US denied visas to women trying to participate in UN women’s conference: report

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The U.S. reportedly denied several visa applications from women trying to attend an annual United Nations women’s conference this month. 

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), a U.N.-affiliated organization, told BuzzFeed News that at least 41 women were denied visas as they attempted to attend the Commission on the Status of Women, a conference running from March 11 to March 22 in New York. 

The organization added that the number represents only “the tip of the iceberg.”

{mosads}BuzzFeed noted that the U.S. is not allowed to prevent individuals or nongovernmental organizations from attending the U.N. headquarters, according to a treaty from 1947. Lyndal Rowlands, an advocacy officer with the U.N.-accredited organization CIVICUS, told BuzzFeed News that women from countries that fell under President Trump’s travel ban were disproportionately impacted by the visa denials. 

Women’s rights campaigners have responded to these issues by petitioning the U.S. Mission to the U.N. to create a more effective visa procedure. The petition says that an “unprecedented” number of women attempting to attend the U.N. conference had their visa applications denied. 

“We have discovered that the U.S. State Department in some consulates and embassies have been requiring such documents as marriage certificates, proof of property ownership, letters stating employment status, proof of finances and even proof of birth certificates or proof showing that they have children as part of the requirements needed for a visa to be issued in order attend these U.N. Sessions,” the petition states. 

BuzzFeed News notes that those requests were made to women from countries such as Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Syria. 

“Last year and this year we have also heard of women from Pakistan and Nepal who were denied visas,” she said. 

A State Department official told The Hill that the U.S. was committed to upholding the requirements of the UN International Headquarters Agreement. The official said the department could not discuss specific visa cases.

Problems related to visa applications are not isolated to this year. More than 50 visas were rejected for the conference in 2018, according to data the ISHR has gathered. Madeleine Sinclair, the director for the ISHR’s New York office, told the news outlet that “we can only assume there are more unreported cases of denial.”

Multiple people expressed outrage over the visa issues and Trump’s travel ban during the ongoing conference. For example, Farirai Gumbonzvanda, a delegate from Zimbabwe, asked U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres at a town hall meeting why women from rural areas weren’t allowed to come to the conference and speak about their experiences. 

Rowlands told BuzzFeed News that the majority of women applying for visas had never been to the U.S. and that the goal of the conference was to include women from a diverse range of backgrounds.  

Updated at 3:31 p.m.

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