United Nations

UN states overcome divide to reach historic pact against abuse of women

Muslim nations and Western pave over divisions to decree no custom or religion justifies violence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 7:26am


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Muslim and Western nations overcame deep divisions to agree a historic UN declaration setting out a code of conduct for combating violence against women.

Iran, Libya, Sudan and other Muslim countries agreed to language stating violence against women and girls could not be justified by "any custom, tradition or religious consideration". Western nations, particularly from Scandinavia, toned down demands for references to gay rights and sexual health rights to secure the accord.

The agreement came after two weeks of tense talks between the 193 UN member states in New York. Some 6,000 non-governmental groups attended the Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

Cheers and wild applause erupted when the accord was announced at the UN headquarters late on Friday.

UN Women executive director Michelle Bachelet said it had been an "historic" meeting. It was made known straight afterwards that Bachelet would leave her post. She is expected to return to politics in Chile, where she was president until 2010.

The Vatican, Russia and Muslim states including Iran had formed what diplomats called "an unholy alliance" to weaken a statement calling for tough global standards on violence against women and girls.

They had objected to references to abortion rights and language suggesting that rape included forcible behaviour by a woman's husband or partner.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, called the proposed UN document un-Islamic and warned that it would lead to the "complete degradation of society". Norway and Denmark led a European alliance in support of a declaration and North American nations called for tough language.

The last attempt by the UN commission to agree a declaration on violence against women ended in failure in 2003.

"The commission urges states to strongly condemn all forms of violence against women and girls and to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination," the accord said.

States should "devote particular attention to abolishing practices and legislation that discriminate against women and girls, or perpetuate and condone violence against them".