Bahai News - U.N. Rights Chief Defends Wearing Headscarf in Iran
U.N. Rights Chief Defends Wearing Headscarf in Iran
By Robert Evans
Updated 10:18 AM ET February 23, 2001|
GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary
Robinson said Friday she wore a headscarf during an anti-racism conference
in Tehran this week because it was the law of the country.
But she said she had made formal protests over the effective barring of a
Jewish human rights group and an organization representing the Bahai faith
from entering the country for the gathering.
Robinson, a former president of Ireland, told a news conference she had also
urged protesting women from Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
attending the conference that they should also wear the scarf.
The vast majority, additionally urged to don the Islamic garment by women
from Iranian NGOs and aware that it was a criminal offense not to do so or
even to criticize the law that makes the scarf obligatory, conformed, she
"I wore the scarf as required by Iranian law because as High Commissioner it
would be entirely inappropriate to be in breach of the law of the country I
was visiting," said Robinson, who has come in for criticism over the affair.
"I never wear hats and scarves, so it is not something I enjoy doing. It
is not a matter of respect for a custom, it is the law of the land, and one
that is strictly applied."
Robinson said the conservative press in Iran had played up the issue of the
women who were refusing to wear a scarf to press a campaign against reformers
which has led to the arrest of many prominent journalists and closure of
"I hope this won't lead to further difficulties," the High Commissioner added.
"It was put to me by Iranian women that in Iran women can vote, that there
are many in parliament and some in the cabinet, that they are allowed to
drive cars, that 60 per cent of university students are women, and that the
scarf is an important part of their culture," she added.
WORLD CONFERENCE IN DURBAN
The gathering was the Asian regional preparatory meeting for a U.N. world
conference against racism to be held in Durban, South Africa, from Aug.
31-Sept. 7 this year.
Robinson said the failure of the Iranian authorities to issue visas in time
to representatives of the Paris-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and of the
Bahai International Community, both recognized by the U.N., had dismayed her.
She said she had made clear in Tehran that she fully and unequivocally
supported participation of all U.N.-accredited NGOs in the preparatory process
and in the Durban conference.
Robinson said she had discussed the overall situation on human rights in the
country with President Mohammed Khatami and other top officials.
The High Commissioner said she felt her visit "underlined the very tense
situation in Iran between the conservatives and those who wanted to see reform
and progressive change.
"I am now more aware of the extent of the pressures and serious violations of
human rights that have taken place in recent times," Robinson added.
©Copyright 2001, Reuters
Page last updated/revised 026001
Return to the Bahá'í Association's Main Web Page