Maloney Presses State Dept on Rejection of Visas for Participants of United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

Mar 27, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), sponsor of the House resolution in support of U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and whose congressional district includes the United Nations headquarters, today sent a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo regarding reports of dozens of visas denied to women who wished to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) annual conference in New York City.

In the letter, the Congresswoman points to news reports that the visa denials “appear to disproportionately affect women from Africa and the Middle East,” particularly countries that fall under President Trump’s travel ban.

The Congresswoman also states, “The Commission on the Status of Women annual conference is a powerful and inspiring event where member states, NGO workers, and women’s rights activists gather to evaluate the global progress on gender equality. Simply attending this conference is a risk for many women who fear that their participation could result in punishment for them or their families in their home countries. The United States should commend and support these women’s courageous efforts. Instead, however, it appears the Department put up new bureaucratic roadblocks designed to deter and prevent many women from certain countries from attending the CSW.”

In light of these visa denials, the Congresswoman is seeking answers from the State Department to the following questions;

  1. How many total visa applications related to the Commission on the Status of Women annual conference were submitted?
  2. Please specify the number of approved and denied by country of origin. Please detail the process by which applications were reviewed, including the process by which the Department communicated with applicants throughout the review.
  3. To the greatest extent possible, please indicate the official justification provided for each denial.
  4. Did the Department take deliberative action to comply with UN Treaty No. 147 or consult with the UN in processing travel protocols for the conference participants? If so, how?

Full text of the letter is below and you can find a PDF here.

Dear Secretary Pompeo,

I am writing to express my deep concern about recent reports that the State Department denied dozens of women visas to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) annual conference in New York City and that the denials appear to disproportionately affect women from Africa and the Middle East. The CSW is the “principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” and its success relies on participation from women from all over the globe. That is why it is deeply troubling that the Department denied so many women from attending this year’s commission. In light of these reports, I am requesting information about the administration’s process for reviewing these visa applications for this important event.

As you may know, the United Nations, which is located in my district, hosted its annual conference for the Commission on the Status of Women from March 11-22, 2019. The Commission on the Status of Women annual conference is a powerful and inspiring event where member states, NGO workers, and women’s rights activists gather to evaluate the global progress on gender equality. Simply attending this conference is a risk for many women who fear that their participation could result in punishment for them or their families in their home countries. The United States should commend and support these women’s courageous efforts. Instead, however, it appears the Department put up new bureaucratic roadblocks designed to deter and prevent many women from certain countries from attending the CSW.

According to a recent BuzzFeed News report, dozens of women who applied for visas to attend this international conference were denied those requests without explanation. The International Service for Human Rights, an UN-affiliated organization, found that at least 41 women were denied visas for this conference and believes the exact number of denials is far higher. Additionally, according to women’s rights advocates who now are petitioning the US Mission to the UN to streamline visa procedures, women from African and Middle Eastern countries that fell under President Trump’s travel ban executive order were disproportionately affected, which is extremely concerning. Discrimination based on country of origin runs counter to the principles of our nation, and in this case, directly contradicts agreed upon travel protocol between the United States and the United Nations. United Nations Treaty No. 147 obliges the United States not to restrict people or Non-Government Organizations from attending the UN headquarters. If these allegations are true, they represent a disregard of an international treaty and threaten our standing and word on the international stage.

For these reasons I respectfully ask that you provide responses to the following inquiries.

  1. How many total visa applications related to the Commission on the Status of Women annual conference were submitted?
  2. Please specify the number of approved and denied visa applications by country of origin. Please detail the process by which applications were reviewed, including the process by which the Department communicated with applicants throughout the review.
  3. To the greatest extent possible, please indicate the official justification provided for each denial.
  4. Did the Department take deliberative action to comply with UN Treaty No. 147 or consult with the UN in processing travel protocols for the commission participants? If so, how?
  5. What corrective actions will the Department take to ensure the treaty is honored for future commissions, including by working with country posts, to ensure access to the UN for the human rights activists and communities who are at the center of the work of the Commission on the Status of Women?

The United States of America needs to support women who are willing to risk their safety in pursuit of gender equality, not stand in their way. I look forward to your responses to these questions. Thank you for your assistance.

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