The United Nations: Friend or Foe to Iraqi Women?

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The United Nations has a poor record in Iraq. After the U.S. troops freed Iraq from the dictatorship of Saddam, they bolted from the country at the first instance of terror against their headquarters. Further, the U.N. is caught in the scandal of the Oil for Food Program, where they mismanaged the largest relief program in U.N. history. Thus, they allowed Saddam to fund his opulent lifestyle and other terrorist organizations, as well as to terrorize his own people.

Now, recent action in the Security Council may actually undermine a workable, truly representative democracy in Iraq.

Nesreen Berwari, Iraq’s minister for Municipalities and Public Works, describes herself as an Iraqi, a Kurd and a democracy activist. She writes in the Wall Street Journal that she is deeply disappointed in the recent U.N. Security Council resolution that recognizes Iraq’s sovereignty. Why? The Security Council refused to endorse Iraq’s Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). For women as well as ethnic minorities, this omission could undermine newly won rights and protections.

In Ms. Berwari’s opinion, the TAL which served as Iraq’s interim Constitution contains a strong bill of rights, and guarantees equality and a voice to minorities and women. In addition, it laid down the foundation for a real democracy not one in which powerful Shiite clerics and other religious leaders can impose their will. But this is exactly what has happened.

By not endorsing the TAL, which was a collaborative effort of all Iraq’s religions and ethnic groups, the Security Council has stripped it of the force of law in the eyes of the international community. She says that this “is a terrible slap in the face for all those Iraqis who have been fighting so hard for freedom and democracy.” In addition, it plays into the power-posturing of Shiite clerics.

Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, senior fellow for Concerned Women for America and a U.S. delegate to United Nations conferences, notes, “This is particularly important to the women of Iraq. They have worked on the Interim Governing Council to restore the human rights of women that were a model in the region-until Saddam’s regime eroded them. Under Islamic law, women tend to have an unequal, second-class role. Because women are acutely aware of this, laws guaranteeing human rights are needed as the Iraqis create a permanent constitution that will guarantee religious freedom and prevent the tyranny of powerful Islamic clerics.”

Importantly, the TAL guarantees civil law to all citizens. The TAL also guarantees much-needed representation for women. At this time, six out of 33 ministers are women, and the TAL mandates that 25 percent of the legislature be women. Dr. Crouse commented, “While we do not support a quota or mandating representation of women, we do recognize the importance of making equal rights a priority. We especially recognize the importance of human rights and religious freedom.”

The United Nations does well to recognize Iraq’s sovereignty. But in not solidly backing the transitional law, it fails to rally the international community solidly behind the commitment to a free Iraq. By refusing to endorse the TAL, the U.N. undercuts the very element that ensures a democracy that will represent and protect all citizens equally.

Dr. Crouse summarized, “Once again, the U.N. stops short and proves that it lacks the will to act decisively on behalf of all Iraqis.”

Katy Kiser is a writer from Texas.

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