Iran Wins Leadership Post at UN ‘Gender Equality’ Body, After Sentencing Women’s Rights Advocate to Prison, Lashing

Patrick Goodenough | March 14, 2019 | 4:27am EDT
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Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. (Photo by Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images) Irish Ambassador to the U.N. Geraldine Byrne Nason. (Photo: Dep’t of Foreign Affairs, Ireland)

( – The United Nations’ body dedicated to “gender equality and the advancement of women” this week handed Iran a key role in evaluating “injustice and discriminatory practices against women” – on the same day as an Iranian court reportedly sentenced a women’s rights advocate to 38 years’ imprisonment and 148 lashes.

No Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) member-state raised an objection or called for a recorded vote, and Iran got the post.

Also on Monday, Iranian human rights activists, citing family members, reported news of the sentencing of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer who represented women charged for protesting the mandatory wearing of the hijab.

Sotoudeh, who was arrested last year, was charged with various security offenses, including spying, plotting against the state, and insulting supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

State media said she had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for plotting against the state and another two years for insulting Khamenei. But Sotoudeh’s husband posted online that the total punishment handed down was 38 years’ imprisonment and 148 lashes.

State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said Tuesday the U.S. was “outraged” at the reported sentence, calling it “beyond barbaric.”

“Her alleged crime was advocating for Iranian women’s rights and for defending other Iranian women who were arrested by the regime for peacefully protesting the mandatory hijab law,” he told reporters.

Palladino cited reports that Sotoudeh had been “sentenced in absentia without a fair trial by the notorious Revolutionary Court, which is led by Judge [Mohammad] Moghiseh, an accused human rights violator.”

In New York, the CSW is holding its 63rd annual session, which runs through March 22.

As it began on Monday, the gathering filled two seats on a five-member “Working Group on Communications.” Its main function is to consider confidential communications and replies by governments, relating to cases that “appear to reveal a consistent pattern of reliably attested injustice and discriminatory practices against women.”

Irish Ambassador to the U.N. Geraldine Byrne Nason. (Photo: Dep’t of Foreign Affairs, Ireland)

Chairing the session, Geraldine Byrne Nason of Ireland noted that the Asia and Africa groups had endorsed Iran and Nigeria respectively for the positions.

“May I take it that the Commission wishes to appoint Nigeria and the Islamic Republic of Iran to serve on the Working Group on Communications of the 63rd session?” she asked.

A second later, Nason said, “I hear no objections.” And banging her gavel, she added, “It is so decided.”

‘Moral relativism’

UN Watch, a leading non-governmental monitor of U.N. agencies, condemned the decision.

“The United Nations was founded on moral clarity but sadly, all too often today we see moral relativism of the kind that allows the misogynistic regime of Iran to examine complaints alleging violations of women’s rights,” the organization’s executive director, Hillel Neuer, said on Wednesday.

“That’s like asking the fox to guard the chickens. Iran treats women as second class citizens and oppresses them daily with the forced hijab law.”

Neuer said the Irish government in particular should “apologize for its CSW chair who failed to stand up and speak out for the basic rights of Iranian women.”

“Empowering Iran to hold any kind of symbolic position as a global guardian of women’s rights sends the worst possible message as to how the United Nations feels about the rights of oppressed women in Iran.”

Queries have been sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin.

Iran has for years ranked near the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s annual “Global Gender Gap” report, which measures gaps between women and men in areas of political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, and health and survival.

In the most recent report, covering 2018, Iran was in 142nd place out of 149 countries evaluated.

Despite that record, and despite protests at the time by Iranian women’s rights activists Iran was elected onto the 45-member CSW in 2010, and has since 2011 served several consecutive terms.

According to the CSW website, the Working Group on Communications meets for three days behind closed doors before the annual session begins, to consider confidential communications relating to alleged violations against women, before reporting to the CSW.

Examples of the types the issues it deals with include: arbitrary arrests, deaths and torture in custody, forced disappearances, forced marriage, sexual harassment, sex trafficking, virginity testing, gender discrimination in criminal punishment, and “violation of the rights of women human rights defenders to freedom of expression and assembly.”

Sotoudeh has served prison time previously for her human rights work. After representing opposition activists following the protests against former president of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009 she was charged with spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security.

In 2011 she was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment and barred from working as a lawyer for 20 years. The sentence was later reduced on appeal to six years’ imprisonment, and a ten-year ban on practicing law.

In 2012 the European Parliament awarded Sotoudeh its Sakharov Prize. She was released early, just days before newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani was due to address the United Nations in New York in September 2013.

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