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Thu 11 Nov 2010 12:46 PM

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Saudi succeeds in bid for key UN Women’s agency

Gulf state wins seat on UN Women board, under the leadership of former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet

Saudi succeeds in bid for key UN Women’s agency
United Nations flags

Saudi Arabia has secured a seat on
the board running the new UN super agency for women, despite controversy over
the Gulf state’s human rights record.

Iran, also in the running for a seat,
was beaten by East Timor in a vote at the UN General Assembly, amid a fierce
diplomatic row over its treatment of women.

Four UN agencies were merged this year to set up UN
Women, with a $500m budget per year, under the leadership of former Chilean
president Michelle Bachelet.

The 41-member board will operate as an umbrella agency to
push forward issues of women’s rights.  

Iran had originally been guaranteed a place as the Asia
region had put forward 10 candidates for 10 seats. But East Timor put itself
forward as controversy mounted over Iran’s participation.

It won 36 votes to secure the last Asian seat, against 19
votes for Iran.

Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi had said
before the vote that having either Iran or Saudi Arabia on the board of UN
Women would "a joke."

The United States, European Union, Australia and Canada lobbied
intensively against Iran’s participation.

"They lost and they lost handily," commented US
ambassador Susan Rice on Iran's defeat. "We have made no secret of our
concern that Iran joining the board of UN Women would have been an inauspicious
start to that board," she told reporters.

Campaigners had highlighted Iran's treatment of women,
including the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani who was sentenced to be stoned
to death for adultery.

In Saudi Arabia women are forbidden to drive and require
permission from a male relative to take major decisions.

The Gulf state secured an automatic seat from a group of
donor countries for which there was no vote.

Questioned about the Saudi presence, the US ambassador
told AFP: "I am not going to deny that there were several countries that
are going to join the board of UN Women that have less than stellar records on
women's rights and indeed human rights."

A spokesperson from global watchdog Human Rights Watch
said Saudi’s participation would open the way to further scrutiny of its treatment
of women.