Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

Latest UN Authority Figures

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Iran's election to the UN Commission on the Status of Women on April 28, 2010 wasn't the only UN shocker that day. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe are among the dictatorships and human rights basket-cases elected to UN leadership roles and positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their qualifications.


UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations

The UN job description for the NGO Committee: "The main tasks of the Committee are...The consideration of applications for consultative status and requests for reclassification submitted by NGOs...[T]he monitoring of the consultative relationship." (Committee on NGOs web-site)

In plain language, this Committee gets to decide what NGOs are permitted to get UN passes, passes which will allow them into the UN, to lobby governments and to participate and speak at UN meetings.

Who gets to choose the right and wrong NGOs? On April 28 the UN re-electedSudan, Cuba, China andPakistan.

Their qualifications for the job?


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Sudan)
"[T]he government expelled 13 humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from the country. The government also shut down three Sudanese NGOs in March...As of year's end whereabouts [of the cofounder of the NGO Darfur Forum for Reconciliation and Peaceful Coexistence] were unknown...Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained...NGO members...[G]overnment forces frequently harassed NGOs that received international assistance; restricted or denied humanitarian assessments; did not approve technical agreements; changed procedures; copied NGO files; confiscated NGO property; questioned humanitarian workers at length; monitored humanitarians' personal correspondence; delayed the issuance of visas and travel permits; restricted travel; and publicly accused humanitarian workers of being "spies," "Western agents," and "workers for Israel."


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Cuba)
"[T]he government did not recognize any domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally...There are no officially recognized, independent NGOs that monitor human rights...The government continued to deny human rights organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to political prisoners and detainees."


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, China)
"Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), both local and international, continued to face intense scrutiny and restrictions...[T]he government maintained a task force aimed at blocking political change advocated by NGOs involved in social, political, and charitable activities, and also by groups dedicated to combating discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, and minorities...To register, an NGO must find a government agency to serve as its organizational sponsor, have a registered office, and hold a minimum amount of funds...The government did not permit independent domestic NGOs to monitor openly or to comment on human rights conditions...The government...increased scrutiny of NGOs with financial and other links overseas."


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Pakistan)
"Criminal groups, some with ties to militant groups, engaged in extortion and kidnapping activities throughout the country...NGO workers were among those targeted... NGOs are required to register with the government...Security was a problem for NGO workers...By year's end seven NGO workers had been killed...and several others had received threats...[S]ecurity agencies blocked issuance of visas for international staff of NGOs..."

UN Commission on Social Development

The UN job description for the Commission: "...the Commission has taken up key social development themes...These themes are...Promoting full employment and decent work for all...Improving public sector effectiveness....National and international cooperation for social development...Integration of social and economic policy" (Commission for Social Development web-site) )

On April 28 the UN choseZimbabwe and re-electedEgypt andCuba as social development authorities.

Their qualifications for the job?


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Egypt) "The country was a source, transit point, and destination for women and children trafficked primarily for the purposes of forced labor...The law prohibits strikes...[E]mployers abused, overworked, and generally endangered working children...There were reports of employer abuse of undocumented workers, especially domestic workers."


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Zimbabwe) "The government's campaign of forced evictions and the demolition of homes and businesses continued during the year under the land reform policy, which affected more than 5,000 farm workers and their families. Approximately 3,300 families were forcibly displaced, sometimes violently, during government-condoned takeovers of commercial farms...[C]hild labor was common...[T]he incidence of children who worked in the informal sector continued to increase...Children often lacked access to necessary safety equipment and training. Children illegal gold and diamond mining, as street vendors, and as car-watchers. There were continued reports of large numbers of girls subject to sexual exploitation."


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Cuba) "The law does not allow workers to form and join unions of their choice. The only legal labor union in the country was the CTC, whose leaders were chosen by the CP [Communist Party]...Virtually all workers were required to belong to the CTC, and promotions frequently were limited to CP members who took part in mandatory marches, public humiliations of dissidents, and other state-organized activities...The government can determine that a worker is "unfit" to work, resulting in job loss and the denial of job opportunities. Persons were deemed unfit for their political beliefs, including their refusal to join the official union, or for trying to depart the country illegally. Several small independent labor organizations...were subject to police harassment and infiltration by government agents and were unable to represent workers effectively or work on their behalf...The law does not prohibit forced or compulsory labor by adults...Authorities also often imprisoned persons who refused to participate in mandatory work...[T]he government required children to work in various situations."

Commission on the Status of Women

The UN job description for CSW: "The Commission on the Status of exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. It is the principal global policy-making body. Every year, representatives of Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide." (Commission on the Status of Women web-site, "Overview")

On April 28 the UN deemedThe Democratic Republic of the Congo andIran to be worthy of the job.

Here are the DRC's qualifications:


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, DRC) "...[R]ape was common throughout the country and especially pervasive in conflict areas in the east...[M]ore than 1,100 women and girls were raped each month...Government security forces, armed groups, and civilians perpetrated widespread and sometimes mass rape against women and girls...[M]embers of armed groups, the FARDC [Congolese Armed Forces], and the police were responsible for 81 percent of all reported cases of sexual violence in conflict zones...It was common for family members to pressure a rape victim to keep safeguard the reputations of the victim and her family...After a sexual assault, many young women and girls were often labeled as unsuitable for marriage and married women were frequently abandoned by their husbands. Some families forced rape victims to marry the men who raped them or to forego prosecution in exchange for money or goods from the rapist."

As to what newly elected member of CSWIran brings to the table see "Since When Is Iran a Champion For Women's Rights?"

UN Commission on Sustainable Development

The UN job description: " promote dialogue and build partnerships for sustainable development with governments, the international community and the major groups...who have a major role to play in the transition towards sustainable development. These Major Groups include women, youth, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, the scientific community, and farmers." (Commission on Sustainable Development web-site, "Mandate of the Commission on Sustainable Development"))

On April 28 the UN choseAngola andLebanon, and re-electedSaudi Arabia as social development authorities.

Here are their job qualifications:


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Angola)
"The government arrested and harassed NGO workers...[T]rafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities and indigenous persons were problems...Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was common and pervasive...Female inmates informed...that prison guards regularly raped them... [C]hild labor...remained a problem...Children engaged in...exploitive labor practices [which] included forced prostitution, involvement in the sale or transport of illegal drugs, and the offloading and transport of goods in ports and across border posts...Street children were common..."


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Lebanon)
" Palestinian refugees residing in the country were not able to obtain citizenship...The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, and domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a problem...Foreign domestic servants, usually women, were often mistreated, abused, and in some cases raped or placed in slavery-like conditions...According to the penal code, a man who kills his wife or other female relative may receive a reduced sentence if he demonstrates he committed the crime in response to a socially unacceptable sexual relationship conducted by the victim...[D]iscrimination against persons with disabilities continued...Discrimination against homosexual activity persisted...Women from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Russia were trafficked and forced to provide sexual or domestic services. Children...were... subject to forced labor."


(Freedom House Country Report 2009, Saudi Arabia)
"Women...may not legally drive cars, and their use of public facilities is restricted when men are present. By law and custom, Saudi women cannot travel within or outside of the country without a male relative...[D]aughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women in Sharia courts...[A]llegations of torture by police and prison officials are common, and access to prisoners by independent human rights and legal organizations is strictly limited...There continues to be virtually no protection for the more than six million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. Many of these laborers...are forced to endure dangerous working and living conditions. There continue to be public reports of female domestic workers suffering regular physical, sexual, and emotional abuse...Substantial prejudice against ethnic, religious, and national minorities prevails."

U.N. Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), Governing Council

The UN job description: "The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. UN-HABITAT's Land and Tenure Section is the agency's point of reference for land management and tenure systems, policies and legislation that help achieve adequate shelter, security of tenure and equal access to economic resources for all, with a specific focus on gender equality. The main focus areas and mandate are implementation of land, housing and property rights, and particularly secure tenure for women." (UN-HABITAT web-site, "Shelter Branch")

On April 28, the UN re-electedIran as the right country for the job.

Here are Iran's qualifications for the Governing Council:


(US State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2009, Iran)
"Provisions in the Islamic civil and penal codes, particularly sections dealing law, discriminate against women...The constitution allows the government to confiscate property a manner not in conformity with Islamic law, and the government particularly targeted religious minorities, especially members of the Baha'i faith...The courts denied Baha'is the right to inherit property...The government reportedly continued to confiscate private and commercial properties, as well as religious materials, belonging to Baha'is...There were widespread reports that government agents entered, searched, and/or ransacked the homes and offices of reformist journalists in an attempt to intimidate them."