Hillel Neuer was interviewed by ILTV about Iran’s removal from the UN’s Women’s Rights Commission, thank to UN Watch’s successful two-year campaign.
Lidar Gravé-Lazi, ILTV: So joining us now with more on the UN vote and its implications is Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of United Nations Watch. Thank you for joining us. Great to have you here in the studio.
Hillel Neuer: My pleasure.
ILTV: So what are the implications of this historic vote, Iran being ousted from the UN’s women’s rights group?
Hillel Neuer: Look, this has never happened before. So we’re looking at something that is historic in the entire history of the United Nations; a member state has never before been removed from the UN Women’s Rights Commission. It’s a major slap in the face for the Islamic regime – the Ayatollah Khameini, the dictator. The world has said, “You are shameless.” There is a cry in Iran, of the people, they say, “Bisharaf! You are shameless. You have no honor. You have no dignity. You have no conscience. You have no morals. You are shameless. Bisharaf!” That is what the world yesterday, for the first time at the United Nations, said to Khameini, said to the Islamic regime, said to the murderous mullahs. And it’s a very important message and a signal that was sent from the world. It gives great strength. There were celebrations in the town, where Mahsa Amini, the young woman who was beaten and killed while in police custody, there were fireworks immediately after the vote. So a very important message was sent.
I want to be clear; there is no concrete action that happened yesterday that will save the people in Iran who are being beaten, blinded, tortured, raped, killed by the regime. This doesn’t help them do that. But it is the beginning. We see this as the beginning of the world mobilizing and sending the right message for maybe the first time.
ILTV: So before we look ahead, I do want to take a step back. Your organization was the first to sort of break the story about Iran joining the council in the first place. Can you give us maybe a little bit of a behind the scenes? What happened from that moment until the vote to oust Iran?
Hillel Neuer: Look, the election that happened last year, April 20th, 2021, was an abomination. It was a travesty. It should never have happened. Sadly, at the United Nations there is something rotten. In the culture of the United Nations there is a kind of moral bankruptcy and moral corruption, where it’s a regular thing that the worst dictatorships get elected. They seek election – for reasons of propaganda, to protect their records of abuse – they seek election to the world’s highest human rights bodies and very often they win. That’s what happened in April 2021. Iran was elected with 43 out of 54 votes, only 11 didn’t vote for them. It was a secret ballot. So we don’t know which countries at the time voted for Iran, but at least 4, at least 4 EU and Western countries voted for Iran. That’s the cynical back and forth where diplomats go along to get along at the UN.
UN Watch was the first organization to break the story. There was silence. No news agency reported it. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch – the largest, wealthiest NGOs – they were silent. We were not silent. We exposed it and we said this is outrageous. It has to be reversed. We created a firestorm in parliaments in Europe, in Canada, in the United States. We demanded to know: Who voted for the Islamic Republic? Reveal your secret ballots! They didn’t want to reveal the ballot. The Canadian ambassador, I salute him, Bob Rae, he immediately said, “We did not vote for Iran,” and yesterday he gave the most powerful rejoinder to those who argued that they should not be removed. He said, “Can it really be that a country can do whatever it wants against women and yet have no consequences for them being on a Women’s Rights Commission?”
We campaigned throughout the past year and a half; we had caricatures in Geneva, Switzerland, the headquarters of the UN human rights system, we had an entire train, a tram, plastered with the words “Expel Iran from the Women’s Rights Commission,” and we had tweets and videos and a website and we had a diplomatic campaign. And there were other activists in Geneva and New York who pressed it. And it was a worldwide effort; people like Nazanin Afshin-Jam; people like Nazanin Boniadi; Masih Alinejad, the hero of the women’s rights movement, she said from the beginning, “This is surreal!” And it took, sadly, the death of Mahsa Amini, hundreds of other protesters, women being shot in the back for this to happen and finally we had justice yesterday.
ILTV: Now, this is the first time as you mentioned that any country has been ejected from a council. Could this perhaps mark a change within the UN?
Hillel Neuer: We hope so. But I need to be realistic. There is a long standing practice where at the Human Rights Council in Geneva where I’m based: China, Cuba, Venezuela, Eritrea, Libya, Qatar, they sit on the Human Rights Council. Only twice in the history of the past few decades were evil dictatorships removed. And both cases, campaigns that we spearheaded. Gaddafi in 2011. Vladimir Putin this year in April. Those are the exceptions. The rule is the dictatorships seek election and our democracies do very little to stop them. In rare occasions, they do intervene, and they can stop them. We see today that Vladimir Putin was removed; the US took action. Yesterday, Iran was removed, because the US took action. But it’s rare. So unfortunately, to be realistic, I cannot anticipate that other dictatorships will be removed. It should happen.
ILTV: And so looking ahead, what’s next in terms of Iran at the UN and other dictatorships and countries?
Hillel Neuer: Sadly, many UN human rights bodies are filled with dictatorships. The Human Rights Council, the highest human rights body at the United Nations, has 70% – according to Freedom House – 70% of their members are either outright dictatorships or various other kinds of authoritarian regimes. That is why when the United States introduced a resolution just a few months ago to have a debate on 1 million Muslim Uighurs herded into camps by the Chinese Communist Party, it failed; they couldn’t even get a debate. Most of the worst regimes in the world have impunity. There’s never been a resolution at the Human Rights Council on Pakistan, on Cuba, on China, on Saudi Arabia. Most of the world’s worst regimes get a free pass. That has to end. I’m glad to see that the US is trying to make changes. The US ambassador in Geneva is trying to hold China to account and I continue to urge the US government to take leadership at the UN.
ILTV: Alright, Hillel Neuer, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us about this very important issue today.
Hillel Neuer: Thank you for having me.