Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Iran again put in charge of human rights henhouse at UN

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Or Avi-Guy

On April 23 the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) elected the Islamic Republic of Iran to serve in five of its specialized bodies. Especially noteworthy and concerning was Teheran's re-election to the Commission on the Status of Women and new role on the Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The former is the principal intergovernmental body at the UN dedicated to protecting women's rights, while the latter is a powerful and select body of only 19-nations which acts as the gatekeeper and overseer of all human rights groups that seek to work inside the world body, and thus allows governments to exclude NGOs who criticise their own human rights records.

Iran is in "good" company, as about a dozen other repressive regimes also gained membership of these two important committees. The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations will now have a clear majority made up of states with poor human rights credentials - including not only Iran, but Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, slave-holding Mauritania, Russia, Burundi, Guinea, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Sudan (whose leader, President Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court).

The United States expressed its condemnation of Iran's ECOSOC appointments, calling them a farce. UN Ambassador Samantha Power said that 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."

Her twitter account read: "Yet again #Iran ran unopposed & was "elected" to Commission on Status of Women. Given record on women's & human rights, this is an outrage." (for more on Iran's abysmal human rights record, see here)

Given the UN's unfortunate track record of placing chief human rights violators in charge of its top human rights protection agencies (see here), the new appointments are perhaps unsurprising, but the ongoing hypocrisy and lack of consistency in the UN's own attitude towards oppressive regimes, such as the one in Teheran, is worth highlighting.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has himself criticised the appalling status of women in Iran, commenting that women there are "subject to discrimination, entrenched both in law and in practice" and that "women's rights activists continue to face arrest and persecution". Indeed, a recent UN report chastised the Iranian Government for imprisoning women's rights activists, criticised the insufficient inclusion of women in the political sphere, and expressed concern over the introduction of "laws that permit gender discrimination and promote violence against women."

In addition, women in Iran - the country with the highest execution rate per-capita in the world - risk death sentences for "crimes" such as committing adultery or defending themselves against a rapist. It hardly seems a country fit to lead the UN's efforts to improve the status of women around the world. Along with Iran's reelection (it has been on the commission since 2011), Equitorial Guinea was among other highly problematic regimes also named to the global gender equality panel.

Meanwhile, the dominance of Committee on NGOs by Iran and other states with records of being more concerned with restricting the activities of NGOs, especially in relation to their own countries, than in facilitating them, led Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, to declare the day of their election "a black day for human rights,".

"When the criminals are made the judges -- the arsonists named as fire-fighters -- it's a travesty of justice. The crucial role of civil society within the world body is being eroded, its voice at risk of being silenced," warned Neuer.

Other human rights activists saw these appointments as a major setback to their cause and activities and expressed outrage:"Civil society loses as repressive states win election," tweeted the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR). ISHR had warned in its April report that "the Committee's membership will worsen considerably during the next term" and severely harm the freedom of NGOs. While it praised the election of some of the other new members, countries ranked by the ISHR as "strong, pro civil society candidates," such as Israel, Greece, South Africa, Uruguay, and the US, the organisation noted that their input and influence would be marginalised, as they now constitute a tiny opposition.

David Keyes, the Executive Director of Advancing Human Rights, emphasised the absurdity of electing Iran to such international bodies:

"The Iranian regime hangs poets, jails opposition, tortures bloggers and brutally represses minorities and women. The thousands of dissidents imprisoned and tortured by the Iranian regime will surely feel deflated as they see their brutal leaders embraced by global powers."


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