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UN Human Rights Council Slams Iran’s New Hijab Law


More than 40 member states of the UN Human Rights Council have expressed “serious concern” over the approval of Iran’s new hijab bill it branded “gender apartheid”. 

The law imposes harsher penalties, including longer prison sentences and higher fines, on women who do not adhere to the country’s strict Islamic dress code for head coverings and modest attire. Late in September, Iran’s Parliament announced that the bill was approved for a “three-year trial run” following coordination by the judiciary. 

During a Wednesday meeting at the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the majority of the 47-member group endorsed a statement, initiated by Canada, condemning the Islamic Republic’s intensified measures to enforce hijab through the new bill. The statement was delivered by Canada’s Ambassador to the Council, Leslie E. Norton. 

“We join our voices to those of the High Commissioner, Special Procedures, and the Fact-Finding Mission on Iran to express serious concern at the recent adoption of the Chastity and Hijab bill by the Iranian Parliament,” read the statement. 

The contentious bill’s content was finalized by a committee of approximately 10 lawmakers making the best use of an obscure regulation known as Article 85 of the constitution that enabled the parliament to effectively sideline opposition by restricting discussions on the bill to an internal committee. The only aspect voted upon was the duration for the trial implementation.

Raising alarm over Iran’s plans to deepen punishments for women and girls who do not obey its “draconian compulsory dress code,” the member countries decried the regime for seeking “to force non-complying women into an unprecedented social and economic siege”, measures including travel bans, denial of education, health facilities and other public services. Private businesses will also be compelled to refuse services to uncovered women.

UN rights experts branded the new law as gender apartheid in September. Rights group Amnesty International said it will impose “draconian penalties” and called on the international community to pressure Iran to revoke the ‘despicable’ bill. 

The signatories also voiced worries about the ever more invasive use of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology to crack down on women who defy hijab. They say the recently introduced measures worsen the already dire situation for women and girls, “marked by widespread and systematic discrimination in law and practice, in many aspects of their public and private life.”

Referring to the nationwide movement that rallied behind the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom,” the group urged Iranian authorities to heed to the legitimate claims of protesters, and to abide by its obligations under international law, including in matters of women’s rights and gender equality.

“Women and girls of Iran should not be treated as second class citizens and must enjoy the full array of their human rights, free from discrimination, surveillance and fear of retribution,” added the statement.

The move came as an Iranian teenager, Armita Geravand, is in coma following a violent encounter with hijab enforcers at Tehran’s subway. Authorities are handling the situation exactly as they did in the case of Mahsa Amini, with blackouts on CCTV footage, arresting her mother and the journalist who tried to cover the case. Routine denials continue from the highest levels of the regime and massive security is in place around the hospital in which she is in intensive care.  

The UNHRC courted global controversy earlier this year when it invited Ali Bahreini, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, to chair the 2023 UNHRC Social Forum next month. The move gained widespread criticism. The European Parliament said the appointment “is nothing more than a slap in the face given the human rights situation of most Iranians, particularly women, and the repeated executions in the wake of the ongoing protests in the country”, in addition to its appalling handling of the pandemic in which it refused to accept Western vaccines at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. 

The United Nations also came under fire last month for allowing President Ebrahim Raisi to take the stage at the annual General Assembly, giving voice to the regime narrative in which he claimed Iranian women’s rights are “unparalleled”.

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