Iran & rights: another UN farce


New York Post

While the Iranian police are using tear gas and electric prods to crack down on antigovernment protesters, the UN Commission on the Status of Women is preparing to welcome the Islamic Republic as its newest member when its 56th session gets under way in New York today.

Iran will sit on the commission for a four-year term — though it certainly ranks among countries least able to judge the actions of others on the “elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child” and “gender equality,” two commission themes. Beyond its violence against protesters (including women), there is its adamant refusal to ratify the key international women’s-rights law — the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women — and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent statement that feminism is “a cry of protest from crushed women in a capitalistic system.”

Indeed, many laws and practices in Iran violate the sanctity of women, the proper treatment of girls and gender equality, purporting to rely on religious principles.

A few examples:

  • Under Iran’s Civil Code, girls as young as 9 may be married off by their father or grandfather to a man of any age; the child’s consent is irrelevant.
  • A husband has the right to control his wife’s freedom of movement and behavior and can forbid her from accepting a job she chooses.
  • Should a man find out that his wife has been unfaithful, he may execute her; however, the same legal system will execute a woman who murders her husband if the situation is reversed.
  • Cosmetics are banned, and Ahmadinejad’s “morality squads” patrol the streets, enforcing the law requiring women to cover their hair with the hijab. Women caught not fully covering their bodies or with a “bad hijab” are punished by 74 lashes with a whip or are imprisoned from one month to a year.
  • Modesty is important, explains Iranian cleric and Friday Prayer leader Kazem Sediqi, since “many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society and provoke increased earthquakes.”
  • Stoning to death of women is a legal form of punishment for sexual misconduct. Women are banned from pursuing higher education in 91 of 169 fields of study and must be taught in segregated classrooms.
  • An Iranian appeals court recently upheld the sentences of Maryam Bidgoli and Fatemeh Masjedi, two women’s-rights activists. Although modestly dressed, they expressed concerns regarding women’s rights in Iran and sought to bring them to the attention of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. For this, judges sentenced them to a “modest” six months in prison and fined each $200.

In their final ruling, the judges noted that the women were “propagandizing against the regime” and that a factor in upholding the sentence was their signing of a statement that characterized Iran as “without merit for filling a seat on the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women.”

Starting today, Iran won’t be a topic of discussion for the commission, but one of its judges.

This is a farce. The Islamic Republic should have no seat in any forum discussing human rights or women’s right — unless it is in the chair of the accused. Commission members such as America, Germany, Belgium and Italy should enforce its real mandate — defending the rights of women — and not those of their oppressors.

Mehrtash Rastegar, a London-based Iranian blog ger, and Nir Boms, board member of CyberDissident, are founding members of the “Iran 2011 — All Rights Reserved?” coalition. As the commission meets on March 3, the group will hold a rally at 1 p.m. at Isaiah’s Wall, across from the UN, to protest Iran’s mistreatment of human and women’s rights.

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