IHEU defends rights of women and attacks censorship at the UN

  • Date / 23 September 2008

In a joint statement with Center for Inquiry, IHEU has condemned abuses of women’s human rights, including child marriage and “honour” killings, especially in Pakistan and Iran. IHEU also attacked the culture of censorship that now prevails in the Human Rights Council.

IHEU Oral Statement to the 9th Session of the Human Rights Council

Thank you, Mr President

We are joined in this statement by the Center for Inquiry.

At the 8th session of the Human Rights Council, in the context of follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, we attempted to draw attention to some examples of widespread violence against women that we believed merited greater attention from the Council. We were however unable to complete our statement as prepared and we therefore wish to return to this subject.

As an organisation at the forefront of the battle to eliminate child marriage, we were delighted by a recent statement by the H.E Turki Al-Sudairy, President of the Human Rights Commission of Saudi Arabia[1], in which he condemned the growing incidence of child marriage in the Kingdom, stating that child marriage should be treated as forced marriage, and pointing out the adverse health consequences for girls who are not psychologically, physically or sexually mature.

In the matter of so-called “honour killings” we note with great concern, however, that the reported number of cases is on the rise worldwide, with 636 reported cases last year in Pakistan alone. Two recent cases, from the Punjab and Baluchistan, were particularly shocking, as was the reaction of a Pakistani senator who reportedly said “these are centuries old traditions and I will continue to defend them”[2].

What kind of honour is it, Mr President, that can inflict such barbarity on young women? We would suggest that it is a culture that treats women and girls as chattels, as the property of their menfolk.

We were dismayed by a recent report that Iranian President Ahmadinejad had introduced a bill into the Iranian parliament to further restrict the rights of women, particularly with regard to matters of marriage and divorce. In the words of one of the opponents of the bill “the text is designed to return women to the dark ages”. Four leading opponents of the bill have now been sentenced to six months imprisonment, while another, Zaynab Batazidi was sentenced to four years. Five other women’s right activists have disappeared [3].

Mr President, integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system must start here in the Human Rights Council. No State should be permitted to hide behind tradition, culture or religion in order to justify any abuse of women’s human rights. This Council is the World’s primary institution charged with the promotion and protection of human rights, and has a sacred duty to fulfil. It must be possible here to freely exercise the right to freedom of expression in order to defend the human rights of all, including women, and to expose abuse, whatever the attempted justification.

Thank you sir

[1] reported in the Bulletin of the Human Rights Council of Saudi Arabia, Aug 2008
[2] http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,24302102-401,00.html
[3] http://www.nypost.com/seven/09062008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/ahmadinejads_new_enemy__women_127724.htm

Footnote: Although he did not attempt to silence Brown’s statement by raising a point of order, the Iranian delegate did exercise his right of reply in order to condemn the “lies of some NGOs”, claiming that the bill in the Iranian parliament “to protect the rights of women” had now been passed after extensive consultation with civil society. Later, a Pakistani delegate stopped Brown on the way to lunch to complain that he had “told only half of the truth” because honour killings were outlawed in Pakistan and that the police had arrested several people in connection with the two barbaric killings we had mentioned. Furthermore, the marriage of young girls was not on the increase in Saudi Arabia as we had claimed.

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