(CNSNews.com) – Islamic states at the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) failed in their attempt to water down a resolution creating a new mechanism to combat discrimination against women, and they are now reserving judgment on how to deal with the initiative.
The resolution establishes a working group of five independent experts who will advise governments on eliminating laws and practices that discriminate against women. It calls on all states “to revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and remove gender bias in the administration of justice.”
The latter provision poses a direct challenge to Islamic legal systems in which a woman’s testimony in court carries half the weight of a man’s testimony.
In countries such as
The HRC resolution was adopted without a vote on the last day of the Council’s three-week session in Geneva on Friday, after OIC states and their allies tried unsuccessfully to insert an amendment that could have provided a loophole to countries wanting to avoid compliance.
The initiative was led by
The effort to introduce a brief amendment – just 11 words – was led by Saudi Arabian envoy Abdulwahab Attar.
Those 11 words targeted an operative paragraph referring to “the obligation of states to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise.” Attar requested the insertion of the phrase, “in accordance with their international commitments under international human rights law.”
While the suggestion appeared innocuous on the surface, its implication would be far-reaching, because when Saudi Arabia and many other Islamic countries ratified the key U.N. treaty on women’s rights – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – they lodged various reservations or caveats about parts of the treaty, which they view as contradicting shari’a (Islamic law).
“In case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention,”
‘Some concepts are relative’
As other OIC envoys one by one voiced their support at the HRC for the Saudi amendment, Libyan delegate Ibrahim Aldredi explained why the text revision was important for Islamic states.
“Everyone needs to understand that some concepts are relative,” he said. “What might seem to be discriminatory in the eyes of some might not be discriminatory in the eyes of others.
“There may be divergences in cultures and religions, and it is these differences and this diversity indeed which makes our world what it is,” Aldredi continued. “No country can have obligations imposed on them without that country being party to that particular instrument. This is something that we all know within the United Nations.”
Others pressing for the amendment included
The main sponsors remained adamantly opposed to the Saudi amendment, however, with
“We cannot accept this idea of weakening the rights of women using this form of words that has been suggested,” he said.
“The Human Rights Council cannot accept reservations, limitations or caveats which would mean that we are questioning the absolute right that women have not to be discriminated against, be it under the law or in any other fashion.”
When the amendment came up for a vote, it was defeated by 22-18. The resolution itself was subsequently adopted without a vote.
Speaking on behalf of “Saudi Arabia and a number of OIC countries,” Attar then told the HRC that they were committed to eradicate discrimination against women, but would do so “in the framework of our commitments under international human rights law.”
“We will get back to the Council in due time on the manner in which we are going to engage with the new mandate,” he added.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a statement later welcomed passage of what she called a “historic” resolution.
“Establishing this mechanism by consensus at the U.N. Human Rights Council reinforces once again that women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights,” she said.
Women under shari’a
In 2007, a Saudi court sentenced a young woman who had been gang raped to 90 lashes because at the time the rapists abducted her she happened to have been in a car with a man not related to her.
The woman appealed the verdict but a higher court increased the sentence to 200 lashes and six months’ imprisonment. Amid international criticism the government initially defended the court decision, although King Abdullah eventually “pardoned” her.
A similar situation applies in
In Iran, for a rape victim to secure a conviction against her assailant, she requires the testimony of four men (or three men and two women), and anyone found to have brought false allegations of rape faces 80 lashes, according to the State Department’s latest report on international human rights.
A woman appearing in public without an appropriate head and body covering can be sentenced to lashings and fines, and “women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences.”
Provisions in Iranian law dealing with family and property law also discriminate against women, the report said.
Early this year it was reported that a Bangladeshi court was investigating after village elders ordered a 16-year-old girl to be lashed 101 times after she fell pregnant as a result of a rape. The elders pardoned the 20 year-old rapist.