Opinion: How can Iran oversee women's rights?

WASHINGTON — If you thought Iran's withdrawal of its bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council was a step in the right direction, think again.

There are no circumstances under which it makes sense for Iran to sit on any human rights committee. For it to sit on the UNHRC, would have been the ultimate manifestation of wolves guarding the sheep. Apparently, and thankfully, enough members of the U.N. General Assembly agreed, and Iran withdrew its candidacy.

But that wasn’t Iran’s most preposterous quest. Instead of the UNHRC, Iran will now sit on the U.N.'s Commission on the Status of Women. Seriously. Iran is being given an opportunity to oversee the rights of women around the world.

The U.N.'s Commission on the Status of Women is a four-year assignment tasked with reviewing abuses to women’s rights and helping nations reach gender equity. This body, made up of 45 nations elected on a rotating basis, is “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women.”

So Iran, whose criminal code allows women accused of adultery to be buried up to their necks and stoned to death, will now help oversee women’s rights.

Iran, which deems spousal rape legal, will now monitor how other nations treat women.

Iran, which, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2009 country-by-country report, cracked down on women’s rights reformers protesting the disputed June 2009 elections, will help other nations achieve gender equality.

Iran, as the U.S. State department notes, according to a study published in 2008, is a country where “52.7 percent of women reported being physically abused during their married lives.” It  will now have a say in the global treatment of women.

In Iran, even adult women need their father’s consent, or approval of the courts, to marry, and the testimony of two women equals the testimony of one man. An Iranian cleric recently announced that such natural disasters as earthquakes are caused by women who dress and act immodestly.

Iran is particularly unfit to fulfill the vital mission of an organization dedicated to women’s rights.

The UNHRC, to which Iran first sought admission, is already crammed with some of the most unsavory, questionable-on-human-rights nations. The council avoided complete and utter obsolescence by Iran’s withdrawal.

Would that it were so for the women’s council.

A global women’s guardian is now staffed by a nation that severely oppresses more than half its population.

Some of the most flagrant human rights violators in the world — Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and North Korea, for instance — are rarely, if ever, rebuked by the UNHRC. For that we can thank in part the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has commandeered the council to sate its pathological obsession with Israel. The vast majority of the council focuses on Israel to deflect concern over its own egregious record on human rights.

(Read another opinion on how UNHRC has rendered itself irredeemable.)

The world’s human rights overseer is mute on far too many state human rights abusers.

With Iran’s entry to this women’s group, we can expect much of the same.

Iran systematically and pervasively oppresses women. And now women worldwide are to look to Iran for help?

But Iran’s treatment of women is in keeping with its oppression of its people in general.

There is no such thing as free speech in Iran. Those who dare to speak out against the Iranian regime are routinely rounded up, beaten, left to rot in devastating prison conditions, or executed. Journalists are routinely arrested. The Revolutionary Guard, militia and police arrest peaceful anti-government protesters en masse.

Iran is one of the few countries left in the world that executes children and child offenders, something that international law prohibits. Iran is also second in the world in the number of adult executions carried out each year.

The Tehran regime severely restricts access to the internet and to non-state-run television; does not acknowledge any rights for homosexuals; and, of course, is actively working to acquire nuclear weapons — perhaps the ultimate threat to global human rights.

This aspiring human and women’s rights guardian, whose leader has vowed to “wipe Israel off the map,” and which is also pursuing a path toward nuclear weapons, is completing the trifecta of violence and extremism.

Is Iran in any way capable of championing women’s rights? Of course not. We should have known better. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Daniel S. Mariaschin is executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, where he directs and supervises programs in more than 50 countries.