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09/10/2023 HRC 54, Human Rights Council, The Special Procedures

HRC54 Side Event with ARTICLE 19 & IHRDC: Statement from Dorothy Estrada-Tanck

Statement from Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, Chair of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, from side event “A YEAR OF THE WOMAN, LIFE, FREEDOM MOVEMENT: Crackdown on Dissent and the State of Women’s Rights in Iran”. Find our recap of the 54th session of the Human Rights Council for more information.

Hello everyone, thank you so much to the organizers for this invitation and for the opportunity to share, in representation of the WG on Discrimination against Women and Girls, our concerns and our perspectives on this issue as we have just heard of the utmost gravity of the status of human rights violation in Iran. 

I was requested to address how UN engagement can tackle these violations committed against women and girls, generally, which is our mandate, and particularly in Iran. I would say to that, mainly through three approaches: that as a working group, and at Human Rights special procedures more generally, we can adopt. So, one is to raise the voices of women and girls to these platforms, precisely as today in the Human Rights Council, these platforms of global accountability. So, as special procedures, mandate holders, it is part of our obligation, our mandate, and really our everyday working methods to consult with women and girls. We do so on an ordinary basis. We have done so with organizations of women and girls in Iran and document these violations and then accompany existing efforts, such as those of Women’s Life and Freedom Movement, the movement to engender apartheid in which several Iranian organizations of women are participating, and bring them to these forums to maintain the spotlight, create more awareness, and not take away the focus on these very serious violations.

We feel, and this is what the organizations themselves tell us, that this has value in and of itself. Of course, with the level of gravity of these violations, women and girls, and the people in Iran generally, as we just heard, do not want only that. They want more actions, they want effective accountability mechanisms. So, in that sense, the second value I would say of the engagement with UN mechanisms is how we address the state parties of the UN Charter, obviously, including Iran, and their obligations in terms of international law, international human rights law, and specifically, the right to equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex and/or gender if we consider women and girls. And we know, and this is a part of what the working group has documented, that women and girls often are not only discriminated against on the basis of their gender, but also there are other compounded layers and conditions of discrimination, for example, on the basis of ethnicity, of religious belief, of sexual orientation, and so, the working group and other special procedures have documented these intersectional forms of discrimination. And going to accountability, then, what we do with this information, and what we receive of documentation of violations from organizations, is to engage with the state and demand accountability and request further information of what we are receiving.

So, concretely, in the case of Iran, since the mandate of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls was created in 2010, we have issued a total of 31 Communications to the state of Iran. In the last two years, from 2021 to now, 10 Communications, and obviously, Communications concerning the death and custody of Jina Mahsa Amini and all the happenings since then, which we have heard about today.

Now, the level of State engagement and response to these communications varies. And we know that in this case, the response from Iran, the response that we would want to see, is missing. As was already emphasized by the special rapporteur, we have seen really no acceptance or remorse of this death in custody. And not only that, but after a first layer of promises that the morality police would change its methods and approaches, we have seen that not only has this not happened, but actually the violations have increased, and the level of discrimination and segregation and exclusion of women and girls has become even harsher.

So, the third point in which I believe that the engagement with the UN can hopefully prove valuable for women and girls in Iran, and women and girls really worldwide, is for us as human rights special procedures to remind States and also the Human Rights Council itself as an organization, of human rights obligations, really, of the ABC of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and all the main international treaties of which states are party to.

So, in this sense, it would seem very, very obvious that all human beings have the right to equality and non-discrimination. However, we see in practice and lived reality, the lived experiences of women and girls, that this is not actually part of their everyday life.

So, we have to remind states of this and then articulate different mechanisms when we see that the existing norms and standards may not be enough, but they may have gaps to address the level and the size of these challenges. So, as a special opportunity, we are asking for the need to revise the concept of gender apartheid, of this institutionalized system of gender-based discrimination, exclusion, and humiliation of women and girls to try to develop this concept normatively, as of this moment, it is a violation to international human rights law, but it is not yet an international crime. It is not yet recognized as a crime against humanity, as, for example, racial apartheid is.

So, we are asking for states to be stronger, to have a more decided stance, to develop standards to really respond to the challenge of gender apartheid as a system of state-led and state-sponsored misogyny.

Now, the working group since 2018 had already identified the gender backlash, the retrogression in women’s and girls’ human rights that is happening, that was happening then, and that we have seen unfolding more and more in the last five years in different parts of the world. So, Iran, other parts such as Afghanistan, and then other different indicators of growing violations to women and girls’ rights are happening in different parts of the world.

So, we would want these calls of attention to be taken into account before it is, as it has been for so many women and girls, too late. But we are still—we still have tools. We have to use the tools, we have to prevent this from becoming even more serious. And this is where we are working every day as the special rapporteur was saying and several special procedures involved in this, in trying to counter the gender backlash but also to provide organizations of women and girls with further tools that are more effective and that help to bring justice and accountability as a reality.

So, we hope and we invite all of you to keep on working together and to not lose hope because we can’t lose hope for the women and girls that are living these experiences every day and that are really our inspiration. We cannot afford to lose hope. We have to keep on the struggle. Thank you so much.