Published April 30, 2010
High off its success in keeping Iran from joining the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, the U.S. appears to have missed its chance to object to Iran's selection to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, which was affirmed during a so-called U.N. vote this week.
No gesture of disapproval came during an acclamation vote affirming the Islamic nation's appointment to the 45-nation group.
A senior official with the U.S. Mission to the U.N. told FoxNews.com that "there is no opportunity" to object. "That is not how the procedure works," the official said.
The official said that the United States was powerless to stop the selection because Iran faced no competition -- a scenario that Iran took advantage of in the 2005 election too.
Iran was one of only two nations that put forward candidates to fill two empty seats for the Asian bloc for the 2011-2015 period during a round of "elections" in which no real votes were cast. The other nation was Thailand.
"Yes, the U.S. government was aware this was a possibility," said the senior official, who requested anonymity because the agency is not publicly commenting on it. "Procedurally, there was no blocking this."
As at most such commissions in the U.N., backroom deals determined who would gain new seats at the women's rights body.
The decision to move to the commission was something of a booby prize for Iran, which the United States lobbied against when Iran sought a seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council. The United States worked with a broad range of other countries "to make it clear to Iran" that it was not going to win a seat on the Human Rights Council.
"We considered that a success," the official said. "But progress takes time in undoing their seat on the women's commission."
Iran has served on the women's commission for successive terms since 1990.
The Obama administration sought a seat on the Human Rights Council last year, reversing the Bush administration's policy to boycott the body to protest the influence of repressive states.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said Friday that U.S. engagement on the council helped prevent Iran from gaining a seat.
"I think it's notable that many countries joined with the United States in making the point to a broad swath of countries around the world that country such as Iran, which had sought a seat on the Human Rights Council in the upcoming election next month and campaigned hard for it, did not merit membership given its human rights record in general, and in particular what has transpired over the course of last year," she said.
Rice didn't comment on Iran's selection to the women's commission.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Right and Oversight, blasted the silence of the U.S. to Iran's selection, saying it is the U.S official position "to be pleasant with gangsters."
"Iran is the best example. This is yet another example of that strategy. It's part of the theory of hug-a-Nazi-make-a-liberal. If you treat gangsters in a pleasant way and watch out for their sensitivity, they'll reform their ways," he told FoxNews.com.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. should leverage its contributions to the U.N. "to help produce effective, transparent, and accountable U.N. programs which can help women and others around the globe."
"The U.N.'s apologists must have thought that since Iran withdrew, under pressure, from the Human Rights Council race, we would not notice this latest abomination. They were wrong," she said in a written statement.
"That an Iranian regime that shoots and stones women would be 'elected' to a U.N. body supposedly dedicated to women's rights adds a whole new disgusting twist to the ongoing saga of Iran exploiting the U.N," she said.
A high-ranking State Department official told FoxNews.com that Iran's selection to the commission isn't as bad as it appears.
"We're not going to stand up and cheer," the official said. "By the same token, that is less onerous than the Human Rights Council because women in Iran, relative to other countries in the region, actually have greater rights."
"You don't have women placed in head-to-toe burkas in that country," the official said. "You have women elected to the legislature in the country."
The official acknowledged the death Neda Agha-Soltan, an Iranian woman who was killed during a post election anti-government protest.
"She was killed because she was a protestor, not because she was a woman," the official said. "I'm not saying we can take Iran and compare them to the human rights record of any country in the developed world. But in that region, women in Iran have a greater opportunity for education, for business and to participate in politics."
The official with the U.S. Mission told FoxNews.com that the United States is trying to make elections to U.N. seats more competitive.
Membership on the status of women's commission is based on the number of countries in a region, no matter how small a country's population or how scant its respect for rights. The commission is currently made up of 13 members from Africa, 11 from Asia, nine from Latin America and the Caribbean, eight from Western Europe and North America and four from Eastern Europe.
Iran's election comes just a week after one of its senior clerics declared that women who wear revealing clothing are to blame for earthquakes, a statement that created an international uproar -- but had little effect on Tehran's bid to become an international arbiter of women's rights.
"Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," said Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi.
That was followed by threats from Tehran's police chief that women who are tan will be arrested and imprisoned for violating the spirit of Islamic law.
The Commission on the Status of Women is supposed to conduct review of nations that violate women's rights, issue reports detailing their failings and monitor success in improving women's equality.
Yet critics of Iran's human rights record say the country has taken "every conceivable step" to deter women's equality.
The official with the U.S. Mission told FoxNews.com that the United States takes the commission seriously.
"It's important," the official said. "They do important work for issues crucial to women all over the world. It's something that we certainly pay attention to."