promote violence against women.” In the latter category, the report cites “the revised Islamic Penal Code, which… values women’s testimony in a court of law as half that of a man’s, and a woman’s life half that of a man’s.”

Women are also subject to a significant number of executions for crimes such as adultery and being the survivors of rape. This month, a UN human rights expert called for Iran to cancel the scheduled execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, who is alleged to have been raped by a former Iranian intelligence official. Jabbari was sentenced for the murder of her former boss, Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi. According to the UN, Jabbari confessed to the crime, but her conviction is “allegedly based on confessions made under threat possibly equivalent of torture.” Even Sarbandi’s family has expressed some doubts that Jabbari committed the crime. 

Jabbari is still scheduled for execution in the near future. Human Rights Watch notes that not only women subject to such crimes are presented to the Iranian legal system– Evin Prison counts at least 14 female inmates, three of which are explicitly political prisoners who Human Rights Watch has advocated to be released.

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