Commentary Magazine


A UN Disgrace, Again

The good news is that Iran won’t be joining the UN women’s rights panel after all. The bad news: Saudi Arabia will. This is not a joke — well the UN is, but not this incident.

Yes, Saudi Arabia. You know, the country that brought us this, this, and this. Or, if you prefer, there is our own State Department’s evaluation of the Saudi’s violent misogyny. The administration doesn’t do much, but it sure does document the monstrous treatment of women and girls in the Kingdom of Saud:

During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; disappearances; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency. Violence against women, violations of the rights of children, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. …

The government views marital relations between spouses as contractual and did not recognize spousal rape. According to the law, if a man rapes a woman, she is viewed as being at fault for illegal mixing of genders and is punished along with her attacker. Statistics on incidents of rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape against women and boys was a serious problem. …

There were no laws specifically prohibiting domestic violence. Government officials stated that the government did not clearly define domestic violence and that procedures for dealing with cases varied from one government body to another. …

Discrimination against women was a significant problem. After her February 2008 visit, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, while acknowledging progress in the status of women and particularly women’s access to education, noted the lack of women’s autonomy, freedom of movement, and economic independence; discriminatory practices surrounding divorce and child custody; the absence of a law criminalizing violence against women; and difficulties preventing women from escaping abusive environments.

Forgive me if I don’t take Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s occasional rhetorical flourishes on human rights seriously. When it comes to action, they are inert.

Now wouldn’t you think in his Muslim Outreach stop in Indonesia he’d reach out to some Muslim Women? In a speech long on Muslim suck-uppery, Obama found time to root for non-direct, non-peace talks to, I guess, resume. But a plea for women and girls to be treated as human beings (rather than as chattel) in the Muslim world? Nothing. Not even in Afghanistan. This is the single sentence that remotely touches on the topic of women in Muslim countries:

Now, I stayed here for four years — a time that helped shape my childhood; a time that saw the birth of my wonderful sister, Maya; a time that made such an impression on my mother that she kept returning to Indonesia over the next 20 years to live and to work and to travel — and to pursue her passion of promoting opportunity in Indonesia’s villages, especially opportunity for women and for girls.

That’s it. What could he have said? Here’s my suggestion:

If through the good offices of our military — especially our women soldiers — we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue — self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons — that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.

It would be ludicrous to expect that, or even a watered-down version of it, to come from Obama’s lips. So those hoping for improvement in Obama’s human rights policy should clue in. Obama’s dedication to human rights, and to international oppression of women specifically, is precisely the same as it has always been: nonexistent.