Friday, 2 May 2014

She Was Left Unprotected

Women's rights, I believe, is the righteous struggle for gender equality - where men and women are treated equally and without any prejudice based on their gender. Thus, the United Nations has a body called ECOSOC - Economic and Social Council. ECOSOC in turn established a commission to monitor and steer the rights of women in the world in a direction that would protect women from discrimination; to realise gender equality. This commission is perhaps one of the most influential women's rights entities, and is called the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). ECOSOC has referred to the CSW as the "principal global policy-making body" that is "dedicated exclusively to gender equality and [the] advancement of women".

Bearing this in mind, the United Nations recently elected Sudan, Iran and Pakistan to sit as ‘distinguished members’ on the CSW. Unfortunately, these countries are renowned for heavily subjugating women in their national legislation and practice.

According to a report by UNICEF, 12.1 million women in Sudan have suffered the heinously ignorant and patriarchal malice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Sudanese girls and women with almost no education are four times more likely to support the continuation of FGM. The UNICEF report conveyed that FGM takes place across the various faiths and cultural backgrounds for the purpose of curtailing sexual liberty in women. This serves to demonstrate that the cause of FGM is more entrenched in the patriarchal culture of misogyny, rather than any religious command.

Iran’s women’s rights record is no less disappointing. The Civil Code permits the forceful marriage of 9 year-old girls to men decades their senior, simply at the behest of their fathers. There are reports that this practice continues despite the Iranian government having raised the age to 13. The minor has no right to refuse. According to the disturbing finding of UN Special Rapporteur Coomaraswamy, the inequalities in law and justice in the Islamic Republic of Iran reveal that should a man find out his wife has been unfaithful, he is permitted to execute her; however, the very same legal system will execute a woman who murders her husband if the situation was reversed. The Iranian Civil Code favours the father over the mother to take custody of their children in divorce cases. Men may successfully file for divorce at any time, whereas women may only file for divorce if they can prove they face physical harm if they continue with the marriage. Men may control the liberty of their wives by refusing to permit them to accept employment; women need to obtain written permits from their husbands before embarking on journeys outside the home.

In Pakistan, women who report their harrowing experience of rape to the authorities are subject to a Kafkaesque reversal of justice. They are charged with ‘false accusation’ for failing to present the highly impractical evidential requirement of four male witnesses, and are subsequently flogged and imprisoned. The very requirement of four male witnesses is in itself discriminatory as the testimony of a male is considered to be worth more than that of a female.

The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is perhaps the greatest international legal instrument ever devised to protect and promote the rights of women in securing gender equality. Pakistan is signatory to CEDAW; however, the flagrant disregard for the rights of women continues. Iran has persistently refused to ratify CEDAW, arguing it is in direct conflict with its Constitution. To many, it may be the logical approach to set the ratification of CEDAW and its full compliance as the prerequisite for election to sit on the CSW, or any other women’s rights committee at the UN. However, this sadly is not the case. 

With such prolonged systematic acts of gender discrimination and the blatant disregard for the rule of law exhibited by Sudan, Iran and Pakistan, this election strikes an insulting blow to the victims of gender discrimination, and to the efforts and advancements made by campaigners of gender equality. The aims promised by the CSW and ECOSOC have been rendered null and void by such a contradictory act; the absurdity of electing these gross violators of women’s rights to sit on the key international women’s rights monitoring body is akin to electing Al-Qaeda to head an anti-terrorism initiative. The decision-makers in the higher echelons of the UN should seriously consider seeking and implementing reforms in the criteria for candidacy to sit on influential human rights bodies.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

UN Experts Alarmed by Iran Hangings as UK Halts Bill

More than 40 people were hanged in Iran in the first 22 days of this year, senior United Nations officials have just revealed. In a report just published on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed and Christopher Heyns said there had been a surge in summary executions in Iran. Those put to death included a number of people accused of acting against national security. The two UN Special Raporteurs called on Tehran to put an immediate halt to any further hangings.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the majority of the executions were for drug-related offences; however, a number of detainees were executed for the crime of ‘Moharabeh’ (enmity against God), or acting against national security. The Iranian Government has in the past used this charge to execute anti-government protestors, and any other person who publicly criticises the establishment. The great massacre of 1988 in Iran saw the Ayatollah regime summarily execute thousands of prisoners over five months for politically opposing the newly established Islamic regime as a result of the 1979 revolution, and unilaterally labelled them as members of the MEK, a fundamental Islamic guerrilla organisation who endorse a Marxist ideology. However, monarchists; socialists and leftists were also executed, charged by the regime as being MEK members.

The protests following the disputed 2009 Presidential elections also had its share of arbitrary arrests, detentions and an on-site shoot to kill policy as fierce reprisal against those protesting peacefully in the streets. During his Friday prayer sermon in 2009, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had warned that if the people of Iran did not end their street protests and return to their homes, the ensuing “bloodshed and chaos” would be the “opposition leaders’ responsibility”.

In a press release, Rapporteur Heyns commented “We are dismayed at the continued application of the death penalty with alarming frequency by the authorities, despite repeated calls for Iran to establish a moratorium on executions”. Heyns further commented that “the inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty” demonstrates that the Government is proceeding with executions that fail to meet the established standard threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’ as required by international law.

Rapporteur Shaheed expressed deep concern at the increase in executions of political activists and individuals from ethnic minority groups, stating “the persistent execution of individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, association, and affiliation to minority groups contravenes universally accepted human rights principles and norms”. 

The Special Rapporteurs urged the Government of Iran, as an active member of the international community, to heed the calls for a moratorium on executions, especially in cases relating to political activists and alleged drug-offences. 

“We urge the Iranian authorities at least to restrict the use of the death penalty to what is permissible as an exception under international law, and namely to limit its imposition only for the crime of intentional killing, and to respect stringently international standards guaranteeing fair trial and due process for those facing the death penalty”.

Unlike Iran and China, who have the highest rates of executions in the world, the UK abolished the imposition of the death penalty ‘in all circumstances’ in 1998; however, the last execution took place in 1964, where Peter Allen was executed for the murder of John West. In 1965, Labour MP Sydney Silverman commenced a Bill to abolish capital punishment, which was passed by both Houses of Parliament. On 24th June, 2013, a Bill titled the ‘Capital Punishment Bill 2013-14’ was presented to Parliament calling for the reinstatement of Capital Punishment for certain offences. The Bill was sponsored by Mr. Philip Hollobone; however, it was not discussed and was shortly withdrawn without a view to progressing further. 

As a result of the 13th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK is prohibited from reinstating capital punishment for as long as it is party to the Convention. 

For many, it is with relief that the proposed reinstatement of being hanged at the gallows in the UK was halted and withdrawn; for others, it is a continued concern that the ceaseless execution of detainees in Iran is increasing. 

Washington is currently in negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme; perhaps the international community will one day negotiate a better human rights record for a country that descended from the empire of King Cyrus the Great of Persia, whose ‘Cyrus Cylinder’ bears history's first ever charter of human rights. A replica of the Cyrus Cylinder with the inscription of the charter can be found above the entrance to the UN Headquarters in New York.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

First They Took the Commission; Now They’re Coming for the Council.

UN diplomats informed Reuters that Iran intends to fill seats on the Human Rights Council’s 47-member body.  The General Assembly’s annual elections for the Geneva- based Human Rights Council will be held later this year in New York. There will be 14 seats available for three-year terms beginning in January 2014.

From the Asia group, which includes the Middle East and Asia, seven countries – China, Iran, Jordan, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Vietnam – are vying for four seats, UN diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
With an unrivalled record of human rights violations, for Iran to be successful in gaining a seat on the Human Rights Council would be one of the greatest political failures of the past and present century. Iran has proven to be a country that ruthlessly murders and tortures its own people, most of the times because its ruling body is intolerant of political dissidence. To grant them a place on the Council would be tantamount to rewarding them for their three decades of gross human rights abuses, and act as betrayal to the millions of the victims and their families who have suffered the reign of the intolerant theocracy.
Iran has already been elected to sit on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, despite its appalling gender-discriminative legislation and unofficial abuse of women. The fox guards the proverbial hen-house; and now it appears that the international political community are willing to permit what would be tantamount to the head of a paedophile ring managing the world’s largest orphanage.
The objection is that this is a blatant display of double-standards and should not be accepted by anyone with even half a conscience. It is highly hypocritical for Iran to sit on the Human Rights Council, because they deceitfully claimed at the Human Rights Council’s 2010 Universal Periodic Review in Geneva to have an inspirational human rights record. What could possibly be ‘inspirational’ about raping virgin detainees on the eve of their execution – a previously recorded IRI practice - is beyond any intelligible reasoning. The IRI expresses saint-like behaviour, whilst hiding the perilous abuses of its own people under their theocratic cloak.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Iran falls far short of the most basic standards expected of Human Rights Council members and sticks out even in an overall disappointing pool of candidates in the Asia group, with deeply problematic contenders such as Vietnam, China or Saudi Arabia,”.
The Iranian-Hezbollah strategic partnership has intensified its involvement in Syria – and its complicity in crimes against humanity against the Syrian people – while Syria itself is increasingly an Iranian protectorate. In 2011, Syria attempted to run for a seat on the Council, but withdrew due to pressure from both Western and Arab states. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels are locked in an increasingly sectarian civil war that has killed as many as 100,000 people, according to UN figures. For the sanctity of humanity to be preserved before it’s too late, such international pressure needs to be applied again in order to veto the terrorist-supporting and human-rights-discarding Iranian government from gaining a seat on the Council. The roots of their poison ought to be severed before the whole body of the Human Rights Council is infected.

This blog-post article also appears on the Iran Roundtable Website.