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Iran Says U.S. to Blame for Failure to Win Board Seat on UN Women's Agency

Iran was defeated today in its bid for a seat on the board of a new United Nations body to promote women’s rights after what an Iranian envoy called a “politically motivated” campaign by the U.S.

The UN’s 54-member Economic and Social Council elected 41 members to the board of the agency, to be known as UN Women, which officially begins its work Jan. 1. The UN General Assembly voted in July to create the agency by merging four existing bodies.

“These policies by the U.S. to put pressure on others to not vote for Iran is very sad for the UN,” Eshagh Al Habib, Iran’s deputy ambassador to the UN, said in an interview. “It is a very politically motivated position. It is not constructive.” Al Habib said Iran was “progressing very fast in the field” of women’s rights.

The U.S. and rights groups including London-based Amnesty International and New York-based Human Rights Watch opposed Iran’s candidacy for one of the 10 board seats designated for Asian nations. There were only 10 candidates, which would have virtually guaranteed Iran’s election, until East Timor sought a seat this week.

East Timor, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Pakistan were elected to the Asian board seats.

‘No Secret’

“We have made no secret of our concern that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious start to that board,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters after the vote. “They lost and they lost handily, and the slate that was selected, including the late candidacy of East Timor, is one that is largely comprised of countries that are committed to women’s rights and have a good record of support for women’s rights.”

Iran has drawn criticism for a court’s decision to sentence a woman, Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, to death by stoning after her 2006 conviction on charges of adultery and murder.

The U.S., Brazil, France, Russia and Saudi Arabia were among the other nations elected to the board.

Rice was asked why the U.S. didn’t oppose the candidacy of Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive and are barred from many public facilities used by men.

“I am not going to deny that there were several countries that are going to join the board of UN Women that have less- than-stellar records on women’s rights -- indeed, human rights,” Rice said. “Today’s elections, we believe, will enable the institution to be launched well, with a strong foundation.”

A ‘Joke’

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said yesterday that the possible election of Iran and Saudi Arabia to the board would be a “joke.”

Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote human rights in her home country, said the situation in Iran is “deteriorating daily.” Regarding the rights of women in Iran, she cited laws that make it more difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce or a passport, and that equate the court testimony of one man to that of two women.

In a statement on Saudi Arabia’s election to the board, Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based human rights advocacy group UN Watch, said it was “morally perverse to reward a country that lashes rape victims and that systematically subjugates women in every walk of life with the power to negatively influence the global protection of women’s rights.”

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Varner at the United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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