UN Member States Vote to Oust Iran from the UN Commission of the Status of Women

by | Feb 23, 2023

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About Christine Savino

Christine Savino is a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan where she works on matters pertaining to cross-border displacement and international human rights. She was previously a visiting student at the University of Oxford where she studied international law.

Image description: Iran solidarity protest in Berlin, October 22, 2022.

On December 14th, 2022, Iran became the first United Nations (UN) member state ousted during its 4-year elected term on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The expulsion was in response to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman killed by Iranian police on September 16, 2022. The Iranian police allege that the woman was wearing her hijab improperly, a violation of Iran’s strict dress code for women. This caused international condemnation and widespread protest against the government, the latter of which resulted in several hundred deaths and counting. Although the Iranian protests have only been occurring for three months, Human Rights Watch is investigating over 434 Iranian deaths linked to the protests, 60 of which were children. Likewise, according to UN human rights experts, Iranian authorities are reportedly enacting “gender-based and sexual violence…torture, and enforced disappearances” on protesters. In response, the US drafted a UN resolution to remove Iran from the CSW for the remainder of its 2022-2026 term, which was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which oversees the CSW. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, stated that this motion was “hugely important for the women of Iran…they got a strong message from the [UN] that we will support them.”

The Legality of Iran’s Removal

Contrary to Iran’s rebuttal to the resolution, the CSW had the legal authority to remove Iran. Iran argued that this removal was “unlawful” and would “[contravene] the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations, notably its basic notion of sovereign equality of States in membership with equal participation in all multilateral forums, which has been recognized as the main pillar of multilateralism.” However, based on Iran’s logic, any elected member from the Commission would be allowed to retain its seat(s) regardless of conduct. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela similarly argued against the resolution at the UN, stating that the Charter’s Rule 140 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly protects elected states’ membership as endorsed by participating members. Likewise, the CSW does not have removal procedures for mid-term members, unlike the UN Human Rights Council. However, Rule 140 is general in nature and states that “should a member cease to belong to a Council before its term of office expires, a by-election shall be held separately at the next session of the General Assembly to elect a member for the unexpired term.” The term “cease” in this context is undefined and thus does not explicitly forbid involuntary removal of members.

The removal has further legal validity, as the CSW abides by international legal frameworks including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which are cornerstone documents for women’s rights. Likewise, a core principle of the Charter, which serves as the foundation of international relations, is gender equality. The UN, therefore, has legal jurisdiction over expelling members that are not explicitly unremovable, such as permanent members of the Security Council. Further, the Commission’s ousting of Iran also abided by the ECOSOC Rules of Procedure, as a majority of member votes approved of the resolution. Thus, Iran’s removal from the CSW did not defy UN rules.

The Path Forward for the CSW

The salient implication is that future CSW members may be removed as a demonstration of international support for gender equality. For instance, on December 21, 2022, Taliban-controlled  Afghanistan banned education for women and girls, even disallowing female staff at schools. This grim human rights crisis is a clear abrogation of the international legal documents that the CSW runs on and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Right to Education. Likewise, the CSW has now established a precedent of expelling non-compliant member states. Therefore, the CSW should remove Afghanistan as a member early or before its membership currently expires in 2025. The CSW should continue to show solidarity with women globally by ensuring that the Commission representatives respect women’s rights.

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