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Iran removed from UN women’s rights body after US push

Iran's removal from the 45-member Commission on the Status of Women comes as Tehran continues its brutal crackdown on its nationwide protests.
The UN voted to remove Iran from a women's rights body over Tehran's brutal crackdown of women-led protests. Twenty-nine members of the UN Economic and Social Council voted to expel the Islamic republic from the UN Commission on the Status of Women.  (Photo by YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran was ousted on Wednesday from a women’s rights agency at the United Nations following a successful US push to reprimand Tehran over its brutal treatment of women. 

The Islamic Republic's four-year term on the 45-member Commission on the Status of Women came to an end following a vote on a resolution introduced by the United States. The UN body is tasked with promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, and Iran was elected as a member last spring.

The UN’s Economic and Social Council, a 54-member body that oversees and elects members of the commission, voted on Wednesday to remove Iran for the remainder of its term. Twenty-nine UN member states voted in favor of the resolution, with 16 abstaining. Eight members — Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Russia and Zimbabwe — opposed it. 

The United States had pushed heavily for Iran’s removal from the commission, with Vice President Kamala Harris saying in a Nov. 2 statement, “Iran has demonstrated through its denial of women’s rights and brutal crackdown on its own people that it is unfit to serve on this Commission.”

In a statement following the vote, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan pledged the United States would “pursue all possible mechanisms of accountability against the Iranian regime.”

The vote comes as protests continue in Iran, sparked by the Sept. 16 death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman detained for violating the country’s hijab rules. The demonstrations over Amini’s death quickly spread to dozens of cities across Iran, where women have risked arrest by burning their hijabs, which have been obligatory for Iranian women since 1983.

Iran’s security forces have cracked down violently on the months-long challenge to Iran’s clerical regime. More than 450 protesters have died since mid-September, according to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based nongovernmental organization. 

Thousands more have been jailed in the unrest, including the niece of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was recently arrested after recording a video in which she criticized the regime.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday’s vote. But in a Dec. 2 letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres obtained by Al-Monitor, Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani slammed efforts to remove Iran from the commission as “yet another attempt by the United States to exploit the UN system to further its political agenda.”

Fatima Abo Alasrar, a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute, told Al-Monitor that Iran used its position on the commission to “obtain legitimacy and enshrine its regressive policies.” The vote to expel it will “send a message to the protesters inside Iran that the world is watching the events in Iran and will not accept to deal with a regime that so flagrantly abuses women’s rights with impunity,” Abo Alasrar said. 

Iran’s ouster is the latest UN effort to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran. Last month, the UN’s Human Rights Council voted to set up a fact-finding investigation into the Iranian government’s alleged rights violations. 

On Friday, the Biden administration unveiled fresh sanctions on three Iranian officials involved in the repression of protesters. Among those targeted was Ebrahim Kouchakzaei, a Law Enforcement Forces commander whose alleged rape of a 15-year-old girl in Sistan-Baluchistan fueled major protests in the southeastern Iranian province. 

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