Bahai News - Conservative Iranians "pounced" on headscarf controversy: UN official
Saturday, February 24 1:13 AM SGT
Conservative Iranians "pounced" on headscarf controversy: UN
GENEVA, Feb 23 (AFP) - The UN's top human rights official said Friday upon
her return from a conference in Iran that the country's conservatives had
tried to gain politically after some women at the meeting refused to wear
the obligatory headscarf.
Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was attending the
meeting to prepare for a world conference on racism in Durban later this
year, said the issue was "pounced upon" by conservative elements.
Three women from non-governmental organisations who attended the conference
in Tehran, which wrapped up Wednesday, objected to having to cover their
heads and refused to wear headscarves.
A conservative paper printed a photograph of the women, and Robinson told
reporters here that the issue was "being used as a conservative criticism of
the holding of the conference and what it was about."
The dispute was "pounced upon by the conservative elements with glee in order
to make life more difficult for those in Iran who are seeking to have more
opening up and reform," she added.
"I did feel that the visit had definitely underlined the importance of
recognising the very tense situation in Iran between conservative elements
and those who want to see reform and progressive change," she added.
Robinson, a former Irish president, also said she protested to the Iranian
authorities about the obstacles which two groups wanting to attend the
meeting had experienced.
Representatives from the Bahai religion, and the Jewish group, the Simon
Wiesenthal Center, which chases suspected Nazi war criminals, had difficulty
getting visas and were unable to participate.
However, Robinson stressed that 150 NGOS had taken part in the conference,
the fourth and last regional meeting before the world conference against
racism, set to take place from August 31 to September 7 in South Africa.
She said she raised concerns about freedom of expression, newspaper closures
and the arrest of journalists during a meeting with Iranian President
"He made a comment that he was concerned if anybody was imprisoned for their
expression," Robinson told reporters here.
Iran's chief justice Mahmud Hashemi Sharudi had also outlined planned reforms
including the reduction in the number of offences punishable by the death
penalty, she said.
According to figures by the UN's special human rights representative for
Iran, several hundred executions are carried out in Iran a year, though exact
figures are unknown, Robinson said.
©Copyright 2001, AFP
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