For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/WOM/483
Release Date:  15 June 2000
Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee 
Concludes Consideration of Iraq Reports

 NEW YORK, 14 June (UN Headquarters) -- Economic sanctions on Iraq should not be used as an excuse to limit legislative efforts to improve the personal status of women, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was told this afternoon, as it concluded its consideration of Iraq’s second and third periodic reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and heard further observations by its expert members.

A Committee expert said that it seemed that everything was blamed on hardships caused by the embargo.  While there was a measure of understanding, she could not determine what the embargo had to do with the personal status of women in Iraq.  For example, polygamy and divorce by repudiation were still practised, and women were not granted equal inheritance rights.  Economic resources were not necessary to ensure a woman’s right to inherit.  All it took was the political will of the legislature.

 Addressing the issue of cultural stereotypes, one expert said that, before the sanctions, much had been done to improve the stereotypes of women in Iraq.  But, she feared that as the social and economic situation in that country deteriorated, old practices might impede the empowerment of women.  She urged the Government to “be on the lookout”, so that past achievements would not be eroded. 

Another expert expressed dismay that Iraq’s report contained very little information on rural women.  Their concerns needed special consideration, because they were doubly discriminated against, first, because they were women, and second, because of they were, more often than not, geographically cut off from proper health-care facilities, educational tools and new technologies. 

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 15 June, to commence consideration of Austria’s combined third, fourth and fifth periodic reports.  

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the second and third periodic reports of Iraq's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  It was expected to hear further comments and questions by the Committee’s expert members, as well as responses by the Iraqi delegation.  [For background on Iraq’s report, see Press Release WOM/1216 issued today.]
Response by Iraq

EMAN NAJI AL-AZZAWI, International Law Expert of Iraq, continuing her reply to a question posed by an expert at the morning session, said that the human rights committee in the Iraqi Government was responsible for all aspects related to human rights, including human rights as it pertains to women.  A number of laws had been enacted stressing equality between men and women in their civil and political rights and also the right to be elected.  For example, three laws governing elections had been enacted, all of which provided for the equality of men and women in the electoral process and in the enjoyment of civil and political rights.

Regarding the number of women candidates in the elections for the local assemblies, there were 4,158,375 women voters and 146 female candidates, she said.  Women’s participation amounted to 57 per cent, which was in step with the percentage of the number of women in the national census.  As for the “oil-for-food” programme, that programme was not sufficient to meet the needs of the people, in general.  It was a transitional formula with a view to the ultimate lifting of the embargo and could only meet the minimum needs for food and medication.  Nevertheless, the Government was trying hard to enhance the status of women within those mechanisms.  

As regards political parties, she said that the legal equality in political and civil rights was a reality.  She had mentioned that the Baath Party currently had a quota scheme in the ranks of its leadership for women.  The result was that the quota had, in large part, gone to women, which led to the strengthening of the role of women in the Party’s structure.

Comments and Questions by Experts

One expert said that, while she acknowledged the difficulties facing Iraq today, all efforts must be exhausted in implementing the provisions of the Convention.  Considering the degree of conflict and crisis that Iraq now faced, she was surprised to see that there were no programmes for the mental health of women and children.  What measures had been undertaken to safeguard the mental and psychological health of women?  Also, had there been an increase of prostitution because of the economic crisis?  As a consequence, there might have been an increase in HIV/AIDS.  She wanted to hear statistics on that and to know what measures were being taken to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

On the issue of encouraging women to produce as many as 10 children, considering the crisis in the country, how relevant and healthy was that kind of policy? she asked.  It seemed that such a policy worked against the well being of both mothers and children, especially with regard to being able to provide for the needs of large families.  She also wanted a description of what was being done to eliminate violence against women.  Was there a category of violence against women under the law?  What did the statistics show?  How was violence reported to the authorities, and was there a way to protect those women who did report violence?  

The expert also wondered how the victims of violence were rehabilitated.  What were the components of due process of law with respect to the victim and the aggressor?  What were the deterrents?  How were the violators punished?  Was there a customary practice of honour killing?  If so, was it sanctioned or were there measures against it?

Also, she did not see a description of concrete measures to change women’s roles in society.  Were there policies to change the status of women?  Were there provisions in the law to do away with stereotyping?  What concrete measure had Iraqi authorities undertaken to provide equality in education, particularly for the girl child, to do away with illiteracy?  

 Experts continued to express their concern on the issue of cultural stereotypes.  It was felt that before the sanctions, much had been done in that area, but, as the social and economic situations in that country began to deteriorate, old practices that might impede the empowerment of women seemed to be re-emerging.  To that end, the Iraqi Government was urged to “be on the lookout”, so that the achievements that had been gained before the sanctions would not be eroded.  It was also felt that the modern world required that women play a role in politics.  If they did not take part in decision-making, they could have no say as to there own well-being.

Another expert expressed dismay that the report contained very little information on rural women.  Their concerns needed special consideration, because they were doubly discriminated against, first because they were women, and second because they were, more often than not, geographically cut off from proper health- care facilities, educational tools and new technologies.  It was also true that the weight of cultural stereotypes was felt more heavily by rural women.  What was being done to address those concerns?  Had the Government adopted programmes to ensure loans for rural women?

On the issue of the health of women and children, an expert recalled the suggestions made by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the conclusions of a study done on Iraq last year.  Breastfeeding, according to that report, was one very inexpensive way to dramatically improve health of babies and infants.  It was urged that the Government put in place intensive programmes to promote the idea.  The Committee also appealed to the Government to increase efforts to curb ethnic conflicts and intolerance.

Response by Iraq

Ms. AL-AZZAWI assured the Committee that data on the change of social stereotypes and patterns would be included in the next report.  But, it was important to note that understanding the hardships of current conditions in her country would help the Committee understand the obstacles to implementation of the Convention.  The political will was present to accelerate that implementation, and the Government would like to ensure that women fully enjoyed rights within the provisions of the Convention.

 Turning next to address concerns on women’s suffering from mental and psychological problems, she said that reasonable steps had been taken in light of resources available.  Answering an expert’s question about her country’s decision to encourage childbirth, she said that the rule had been in place for only one year, following the Iran-Iraq war. 

 She went on to say that while the issue of violence against women had been sufficiently covered in the country’s second and third reports, it was important to briefly reiterate that measures and steps had been taken to address the Committee’s concerns.  Further initiatives would be included in the fourth report. She also said that there were laws that dealt with victims of violence and that the perpetrators of honour killings were, indeed, punished.  The issue of prostitution was not as grave as the members of the Committee seemed to think. 

She said that Iraq was classified as a so-called “clean country” and was, therefore, free of the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

 Iraq faced great difficulties in implementing the Convention in those areas concerning stereotypes, she said.  Notwithstanding the difficulty, she thanked the expert for her emphasis on the role that women should play outside of the home.  While the embargo had affected Iraqi society, it also had some positive effects.  Financial needs drove women to seek employment, which led to financial independence, more self-reliance and independent decision making.  That required tremendous effort, whether by providing opportunities, training to enter the labour market or by educational rehabilitation.

 As regards rural women, those women no doubt needed special care for obvious reasons, she said.  But, considerable efforts had been made to provide care.  The Government worked hand in hand with civil society, whether with the General Federation of Iraqi Women or the National Council for Rural People.  Iraq had intensive courses geared for rural women, to provide them with skills, health guidance and cultural development.  Social health workers, agrarian workers, advisers and volunteers provided assistance to rural women, to enable them to overcome the obstacles they might encounter in fields as varied as health, education, training, and vocational skills. 

 On the question of ethnic disputes, there were no ethnic disputes in Iraq.  What could impede implementation of the Convention was the manipulation of Security Council resolutions.  Iraq had always sought peace.  Iraq had made great achievements and progress in the field of human rights, which was done within an ideological framework.  Extraordinary circumstances no doubt had an adverse effect.  She hoped that international organizations would show solidarity to ensure lifting of the embargo.

 On discrepancies in maternity leave, it was difficult for the Government to put pressure on the private sector to eliminate discrepancies.  Even the owners of small projects, which employed a few workers, had great difficulties.  Iraq had taken steps to ensure that women in the private sector enjoyed the same maternity leave as women in the public sector, but the embargo had changed the country’s priorities in financing economic activities.  Now, food and medication were stressed.  On breastfeeding, Iraq had, indeed, launched a campaign to encourage breastfeeding.  The Ministry of Health, along with the General Federation of Iraqi Women, conducted that campaign.

On reservations to the Convention, an expert recommended that the Government begin a review of Iraqi legislation, as other Muslim countries had done.  Perhaps, further progress could be made in that area.  Whatever the difficulties for a party to the Convention, it remained the responsibility of that State to implement the Convention to the maximum extent possible of its available resources.  Women and children suffered more under the sanctions than men.  If women and children suffered more, targeted programmes should be instituted to relieve them from their suffering.  All the paragraphs of the preamble to the Convention and all the conditions outlined in paragraph 11 of the preamble contributed to the attainment of full equality between women and men.

The expert also requested more detailed information on the National Committee for the Advancement of Iraqi Women.  What recommendations had that Committee made in the last couple of years?  She also wanted to know what the quota scheme was for elections.  Was it a fixed number or a percentage?  Had it been limited for a certain period of time?  She reminded the delegation that the State was responsible for discrimination by private actors. 

Another expert said that she remained confused by some of the responses.  It seemed that everything was to be blamed on the embargo.  While there might be a measure of understanding, she could not understand what the embargo had to do with the personal status of women in Iraq.  Those issues were at the core of issues relevant to the Committee.  Polygamy was still allowed, as was divorce by repudiation.  There was rape, and when the victim of rape was married to the offender, it was considered to be a mitigating legal factor.  The report states that the marriage might not be dissolved.  In other words, the woman was raped, made to marry the assailant, and then could not complain for at least three years if he ill-treated her.  

She said that, in the report, it seemed that the issue of prostitution was misunderstood.  Also, on inheritance, why was it that women did not inherit equally under Iraqi law?  What was there to prevent the Government of Iraq from changing the law on inheritance?  The issue of inheritance had been raised earlier by other human rights committees, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Committee.  There had been two comments and recommendations by human rights treaty bodies in that regard, and yet there had been no change in Iraq’s inheritance laws.  Economic resources were not needed to pass a law that would say that women had equal rights to inheritance.  All it took was the political will of the legislator.

On the matter of ethnic minorities, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had expressed concern about the ability of minorities to enjoy their human rights, especially in the Northern Governance.  She would like to express her own concern about minority women and whether they, too, enjoyed their human rights.

Another expert said she was from a developing country and sometimes those who did not live under such conditions could not understand the true effects of an embargo or the horrors of constant aggression and bombings.  The idea that women could suffer form panic attacks or other mental disorders would be beyond the imagination of those who had never lived under such conditions.  In that regard, it was truly admirable that the report had been completed under such conditions.

Response by Iraq

In response, Ms. AL-AZZAWI said that one visit to her country would change the mind of anyone who believed that there was no correlation between the no-fly zones and other restrictions of the embargo and implementation of the Convention. She invited any delegation to go to Iraq and observe the conditions first-hand. Such a visit might, in fact, be most important to the work of the Committee, since that body had been specifically tasked with monitoring conditions for women around the world.

The issue of resources was also important in any discussion about implementation of the provisions of the Convention, she continued.  There was no way for a government or a country to take giant steps in the field of development without resources and economic capabilities.  “We cannot talk about development in the absence of resources”, she said.  While, during the 1970s and 1980s, the vast oil resources of Iraq had been used for social development, outside intervention had forced a shift in the 1990s.  The priorities of development schemes today were geared mainly towards basic survival.

 She noted that the experts had misinterpreted the text of the annex on the issue of  “forced marriages”.  She also said that the inheritance regime in Iraq was based on the roles of men and women and not on the basis of absolute equality. It was a complex and intricate matter.  But, Iraq, like other Islamic countries, had expressed its reservations regarding inheritance provisions under the Convention and considered the issue closed. 

 Turning to the issue of ethnic minorities, she said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had taken into account the situation of racial minorities over and above those of Arab origin.  Those minorities had been living on Iraqi soil in a friendly environment for years.  It was important to note, however, that the sanctions and rebellions instigated by foreign Powers might result in destabilizing factors that could disrupt the ethnic harmony.  

 Finally, she stressed her country was truly suffering form the harsh embargo imposed by the United States and the United Kingdom.  That was particularly painful because before 1991 the Iraqi Government subsidized education and provided free health care.  Now, women all over Iraq feared for their future.  Those hardships would end only with the end of the embargo.

 In a closing statement, the Chairperson, AIDA GONZALEZ MARTINEZ (Mexico), said that she was well aware of the great effort that had been undertaken by the Iraqi delegation to attend the meeting.  That effort had attested to the importance the Government no doubt attached to the issue of women’s rights.  And while it was also recognized that a number of problems stemmed from the effects of the economic embargo, it was also true that many did not.

There were some advances that could be made in spite of the embargo, she continued, specifically in the area of violence against women.  Continued  discrimination had been observed, as well as the persistence of stereotypes and traditions that were negative to the equal representations of women in Iraqi society.  Those were all areas that could be addressed outside the embargo issue. 

She hoped that Iraq would take into account the concerns raised by the experts and to the problems that they had identified.  She agreed that the embargo should be lifted, particularly insofar as it affected the women and children of Iraq.

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