Western lobbying bars Iran from peak UN women’s agency
From The Times
November 11, 2010

IRAN’S bid for a seat on the board of a prestigious new UN agency promoting women’s rights has been emphatically rebuffed, with Australia playing a strategic role in its defeat.

Western governments and human rights organisations mounted a last-ditch operation to have Iran blackballed from UN Women, deepening Tehran’s internation isolation.

Its opponents rejoiced at the exclusion of a state that stones women to death for adultery and has one of the world’s worst records on women’s rights.

“They lost, and they lost handily,” said US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.

“We’ve made no secret of our concern that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board… It was a very good outcome.”

A British government spokesman said: “The UK strongly believes that countries on the board of UN Women should have demonstrated a firm commitment to women’s rights and gender equality.”

UN Women, to be chaired by Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president, subsumes four smaller UN agencies dealing with women’s rights and is charged with promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Of the UN’s 192 member states, Iran is one of just six that has not ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Until last week, Iran’s election had seemed a foregone conclusion despite the international outcry over Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for alleged adultery. It was one of only ten Asian countries standing for the ten seats set aside for them on the 41-member board.

Amid growing outrage, however, Western governments including the US, Canada and Australia persuaded East Timor to add its name last Thursday. That meant the 54 members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council had to vote on the Asian slate yesterday. After some intense behind-the-scenes lobbying, Iran came 11th and last with just 19 votes.

It was the second such humiliation Tehran has suffered this year, with a similar US-led operation thwarting Iran’s attempt to join the UN Human Rights Council in April. This week, the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation withdrew its support for World Philosophy Day in Iran, which the country will host this month.

The vote was greeted with jubilation by human rights organisations, though they were dismayed that Saudi Arabia secured a place as a donor nation.

Maryam Namazie, spokeswoman for Iran Solidarity, a campaign group, said the Ashtiani case had “knocked some sense” into voting states. “Otherwise, having Iran on UN Women would have been like putting the Vatican in charge of UN Children or the Burmese junta in charge of UN Election Monitoring.”

Marianne Mollmann, advocacy director for women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, said: “We didn’t want Iran to have an opportunity to whitewash their internal policies with this important position on a new UN entity.”

There was no immediate comment from official Iranian sources.

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