To mark the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women (Beijing plus 20) during the current session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, JBI’s director Felice Gaer writes when and why private violence against women has become an issue of concern to States parties to the Convention against Torture on the blog of the World Organization against Torture.
With the release of a new State Department report on religious
freedom around the world, the U.S. government revealed the shocking
fact that 116 members of the Baha’i faith are unjustly imprisoned in Iran
solely for their beliefs. Among them, sadly, are seven prominent Baha’i leaders
unfairly incarcerated since 2008.
Prior to their arrest, the two women and five men ranging in
ages from 40 to 80 — Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid
Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm — worked together to
attend to the basic spiritual needs of Baha’is in Iran such as marriages,
divorces and Baha’i children’s spiritual education. After five years of
confinement, it is time for members of the international community to demand an
end to this injustice.
In an effort to call attention to the plight of the Baha’is in
Iran, members of the United States Congress introduced legislation on March 12, S.Res.75 and H.Res.109 condemn the state-sponsored persecution of
Iran’s 300,000-member Baha’i minority, which contravenes Iran’s international
obligations as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other international
instruments. Additionally, the resolutions call on the president and secretary
of State to demand the immediate release of prisoners held solely on account of
their religion and to sanction Iranian officials directly responsible for
serious human rights abuses, including abuses against the Baha’i community in
Despite warnings that attending the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)
summit in Tehran would legitimize the regime’s abusive behavior at home and
abroad, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has decided to go. He seeks to meet
with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Responding to criticisms of Ban’s plans, his
spokesman argued that to skip the summit “would be a missed opportunity.”
It will be Ban’s first visit to Iran. On Friday, Iran’s top
tourism official, H.M. Ajabi, told local press (IRNA) that the NAM summit
offers a great opportunity for “boosting Iran’s tourism industry” and the
Tehran Times reports that Ban has been invited to attend a meeting of the Human
Rights Committee of the Iranian parliament. Below are key sightseeing
opportunities in Iran that the secretary-general should not miss if he is to be
ready for this encounter:
Evin Prison: This is Iran’s best-known
site of cruel and prolonged torture, particularly of political prisoners, and
secret executions. Among the prisoners there were Fariba Kamalabadi and
Mahvash Sabet, two of the seven imprisoned leaders of the Baha’i faith, Iran’s
largest religious minority. American journalist Roxana Saberi met them while
also detained in the notorious jail; she can help Ban identify them, should he
seek their long-overdue release.
University of Tehran: On June 14, 2009, after widespread protests
against the announced results of Iran’s presidential election, security forces
broke open the gates of Tehran University and stormed campus dorms,
indiscriminately arresting, beating and shooting students with pellet guns.
Five students were reportedly killed and others seriously injured.
Authorities reportedly buried the dead within hours, without notifying their
family members. Student leaders currently imprisoned include Bahareh
Hedayat, who called for holding security forces accountable. Ban might ask
for her to be released to offer a guided tour.
The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) published a new advocacy briefing note on Human Rights in Iran, part of a new series of JBI Human Rights Papers.
Since it seized power in 1979, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been engaged in committing a range of human rights violations against the Iranian people. During and since the violent crackdown surrounding the June 2009 flawed presidential elections, Iran’s widespread and systematic pattern of human rights violations has intensified and increased. Iranian authorities admit to arresting more than 4,500 protesters during the crackdown and a death toll of 37. Many protestors were subjected to violations of due process, arbitrary arrest, detention and torture. These and other tactics have been used to silence human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and lawyers, and to discriminate against women, and religious, ethnic and other minorities.
The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo on December 10, 2011 to three women "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights salutes the recipients, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman.
JBI calls for a rededication of individuals and governments worldwide to the effort to protect women from violence and other abuses of their human rights. JBI reiterates its call for the United States government to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which 186 states have ratified. Excerpts from the inspiring Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speeches are below, in each case emphasizing the universality of the struggle for the human rights of women—and the importance of women in the struggle for human rights for all. The full speeches can be found at the Nobel Prize site.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
In its selection this year, the Nobel Committee has brought here three women linked by their commitment to change, and by their efforts to promote the rule of law and democracy in societies riven by conflict. The fact that we – two women from Liberia – are here today to share the stage with a sister from Yemen speaks to the universality of our struggle….
I also honor the memory of countless women whose efforts and sacrifice will never be recognized, but who, in their private and silent struggles, helped to shape our world. …[T]his award belongs to the people whose aspirations we have the privilege to represent, and whose rights we have the obligation to defend. We are but their reflection.
Elena Bonner was a remarkable woman and human rights defender, widely eulogized in the week since she died at 88 following heart surgery in Massachusetts.
Bonner was, since 1972 the wife and after 1989, the widow of famed Soviet Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Andrei D. Sakharov – the moral giant who stood for human rights, peace and telling the truth.
Elena was herself a major public figure, as well as a demanding mother and doting grandmother – and a wonderful interlocutor, and a great role model. Her loss is huge.
She had many years of activism as well as repeated bouts of illness and infirmity. But it was her ability to rise again and again from infirmity to activism, to speak up and demand change, to exhibit courage when others were wilting from the repression that was directed against the tiny dissident/human rights community, for which we will always remember her.
And of course, for the many institutions she created and preserved, so the message and moral views of Andrei Sakharov will live on in Russia and beyond.
I first met Elena Bonner when she came to New York for heart surgery in 1986 – we even took this photo together, standing on Sakharov-Bonner Corner, just down the block from the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. Before and in the years in between, I helped carry out the rapid-fire demands and requests that Mrs. Bonner conveyed when she was able to get through on a rare, closely controlled international phone line out of Russia. Her requests, frankly, were endless. Or so it seemed. When I learned that her eye trouble stemmed from being wounded at the front in World War Two, I thought – how ironic – she could have been a great General! She understood the need to combine strategy with action – to fight on several fronts, and never to give up.
I recall vividly visiting her in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1990 – about 6 months after Sakharov's untimely death, but well before the collapse of the Soviet Union had even been contemplated. It was the day of the Wellesley College graduation, just one town away, and the Soviet 1st Lady Raisa Gorbachev was the commencement speaker alongside U.S. 1st Lady Barbara Bush. There was a media frenzy around this – the first time that Mrs. Gorbachev, who was accompanying her husband, President Mikhail Gorbachev, on a state visit, was given such a platform in the United States.
When I arrived, Elena’s first question was, “What do you think of Raisa’s planned speech?”
I said I thought it was disgraceful, since the only reason Raisa Gorbachev was asked to be the commencement speaker at Wellesley was because she was the wife of a famous man.
Well, Elena responded immediately, “You could say the same thing about me..."
When I recovered my balance, I protested to the contrary – all the things she had done herself, the causes she championed, the organizations like the Moscow Helsinki Group and a fund for the children of political prisoners that she founded, among others. She was no mere reflection of a powerful man.
Geraldine A. Ferraro, who passed away this weekend, is a symbol of women’s rights advocacy.
As America’s first female candidate of a major party for vice-president, she broke barriers. But readers of IntLawGrrls may not know how actively and directly she influenced women’s rights issues in the international legal context as well.
Appalled by televised reports about the use of rape as a weapon of war by Serbs in the Bosnian conflict, Gerry contacted Madeleine Albright to ask what the new Clinton Administration was doing about it. She was immediately asked to join the Administration’s first delegation to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, in February 1993, where she helped convince Member States to adopt a separate resolution addressing rape in war.
As Gerry told it, accomplishing this task required her to conduct gender-sensitivity training, too. For example, she found herself telling the male diplomats from the Islamic Conference that they needed to recognize that such sexual violence was not so much an insult to THEIR "honor" (which was all they were prepared to declare) but rather a very real lasting physical and psychological abuse of the women who were victimized. Gerry emphasized that something serious had to be done by the Commission to name it, stop it, punish the perpetrators and aid the survivors. As a result, the Commission adopted a resolution that called for "joint and separate action to end this despicable practice," as well as for investigations, accountability and assistance to the victims.
On November 18, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law will hold a hearing on the importance of US ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). It will be the first time in eight years that the Senate has held such a hearing on the women's rights treaty, which the US signed in 1980 but has never ratified, and on which the Senate has never held a full floor vote.
Today, JBI Director Felice Gaer submitted a statement in support of US ratification of the CEDAW for inclusion in the congressional record. Drawing upon JBI's long history of support for US ratification of the CEDAW and on her perspective as the first American member of the Committee against Torture, the monitoring committee for a parallel UN treaty, Gaer urged all US senators to vote in favor of US ratification of the CEDAW, stating, "The United States has long accepted the principle that women's rights are human rights; it is time for the Senate to act on that principle and to approve US ratification of the international treaty that does the most to make this principle a reality."
The letter argued that the CEDAW has been uniquely important to women worldwide struggling for non-discrimination and to exercise basic human rights, particularly because those States that ratify the CEDAW are required to report regularly to a monitoring committee composed of independent experts from 24 countries. Those experts then examine the reports submitted by State parties and offer comments and suggestions concerning compliance in an inter-active dialogue.
Gaer stated that the CEDAW Committee, like the Committee against Torture, on which she has served since 2000, offers the US an opportunity to engage directly with rogue regimes and violator countries on the advancement of women's rights. CEDAW ratification would allow the United States not only to vote for the members of the CEDAW Committee but to itself seek election to the Committee. The letter noted that many of the members of the CEDAW Committee have called for US ratification of CEDAW, arguing that if it were to become a member of the Committee, it would strengthen the Committee's scrutiny of violator countries.
The letter noted that CEDAW ratification is consistent with the "principled engagement" strategy that the US government presently pursues in its relations with other UN bodies. Conversely, the US's current status as one of only seven countries worldwide that have failed to ratify the CEDAW--a distinction it shares with Iran, Sudan, and Somalia--is an embarrassment, given the leadership that the US has shown in advancing women's rights and equality at home and abroad. It also stated that US ratification of the CEDAW would result in few costs to the Unites States, because as a result of its longtime commitment to women's rights and equality, the US is already substantially in compliance with the treaty.
JBI, which has long worked on
women's rights and ensuring that rape in armed conflict is prosecuted as
torture, helped develop this appeal to the International Criminal Court and was co-signatory, along with several UN
special rapporteurs and treaty experts, for The Case of the Prosecutor v. Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo.
Women, International Law and International Institutions: The Case
of the United Nations. This article by JBI Director Felice Gaer considers the evolution of women's rights concepts
and mechanisms within the United Nations. Gaer writes about this subject both
as an historian of and a longstanding activist for women's human rights. She
provides a critical history of how “women's” rights have been separated from
and connected to “human” rights within the UN.
Gaer examines how the Commission on the Status of Women, the original UN
division which inherited the agenda of the first wave of international
feminism, dealt with many of the challenges raised by the activists and
organization that proceeded it: making the shift away from great power, Euro
American leadership; facing new political environments raised by anti-colonial
and third world national developments; and expanding the feminist agenda beyond
political and civil rights. By ending with an examination of the dilemma of
enforcement that the UN still faces with respect to women's human rights, Gaer
makes it clear that the subject of international feminism presents challenges
that go beyond the academic, and is continuously linked with the efforts and
freedom of the world's women.
The next session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place in Geneva from September 14-October 2, 2015. The Council is expected to consider human rights conditions in countries including Syria, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Burma, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, Somalia, and Cambodia. Council members will observe a panel discussion on the human rights situation in North Korea and hear an update on the work of the new office in Seoul established by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to follow up on the work of the 2013-2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea. They will also consider a report by the High Commissioner on human rights abuses perpetrated by the terrorist group Boko Haram and the reports of “special procedures” (independent experts and working groups) on thematic issues including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and contemporary forms of slavery. The Council will also consider the outcome of the second “Universal Periodic Review” of the human rights situation in a number of countries, including the United States. This will be the last session of the United States’ second three-year term of membership on the Council. Like all States that have served two consecutive terms, the United States is ineligible to serve on the Council next year, in 2016, but it has already indicated its intention to seek an additional three-year term beginning in 2017, elections for which will be held in autumn 2016.