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Iran admitted to the CSW

Monday 3 May 2010, by siawi2 (Date first published: 3 May 2010).


NEW YORK — Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran
to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on
the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which
stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged

Just days after Iran abandoned a high-profile bid for a seat on the
U.N. Human Rights Council, it began a covert campaign to claim a seat
on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is "dedicated
exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women," according to
its website.

Buried 2,000 words deep in a U.N. press release distributed Wednesday
on the filling of “vacancies in subsidiary bodies,” was the stark
announcement: Iran, along with representatives from 10 other nations,
was “elected by acclamation,” meaning that no open vote was requested
or required by any member states — including the United States.

The U.S. currently holds one of the 45 seats on the body, a position
set to expire in 2012. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. did not return
requests for comment on whether it actively opposed elevating Iran to
the women’s commission.

Iran’s election comes just a week after one of its senior clerics
declared that women who wear revealing clothing are to blame for
earthquakes, a statement that created an international uproar — but
little affected their bid to become an international arbiter of
women’s rights.

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray,
corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which
(consequently) increases earthquakes," said the respected cleric,
Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi.

As word of Iran’s intention to join the women’s commission came out, a
group of Iranian activists circulated a petition to the U.N. asking
that member states oppose its election.

"Iran’s discriminatory laws demonstrate that the Islamic Republic does
not believe in gender equality," reads the letter, signed by 214
activists and endorsed by over a dozen human rights bodies.

The letter draws a dark picture of the status of women in Iran: "women
lack the ability to choose their husbands, have no independent right
to education after marriage, no right to divorce, no right to child
custody, have no protection from violent treatment in public spaces,
are restricted by quotas for women’s admission at universities, and
are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for peacefully seeking change of
such laws."

The Commission on the Status of Women is supposed to conduct review of
nations that violate women’s rights, issue reports detailing their
failings, and monitor their success in improving women’s equality.

Yet critics of Iran’s human rights record say the country has taken
“every conceivable step” to deter women’s equality.

"In the past year, it has arrested and jailed mothers of peaceful
civil rights protesters," wrote three prominent democracy and human
rights activists in an op-ed published online Tuesday by Foreign
Policy Magazine.

"It has charged women who were seeking equality in the social sphere —
as wives, daughters and mothers — with threatening national security,
subjecting many to hours of harrowing interrogation. Its prison guards
have beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and raped female and male
civil rights protesters."

Iran’s elevation to the commission comes as a black eye just days
after the U.S. helped lead a successful effort to keep Iran off the
Human Rights Council, which is already dominated by nations that are
judged by human rights advocates as chronic violators of essential
freedoms. The current membership of the women’s commission is little

Though it touts itself as “the principal global policy-making body” on
women’s rights, the makeup of the commission is mostly determined by
geography and its membership is a hodge-podge of some human rights
advocates (including the U.S., Japan, and Germany) and other nations
with stark histories of rights violations.

The number of seats on the commission is based on the number of
countries in a region, no matter how small their populations or how
scant their respect for rights. The commission is currently made up of
13 members from Africa, 11 from Asia, nine from Latin America and the
Caribbean, eight from Western Europe and North America, and four from
Eastern Europe.

During this round of “elections,” which were not competitive and in
which no real votes were cast, two seats opened up for the Asian bloc
for the 2011-2015 period. Only two nations put forward candidates to
fill empty spots — Iran and Thailand. As at most such commissions in
the U.N., backroom deals determined who would gain new seats at the
women’s rights body.

The activists’ letter sent to the U.N. Tuesday argued that it would be
better if the Asian countries proffered only one candidate, instead of
elevating Iran to the commission.

"We, a group of gender-equality activists, believe that for the sake
of women’s rights globally, an empty seat for the Asia group on (the
commission) is much preferable to Iran’s membership. We are writing to
alert you to the highly negative ramifications of Iran’s membership in
this international body."

A spokeswoman for the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social
Affairs, which oversees the commission, did not return phone calls or
e-mails seeking comment.

When its term begins in 2011, Iran will be joined by 10 other
countries: Belgium, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Estonia,
Georgia, Jamaica, Iran, Liberia, the Netherlands, Spain, Thailand and