The protest against the United Nations in New York City on December 11, in recognition of Human Rights Day, was a great success. Over 50 people – from across the ideological spectrum, male and female, of many ethnicities and nationalities – gathered to affirm that we stand for equality and human rights for women, and to condemn the United Nations’ animosity towards women, as expressed by its continued legitimation of misogynist governments.
On this day, we demanded that the UN recognize that women’s rights are human rights. We demanded a UN resolution to criminalize stoning worldwide. And we demanded that the Islamic Republic, as the world’s flag-bearer of constitutional and institutional misogyny, be expelled from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We also demanded that gender apartheidist Saudi Arabia be removed from the Board of UN Women, and that the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose soldiers contributed to the rape of 15,000 women last year alone, be expelled from the seats that it inexplicably holds in both of the UN’s women’s organizations.
The event opened with a mock-stoning display: a mannequin in a white shroud was displayed with an array of “stones” around her. As people gathered for the event, they were handed an agenda and a list of chants. Maria Rohaly (Mission Free Iran) gave a brief introduction, saying that we were here to recognize Human Rights Day, and also to recognize the fact that in our world, we are sorely lacking human rights for everyone, in no small part due to the United Nations’ political support for some of the worst human rights offenders in the world, and particularly those who are the most egregious violators of women’s rights.
The group started its demonstration at 2nd Ave and 47th St with several chants, including the following:
“United Nations! What are you for?
You welcome butchers in your front door!”
“Women’s rights are human rights! UN: Uphold our rights!
Women’s rights are equal rights! UN: Uphold our rights!”
“Stop the stoning! Stop the rape! This should be no woman’s fate!
Stop the killing! Stop the hate! This should be no human’s fate!”
“Down with the Islamic Republic of Stoning!
No to the Islamic Republic of Gender Apartheid!
Stop beheading in Saudi Arabia!
No to rape in the Congo!”
“No more bloodshed! No more dictators!”
“Together we stand! Together we fight! We demand human rights!” and
“Freedom for Sakineh! Freedom for Sajjad! Justice for Shahla! Justice for Farzad!”
After about 15 minutes of chanting, all the participants who had brought a stoning shroud spotted with “blood” (red paint) were asked to put them on, and all participants were given a placard with the name of a person who had either been stoned to death or were awaiting a stoning execution in prison. The names of those who had been killed by stoning originated from several countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, and Somalia. The names were of both women and men. By far the preponderance of placards memorialized people from Iran.
In addition to the name of the person who had been stoned to death and the country they were from, each placard had an image of the United Nations logo, and a pile of bloody stones superimposed on the logo. This image symbolizes the United Nations’ complicity in supporting regimes that commit the criminal act of stoning. The emphasis in the Islamic Penal Code on choosing the stones according to their size, with the intent of inflicting the maximum amount of pain, underscores the fact that stoning “punishment” is a form of execution that intentionally tortures the victim prior to death. As such, stoning is in contravention to the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and should be considered a crime everywhere. Yet Claire Kaplun, a spokeswoman for the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, when asked if the Council condemned the planned execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for alleged adultery, this spokeswoman for the UN’s Human Rights Council told a reporter “no.”
As soon as everyone had a placard, we began our march south on 2nd Ave, towards 44th St, where the offices of UN staff are located. We marched, shouting our chants, past the UN offices, and then turned left onto 1st Avenue, where we paraded in front of the UN headquarters.
We reached 47th St again, only to be interrupted by a police officer who tried to insinuate that we had engaged in an illegal march. Of course we had not, so he could not stop our action altogether, but he did force a lengthy interruption of our action by continuing to engage key organizers in idle conversation while the protesters were forced into silence until he left. Two police vehicles blocked the line of sight of a group of about 8 photographers who were trying to photograph the group of protesters while they shouted at the UN with placards in hand.
After that incident, the group walked west along 47th St to the original staging area to begin the statements.
Shirin Nariman, founder of the Women’s Alliance for Change in Iran, gave the introduction for the event. She began by illustrating the gender-based violence faced by women in a country where efforts have been made to collect statistics on such violence – the United States – and pointed out the fact that as bad violence against women is in the United States, it is certainly much worse in countries where there are not only no laws to protect women, but where the laws actively oppress women – particularly in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
She then introduced writer and professor of French Liliane Lazar, who spoke in support of the day’s event, and also brought word of the support of Bernhard-Henri Levy for our action. Dr. Lazar said, “I am joining this protest at the United Nations Headquarters to condemn the UN silence on the stoning of Sakineh Ashtiani and many others. Sakineh Ashtiani has become the symbol of a movement fighting against the barbaric treatment of women who are condemned to death by stoning.” She also told us that “Bernard-Henri Lévy is not able to join us on December 11, Human Rights Day, but he supports our protest for equality and justice for all human beings, and in demanding that the United Nations end their inaction on crimes and violence committed against women.”
Helene Monteil, the originator of the idea for the day’s protest and full-time human rights volunteer activist, gave the next statement. She also read the statement of support from renowned author Nawal El Saadawi. Some of El Saadawi’s statements include the following:
1- I am against the stoning of Sakineh Ashtiani in Iran, this horrible crime should be severely condemned by every human being,
2- I am against all types of killing women and men by stones or by post modern military weapons, in neo-colonial wars against people in Iraq, in Palestine and other nations in any place of the world,
3- I am against all religious states whether Jewish or Christian or Islamic or other, any religious state is racist, patriarchal and fanatic. It discriminates between people according to religion, class, gender and other.
Fatima Thompson, representing Muslims for Progressive Values, was the next speaker. She spoke about life in the time of Muhammad, and said that then, “women were free. Women were his advisers. Women ran businesses, owned property and taught religion. And women prayed and led the community together with men. Women were not stoned for adultery during the life of Muhammad. Nowhere is stoning mentioned in the Quran. …It did not happen during his time. It should not be happening in ours.”
After these speakers, all of the participants at the demonstration who were holding a name placard from the earlier march were given a flower and asked to go to the mock stoning display, pick up a stone and remove it from the scene, and replace the stone with the name placard and flower. In this way, all those in attendance participated in the creation of a memorial for all the women and men whose lives were extinguished so brutally. A poem by Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin, which she had written in remembrance of a woman named Noorjahan who had been stoned to death, was also read:
They have made Noorjahan stand in a hole in the courtyard.
There she stands submerged to her waist, her head hanging.
They’re throwing stones at Noorjahan,
stones that are striking my body.
I feel them on my head, forehead, chest, back,
and I hear laughing, shouts of abuse.
Noorjahan’s fractured forehead pours out blood, mine also.
Noorjahan’s eyes have burst, mine also.
Noorjahan’s nose has been smashed, mine also.
Noorjahan’s torn breast and heart have been pierced, mine also.
Are these stones not striking you?
They’re laughing aloud, laughing and stroking their beards.
Even their caps, stuck to their heads, are shaking with laughter.
They’re laughing and swinging their walking sticks.
From the quiver of their cruel eyes,
Arrows speed to pierce her body,
My body also.
Are these arrows not piercing your body?
Several statements of support for the day’s action were read, including from the International Committees against Stoning and Execution, former member of Canadian Parliament David Kilgour , and the Union for the Advancement of Secular Democracy in Iran. Hassan Massali also delivered a statement on behalf of Rayzani Baraye Ettehad (Dialogue for Unification), calling for all those who demand a secular and democratic Iran to join together around specific actions in opposition to the Islamic Republic.
Several members of the community spoke during the time reserved for an open microphone, including a couple that had traveled from upstate New York to attend the demonstration, an Iranian woman who read aloud the various laws on the books under the Islamic Republic that oppress women, a representative of the socialist feminist organization Radical Women, a young woman who declared that an Islam that justified stoning women to death was not the Islam that she knew, and another young woman who extended her thanks to everyone in attendance, particularly non-Iranians.
Maria Rohaly read the closing statement and resolutions on behalf of Mission Free Iran. The statement reflected on the irony that although for 65 years, the United Nations has supposedly been “preoccupied” with concerns for human rights, we still had to gather to protest against the barbaric practice of stoning. The resolutions were as follows:
1- Stoning is a crime against humanity and above all a punishment with the general goal of subduing women as primary victim for the non- crime of “adultery.” We demand a resolution criminalizing stoning, as well as beheading and amputation as “punishments” everywhere and by any government or non-governmental entity. Perpetrators should be considered criminals against humanity and prosecuted and punished for these crimes in an international court.
2- Beheading, flogging, amputation of body parts, and any other sorts of physical “punishments” are to be considered barbaric crimes and prohibited immediately.
3-The Islamic Republic of Iran, a regime which is constitutionally as well as institutionally anti-woman should be immediately removed from the UN Commission on the Status of Woman; the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is a gender apartheidist state that lashes women who have been the victim of rape should be removed from the Board of UN Women; and Congo, where government soldiers were primary perpetrators in the rapes of 15,000 women last year alone, must be removed from its seat on both of these organizations, which are solely established to promote the rights of women and absolute gender equality.
4- The United Nations should move to abolish the death penalty everywhere. Governments should not be allowed to commit murder under the cover of “justice” and law.
Mission Free Iran extends its most sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of this event, including Ally Skikas, Helene Monteil, Shirin Nariman, Afshin Nariman, and many, many others, some of whom must remain unnamed, without whom this action would not have been possible.