Human Rights

At the Human Rights Council, the world objects to Iran's record in a historic first review

In Brief: 
  • Iran faced its first Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in February
  • 53 nations made oral statements, of which 28 were critical of Iran's record, especially its post-election crackdown on citizens
  • 21 nations made specific mention of Iran's oppression of Bahá'ís. Many called for an end to religious discrimination and release of the seven Bahá'í leaders

GENEVA - At a historic first review of its record before the UN Human Rights Council, Iran found itself sharply criticized by other nations for a wide range of violations - not the least of which were its treatment of citizens in post-election protests and its ongoing persecution of Bahá'ís.

Of the 53 national delegations that made oral statements during a 15 February 2010 meeting called to review Iran's human rights record, at least 28 read statements that were in some way critical. Another 25 governments filed written statements, many of which also were critical of Iran.

Nations were especially concerned about Iran's crackdown since the 2009 presidential election. Hungary's statement was typical: "It is particularly worrisome that, according to reports, actions against participants in peaceful demonstrations seem to become ever more violent and that the physical well-being of detainees as well as their right to fair trial is not guaranteed."

At least 21 nations made specific mention of the situation of Iranian Bahá'ís. Many in this group issued a broad call for an end to religious discrimination against Bahá'ís and other minorities, while others expressed specific concern for the detention of seven Bahá'í leaders. [See page 1]

"We recommend to the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect freedom of religion, to end the policies of discrimination against religious minorities and to assure a fair and transparent trial of the members of the Bahá'í Faith," said Romania in its statement.

The meeting was significant because it was the first time Iran has faced a procedure known as Universal Periodic Review (UPR). That procedure came into being with the creation of the Human Rights Council in 2007. The idea is to review the human rights record of all 192 United Nations member states once every four years.

"The good news is that governments and organizations are rallying to defend innocent Iranians, who have over the last year seen their human rights so gravely violated," said Diane Ala'i, the representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

"The bad news is that Iran continues to ignore such appeals," she said.

Ms. Ala'i noted, for example, that the head of the Iranian delegation told the Council in his reply that no Bahá'ís are persecuted for their beliefs - a statement that contradicts evidence put forward in numerous UN reports as well as those of human rights organizations.

The head of the Iranian delegation, Muhammad Javad Larijani, also told the Council that there is religious freedom in Iran and that, if any Bahá'ís are imprisoned, it is because of "illegal activities" as a cult - a statement that likewise ignores all outside evidence.

"It was astounding to those of us in the Council chamber to watch the Iranian delegates stand before the international community and repeat arguments and rationalizations that everyone knows are completely false," said Ms. Ala'i.

Even Iran's friends concerned

Ms. Ala'i also noted that even countries that are known for their relatively friendly relations with Iran raised questions about Iran's record on the treatment of women and religious minorities.

India asked the Iranian delegation to "share its views on ways to strengthen the role of civil society, including media, in public policy, [and] also ways to strengthen the empowerment of women. We request [Iran] to strengthen developmental efforts for vulnerable groups, including religious minorities."

Brazil's statement, likewise, expressed concern over Iran's discrimination against women - and also specifically called attention to the treatment of Bahá'ís.

"Democratic regimes tolerate diversity of opinion and religious beliefs," said Brazil. "The Bahá'í community in Iran should enjoy the same rights extended to other groups. Brazil expects that the Bahá'í leaders in prison will enjoy due process of law."

After the session, the UN compiled a list of 188 recommendations made by other nations - along with Iran's responses.

These recommendations included urging Iran to take "further concrete steps to promote the rights of disabled persons" and "further steps to eliminate torture and other forms of ill treatment."

Iran indicated to the United Nations that it accepted 123 of these recommendations but had reservations on 20 and rejected 45.

Among the recommendations that Iran rejected were a call to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and the suggestion that Iran "repeal or amend all discriminatory provisions against women and girls."

Iran also rejected eight recommendations that specifically mentioned issues facing Bahá'ís, including a request that it "release detained Bahá'í leaders and end policies of discrimination against Bahá'í and other religious and ethnic minorities."

[The complete UN report on the Universal Periodic Review of Iran can be found at:
http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session7/IR/A_HRC_14_12_Iran.pdf ]

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