Muslim states agree to 'historic' UN statement on women

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - Muslim and Western nations late Friday overcame deep divisions to agree a landmark United Nations declaration setting out a code of conduct for combatting violence against women and girls.

Iran, Libya, Sudan and other Muslim nations ended threats to block the declaration and agreed to language stating that violence against women could not be justified by "any custom, tradition or religious consideration."

Western nations, particularly from Scandinavia, toned down demands for references to gay rights and sexual health rights to secure the accord after two weeks of tense negotiations between the 193 UN member states.

Some 6,000 non-government groups were in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women meeting. Cheers and wild applause erupted when the accord was announced in the UN headquarters late Friday.

Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, said it had been an "historic" meeting. It was announced straight after that Bachelet would be leaving her post to return to Chile.

"People worldwide expected action, and we didn't fail them. Yes - we did it," Bachelet said.

UN leader Ban Ki Moon said UN members had committed "to take action to prevent violence and provide justice and services to survivors" of violence against women, which he called a "global menace" and "moral outrage." Iran, the Vatican and Russia and other Muslim states had formed what some diplomats had called "an unholy alliance" to weaken a statement calling for tough global standards on violence against women and girls.

They had objected to references to abortion rights and language suggesting that rape includes forcible behaviour by a woman's husband or partner.