Human Rights

ILO expresses concern over economic repression of Iranian Bahá’ís

In Brief: 
  • Two new reports from the United Nations highlight the economic and social repercussions of Iran’s systematic persecution of Bahá’ís.
  • In June, the International Labor Organization expressed deep concern over the economic repression of Iranian Bahá’ís, saying Iran had failed to meet international non-discrimination standards.
  • In May, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted “widespread and entrenched” discrimination against Bahá’ís and issued a plea for Iran to ensure that all citizens, regardless of religious belief, enjoy full rights without any discrimination.

GENEVA—The International Labor Organization (ILO) has expressed “deep concern” over continuing economic and educational discrimination against Bahá’ís in Iran.

In a report released in June, an ILO committee charged with monitoring global compliance with the right to non-discrimination in employment and occupation said the case of Iranian Bahá’ís remains “particularly serious” because of “systematic discrimination” by the government.

The report “urged the Government [of Iran] to take decisive action to combat discrimination against ethnic minorities and unrecognized religious minorities, in particular, the Bahá’ís.”

The report also quoted worker, employer, and government representatives about the situation in Iran. Such comments are kept anonymous to ensure the committee’s independence from pressure by governments.

“The Worker members stated that in spite of numerous examinations of this case, no real progress had been made to comply with the Convention,” said the report. “The lack of ability of the Government to repeal even the most patently discriminatory legislation and regulations was deeply regrettable.”

The worker members also proposed that a high-level mission be sent to visit the country as soon as possible, with the goal of fact-finding and setting a time-bound action plan aimed at ensuring compliance with the Convention, said the report.

Employer members, likewise, “urged the Government to take concrete steps to ensure comprehensive protection against direct and indirect discrimination on all the grounds enumerated in the Convention.”

Global opinion

Diane Ala’i, representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, said the report was especially significant because it reflects the opinion of groups beyond government.

“The ILO is a tripartite body representing governments, workers, and employers from around the world,” said Ms. Ala’i. “The fact that it has joined the outcry of international concern over Iran’s continued discrimination against Bahá’ís in the workplace and education is an important yardstick of global opinion.”

Several governments, including the European Union and Canada, were also quoted in the report.

The government representative from Canada, for example, said religious minorities faced persistent and pervasive discrimination.

“Members of the Bahá’í Faith were discriminated against in access to education, universities and occupations in the public sector; they had been deprived of property, employment and education. The Government’s continued failure to respect its obligations under the Convention in the face of repeated calls for change by the Committee demonstrated a lack of seriousness and good faith,” said the government member from Canada, according to the report.

Increase in closures

Ms. Ala’i said discrimination against Bahá’ís has continued throughout 2013. “Since January of this year, there has been a sharp increase in the number of Bahá’í shops that have been closed or had their business licenses revoked.”

Ms. Ala’i said, for example, that some 32 Bahá’í-owned shops were closed in Hamadan late last year, and, with two exceptions, all other Bahá’í shopkeepers in that city were summoned by the authorities for questioning in late February. Many of those shopkeepers later had their shops closed.

“One Bahá’í shop in Hamadan was closed down because the shopkeeper refused to open the shop on Bahá’í holy days,” said Ms. Ala’i. “When he began to sell goods out of his truck, his vehicle was confiscated. His residence was also raided and his bank account closed. Such forms of discrimination against Bahá’ís are occurring throughout Iran.”

Discrimination in higher education against Iranian Bahá’ís has also continued, said Ms. Ala’i, noting that this discrimination also extends to vocational schools, which fall under the ILO’s area of concern.

“A number of vocational schools were among the 81 Iranian universities that were specifically instructed to expel any students who were discovered to be Bahá’ís in 2006,” said Ms. Ala’i, referring to a confidential memorandum issued by the government.