Last edited: February 20, 2005

U.N. Expert Raps Iran on Women’s Rights, Executions

Reuters, February 8, 2005

By Robert Evans

GENEVA—A U.N. human rights investigator on Tuesday criticized Iran over “arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment” of women and called on the Tehran authorities to abolish the death penalty.

Yakin Erturk, a Turkish law professor, also urged Tehran to adopt a national action plan to promote and protect human rights which would emphasize the elimination of violence against women.

Although they had seen some advances, Iranian women still face violence in and outside the home and are blocked from defending their rights by discriminatory laws and an unfair justice system, Erturk said.

“Discriminatory laws and malfunction in the administration of justice result in impunity for perpetrators and perpetuate discrimination and violence against women,” she said.

Erturk issued her criticism in a preliminary report for the world body’s Human Rights Commission—which holds its annual six-week session in Geneva in March and April—following a government-approved visit to the country.

She said she was “troubled by the widespread practice of arrest for political opinion, including of female human rights defenders, and for ‘moral offences’,” and by the failure of the judicial system to enforce safeguards ensuring fair trials.

Erturk, the Commission’s expert on violence against women, is due to make a full report to the 53-nation body, on which Iran itself sits, at this year’s session. But the Commission has no mechanism to enforce any decisions.

She said she had been encouraged to find that 62 percent of young people in higher education in Iran were women, and noted that the country’s judiciary had put a moratorium on stoning to death—a punishment women accused of adultery face.

She had also seen an emerging civil society with active female lawyers, journalists and academics “engaged in working to promote human rights and prevent violence against women.”

But she said: “In the family, women face psychological, sexual and physical violence” which existing laws did little to protect against, while divorce and custody of children were difficult for abused wives to obtain.

In the wider community, victims of rape face numerous obstacles in accessing justice, she said. Women risk punishment for adultery if they fail to prove rape, and can face death for killing a rapist in self-defense.

To improve the situation, she said, the Iranian authorities should make it a priority to bring the country’s laws and practices into line with its own constitution and with international rights pacts that it has signed.

They should also seek alternative punishments “orientated toward prevention and rehabilitation rather than revenge, and in this context abolish the death penalty” as well as reviewing the evidence against all detainees sentenced to death.

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