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Why The UN Is No Friend Of Women
Sally C. Pipes 5/3/07


"State-Sanctioned Mass Rape in Burma and Sudan."

That is certainly enough to grab attention. The United Nations claims to support the welfare of women around the world, but it certainly has a strange way of showing it.

The UN maintains a Division for the Advancement of Women and a Commission on the Status of Women. In early March, the latter body held its annual two-week conference. For the American UN delegation, that seemed a good time to get some worthy issues on the table, such as state-sanctioned mass rape in Burma and Sudan. By any standard, after all, mass rape would seem to be bad enough without government approval and support. The American delegation put together a panel discussion on this theme, but quickly ran into resistance.

Sally C. Pipes
[Courtesy of Pacific Research Institute]

Sally C. Pipes is President and CEO, Pacific Research Institute [go to Pipes index]

Sylvie I. Cohen, Deputy Director of the UN's Division for the Advancement of Women, refused to list the panel on the UN's website, on the grounds that such a listing "would be perceived as offensive to named member states." There was also an issue with the use of Burma, the name preferred by that country's democracy movement, and "Myanmar," the name favored by that country's current military dictatorship. 

In the UN scale of values one can say anything about a democracy, particularly the United States, but nothing must be allowed to offend a military dictatorship. This one oppresses men and women alike but has been particularly hard on Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1991 and woman of great accomplishment. Educated at Oxford, she championed democracy in Burma. She even worked at the United Nations when her countryman U Thant was running the place, but did not make a career of it.

Her country's military regime placed her under house arrest, without trial or charge, and forbade her to stand for election. In 1988, her National League for Democracy carried the day with more than 80 percent of the vote but the regime refused to recognize the results. Suu Kyi continued to speak out but for the last few years the military dictatorship has restricted her movements. This is the gang of thugs the UN is at pains not to offend. Sudan is no prize either.

UN websites do not abound with information about Sylvie I. Cohen, Ph.D., who deferred to the sensibilities of Myanmar militants. One can learn that she spent six years at UNICEF then in 1990 joined the United Nations Population Fund, where she managed the advocacy branch. Then it was on to the Deputy Director position at the UN's Division for the Advancement of Women. She is a longtime UN bureaucrat and her behavior in this case suggests that after years on the job, even for women, bureaucratic values take precedence.

There is more to the welfare of women than establishing grandiose commissions and departments in New York City.  One should support institutions such as democracy and the free market, which help women advance themselves. This case should make it clear why women should not rely on the United Nations, but there was a kind of happy ending.

Even though banned from the UN website, the panel on state-sanctioned mass rape in Burma and Sudan went ahead anyway, though without much news coverage. Perhaps the lesson here is the less power the UN has, the better. CRO

copyright 2007 Pacific Research Institute




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