November 8, 2010 | Quote

NGO Monitor Slams UN for Iran Election to Women’s Agency

The slated United Nations (UN) election of Iran and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to a new UN agency devoted to women’s rights (UN Women) prompted sharp criticism last week from Anne Herzberg, a legal adviser to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.

Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran are expected to be elected without challenges from the UN.  Both Islamic countries have drawn criticism from human rights NGOs because of the severe repression of women rights in their tightly controlled societies.

“And like the [UN’s] Human Rights Council, where this moral failure is most apparent, by including countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia as members, UN Women stands to be yet another UN institution coopted by the world’s most repressive regimes, making a mockery of human rights,” Herzberg told The Jerusalem Post.

NGO Monitor seeks to expose human rights organizations and UN agencies who “exploit the label 'universal human rights values' to promote politically and ideologically motivated agendas.”

Asked about the criticisms of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s lousy women’s rights record, Margaret Novicki, the chief spokeswoman for the United Nations Department of Public Information in New York, told the Post on Monday during a telephone interview that regional groups from the UN General Assembly nominate member states for UN Women.

Novicki said “we do not comment specifically” on elections.  Gretchen Luchsinger,  a spokeswoman in the UN Public Information office in NY, also wrote the Post by e-mail, “UN Member States will appoint the Executive Board of UN Women, as is the case with executive boards for other UN agencies. The election of the UN Women Executive Board is scheduled for 10 November. UN Women is not involved in the nomination or election process.”  When asked during a telephone interview about the criticisms of Iran and Saudi Arabia’s women’s rights record, Luchsinger said “we do not comment before the election takes place.”

Responding to NGO Monitor’s criticism, Claire Kaplun, a spokeswoman for the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, wrote the Post by e-mail that “the Human Rights Council is a body made up of 47 states. I’m therefore not in a position to make comments on behalf of 47 states.”

When asked by telephone if the Council condemned the planned execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman, for alleged adultery, Kaplun told the Post “no” and said, “How do you want me to issue a statement on behalf of 47 members?”

Herzberg called on the major human rights NGOs to pull the plug on their involvement with UN Women “unless these rights and moral principles are respected.”  She said, “In order to maintain their power, NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FIDH [the International Federation for Human Rights] are active and willing participants in the biases plaguing the UN, and contribute to its failure to protect universal human rights.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Gerald Steinberg, the head of NGO Monitor, criticized the conflict of interest surrounding Human Rights Watch’s fund-raising activities in Saudi Arabia as well as the UN’s treatment of the Jewish state.

Steinberg said, “Last year, HRW went to Saudi Arabia to seek funding by selling its role in the anti-Israel bias of the HRC [Human Rights Council], and the claim to counter ‘pro-Israel pressure groups.’

“Aside from the obvious hypocrisy of HRW fund-raising in Saudi Arabia, this activity clearly has had a tangible impact on HRW’s claim of objective analysis of human rights developments in general, and on the HRC in particular. Any credible report on the HRC must condemn the fact that some of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers are members of the Council. Many NGOs use moral rhetoric, but are concerned only with their own political agendas,” said Steinberg.

Peggy Hicks, Human Rights Watch’s global advocacy director, wrote the Post that “NGO Monitor’s comments are both ill-informed and short-sighted. Human Rights Watch is on the front lines of the struggle to push the Human Rights Council to take up the many urgent situations around the globe that deserve its attention.

“We have repeatedly criticized both the council’s disproportionate focus on Israel and its failure in many cases to address Palestinian armed groups and authorities,” she added

Asked about Steinberg’s criticism of HRW’s fund-raising in Saudi Arabia, Hicks wrote, “Human Rights Watch exhaustively documents Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record, and includes coverage of women’s rights, severe problems with the criminal justice system, the juvenile death penalty, domestic workers, and discrimination against religious minorities. No other human rights group has produced a more comprehensive, detailed, and thorough body of work on Saudi human rights issues in recent years than has Human Rights Watch.”

The London-based Amnesty International and the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights did not immediately reply to written queries from the Post.

Steinberg noted that “Israel again is held to a double standard by both the Council and the NGOs that lead delegitimization campaigns against Israel.
“This obsession continues to distract from real human rights abuses throughout the world and is indicative of larger problems with NGOs and their activities.”

NGO Monitor said that next month it “will release an updated version of its “Lawfare” monograph, which details European funding for NGOs to be used specifically to build war crimes cases against Israeli officials.
“If the European countries would stop funding these NGOs, these international venues [courts around the world] might become real vehicles for protecting human rights. Instead, they push their own agendas and the goal of universal human rights falls by the wayside,” Steinberg said. 
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