During today’s annual full day discussion on women’s human rights at the U.N. Human Rights Council, opinions clashed on the role of culture and religion in violations of women’s rights.
Mr. Philip Alston, U.N. expert on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions argued that these elements have wrongly been raised to justify killing women, particularly in cases of “honor killings” and executions of alleged witches. “We can’t neglect cultural complexities,” he said. “Culture must never be used to perpetuate gender inequality.”
Regarding honor killings, Alston argued that States bare responsibility when they fail “to take preventive action, prosecute and punish those responsible,” especially in countries where “500 or 1,000 women are killed every year and the State does nothing but point to legislation.” Alston also claimed that 1,000s of women are killed every year on the grounds that they are witches. “It’s clearly unacceptable for women to be killed on the basis of an allegation, which is never usually substantiated in any detail, that they are practicing the so-called crime of witchcraft,” he said.
Yet, later in the session, Iran expressed a different perspective, saying that “historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds should be taken into account” when it comes to determining violations of women’s rights. The Mullahs’ regime said that “the role of chastity” was key in “preventing violence against women.”
Pakistan, speaking for the Islamic Group, said it attaches importance to the issues of women’s rights “with full respect for social, cultural, legal and religious diversity of the member States.” It argued against the establishment of a new mechanism to monitor legalized gender bias via the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), explaining that this “solitary focus would lead to more polemics and polarization as it would be seen as directed against certain cultural or religious groups,” would be an “infringement of the CEDAW mandate,” and “wasteful of resources.” It said the Islamic Group “believes the international community needs to be afforded time and understanding for cultural diversity to graduate to universally agreed standards.”