July 12 2010

IWF in the News: Let He Without Sin...

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

For the past several days, CNN has been documenting the case of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani in Iran, who has been condemned to death by stoning. Fortunately, her case has caught the attention of the international human rights community - offering some hope that the sentence will not be carried out (although, to be fair, with Iran having executed 126 people this year already, there's certainly no guarantee.)

Despite condemnation from countries around the world, stoning is still extremely widespread; Women News Network recently posted on Twitter (follow them at @womenadvocates) that the practice still exists in Nigeria, India, Nepal, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Even the United Nations has condemned stoning - although they did recently consider Iran for a slot on their Human Rights Council, and gave them a slot on the Commission on the Status of Women - so let's be honest, they don't have a lot of gravitas on this issue. However Ashtiani's case is settled, it is important that the international community remain vigilant about both the cruel and unusual nature of the punishment and the uneven way that this "justice" is doled out.  Women in particular are singled out for this barbaric punishment - which should be of concern to feminists around the world (of all stripes). According to a (very informative) 2008 Amnesty International report: "Women suffer a disproportionate impact of the punishment of death by stoning in Iran.

  • One reason is that they are not treated equally before the law and courts, in clear violation of international fair trial standards. ...
  • Women are also particularly vulnerable to unfair trials because they are more likely than men to be illiterate and therefore more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit. In addition, women from ethnic minorities are less likely to be able to speak Persian - the official language of the court - so they often do not understand what is happening to them in the legal process or even that they face death by stoning. ...
  • Discrimination against women in other aspects of their lives also leaves them more susceptible to conviction for adultery. ...
  • Women face strict controls on their behaviour that are imposed and policed by the state, controls that are discriminatory and restrict their right to freedom of expression and movement. ...
  • Poverty, drug addiction and domestic violence also play a part in making women more vulnerable to stoning than men. ...
  • Finally, the very procedure specified for carrying out executions discriminates against women. Article 102 of the Penal Code states that, during stoning, the man shall be buried in a ditch up to near his waist and the woman up to near her chest. Article 103 states that if the condemned person manages to escape from the pit, they will not be stoned again if they had been sentenced after confession, but clearly it would be harder for a woman to escape than a man, since she would have been buried more deeply.

Many of the countries that still practice stoning are eager for the prosperity (and foreign aid) that accompanies expanded relations with the world; as such, they are particularly sensitive to any international outcry that may jeopardize their standing. The Obama Administration's efforts to reach out to the Muslim world offer an excellent opportunity for the United States to remind these nations of the priority that we as a country place on human rights - and how seriously we take violations. For information about the issue, and how you can become involved, I recommend checking out the websites of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty and Stop Stoning Forever, as well as Human Rights Watch and, of course, Amnesty International. 

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