UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Iran, where a woman convicted of adultery
has been sentenced to death by stoning, is likely to become a
member of the board of the new U.N. agency to promote equality for
women, prompting outrage from the U.S. and human rights groups.
Some rights groups are also upset that Saudi Arabia, where women
are not allowed to drive and are barred from many facilities used
by men, is also vying to join the governing body of UN Women.
The General Assembly resolution adopted in July that merged four
U.N. bodies dealing with women's issues into a single agency with
greater clout to represent half the world's population calls for a
41-member executive board, with 35 members chosen by regional
groups and six representing donor nations.
The Asian group has put forward an uncontested 10-nation slate
that includes Iran, U.N. diplomats said, and Saudi Arabia has been
selected for one of two slots for emerging donor nations.
The 54 nations on the U.N. Economic and Social Council are
expected to elect UN Women's board on Nov. 10, and it is possible
that other Asian nations or emerging donor nations could become
candidates though diplomats say it's not likely.
Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. Mission, said Wednesday
that Iran's membership "would send the wrong signal at the start
of this exciting new initiative."
"UN Women is a vital new agency tasked with promoting gender
equality and women's empowerment worldwide," he said. "We and
many other countries are concerned by the negative implications of
Iran's potential board memberships, given its poor record on human
rights and the treatment of women.
"There are many qualified countries that would make positive
and constructive contributions as board members," Kornblau said.
The stoning sentence against the 43-year-old woman, Sakineh
Mohammadi Ashtiani, has raised an international outcry,
A resolution adopted by the General Assembly last year expressed
"deep concern" at Iran's increasing use of executions, death by
stoning, torture, flogging and amputations, and its increasing
discrimination against religious, ethnic and other minorities.
Philippe Bolopion, U.N. advocacy director for Human Rights
Watch, said "it's puzzling that Iran would have the nerve to be a
candidate for the board of UN Women, and even more puzzling if the
Asia group lets Iran get away with it."
"Having on top of it Saudi Arabia, a country with a track
record on women's rights as horrendous as Iran's, would add insult
to injury," he said.
Bolopion called their potential membership "an affront to women
around the world who are placing their hopes in UN Women," but he
expressed hope that the board's overall composition will ensure
that neither country will be able to use their position to
undermine the agency's work.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chose former Chilean president
Michelle Bachelet to head UN Women, an appointment greeted with
overwhelming approval by governments and women's groups who
campaigned for four years to streamline the U.N.'s activities
promoting the status of women.
The framework for UN Women's work is the platform to achieve
women's equality adopted by 189 nations at the 1995 U.N. women's
conference in Beijing. It called for governments to end
discrimination against women and close the gender gap in 12
critical areas including health, education, employment, political
participation and human rights.
Bolopion and Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International's U.N.
representative, were critical of regional groups pre-selecting
candidates instead of allowing a contested election in which
countries choose candidates and reject ones they deem unqualified.
"Sadly, the issue is not just an individual country's track record on women's rights, dismal though that may be," Diaz said. "A clean slate guarantees countries a seat in the executive body,
regardless of their record in protecting women's rights or promoting gender equality. The failure to ensure competitive elections is the responsibility of all member states."
Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, said that
if board membership "helps to influence Iran's attitude toward
women then fine, but if Iran uses it to hold back our dreams and
vision for equality then it's a disaster."
According to U.N. diplomats, the 10 countries selected by the
Asian group for the board are Iran, Bangladesh, India, China,
Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.
Eastern Europe and Latin America have put forward contested slates,
the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the
lists have not been made public.
The resolution earmarks four seats from the 10 top donor nations
and diplomats said the candidates are the United States, Britain,
Spain and Norway. It allocated two seats to contributors from
developing countries and diplomats said the candidates are Saudi
Arabia and Mexico.