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Iran has been appointed to several key United Nations committees that oversee the protection of women’s rights and global human rights.
Iran—which leads the world in executions and recently ordered the hanging a 26-year-old rape victim—was voted late Wednesday into a coveted spot on the U.N. Economic and Social Council’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Tehran’s representative at the United Nations will now serve a four-year term on the committee, which is tasked with protecting women’s rights across the globe.
Iran also won a spot on the leading U.N. committee that oversees the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a move that has sparked fear among advocacy groups that are worried Iran will now be in a position to silence their work.
The NGO committee in particular is “a coveted position because it allows governments to silence criticism by acting as the gatekeeper and overseer of all human rights groups that seek to work inside the world body,” according to U.N. Watch, which tracks oppressive regimes at the U.N.
A number of other repressive regimes were also voted onto the committee, including Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia, and Sudan, among others.
“Today is a black day for human rights,” Hillel Neuer, U.N. Watch’s executive director, said in a statement. “By empowering the perpetrators over the victims, the U.N. harms the cause of human rights, betrays its founding principles, and undermines its own credibility.”
Iran’s new role on the women’s rights commission elicited shock from human rights observers who have long criticized Tehran for its oppressive policies and lackluster human rights record.
“This election farce has real consequences,” said Anne Bayefsky, director of The Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust (IHRH). “At its annual session in March 2014, the CSW adopted only one resolution critical of only one country on earth for violating women’s rights—Israel, violating the rights of Palestinian women.”
Iran first got into the CSW in 2011.
“So the question is, why do Western democracies like the United States legitimize these elections and their inevitable consequences, and then pay for their operations year-round?” asked Bayefsky.
The Commission on the Status of Women is the U.N.’s “principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” according to the commission’s website.
Iran will now have a role in evaluating “progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.”
Iran executed more than 500 people last year and is on pace to top that number this year. The regime recently upheld the execution order for a 26-year-old Iranian woman who stabbed a man while he was trying to rape her.
Iran’s ascent to these top roles on critical human rights committee’s has already provoked outrage.
“Tragically, the U.N.’s election today of regimes such as Iran, Sudan and Mauritania—governments that rape and torture political prisoners, subjugate women, and commit crimes against humanity from slavery to genocide—sends a message that crass politics trumps basic human rights,” Neur said. “The U.N. is letting down millions of victims around the globe who look to the world body for vital protection.”
The addition of Iran and China to the committee overseeing NGOs is likely to spark a crackdown on the advocacy work these groups do.
U.N. Watch, for instance, has been subject to spying by Chinese groups posing as NGOs. Neuer expects these types of incidents to increase.
“The very U.N. committee that is meant to judge our complaint against this dangerous [Chinese] front group is now stacked more than ever before by China, Sudan, and their non-democratic allies, who control some 70 percent of the seats,” he said in a statement. “When the criminals are made the judges—the arsonists named as fire-fighters—it’s a travesty of justice. The crucial role of civil society within the world body is being eroded, its voice at risk of being silenced.”
Iran also won slots on the Commission on Population and Development, Commission on Science and Technology for Development, and the Committee for Programme Coordination.