Human Rights

Reflecting growing impatience on human rights, the UN revives a special investigator for Iran

GENEVA — For the first time since its creation five years ago, the UN Human Rights Council has decided to appoint a special investigator to monitor Iran’s compliance with international human rights standards.

The decision reflects the world’s growing impatience with Iran over its increasing violations of human rights, even among countries that have relatively friendly relations with Iran.

“We consider this resolution a reflection of a shared assessment that the human rights situation in Iran deserves the attention of the Council,” said Maria Nazareth Farani Azevêdo, the delegate from Brazil.

Those who follow the workings of the Council said the vote in favor of the resolution, which passed by 22 to 7 with 14 abstentions on 24 March 2011, appears to reflect a new willingness by the Council to assert itself when human rights violations are particularly egregious in a specific country.

“This vote is quite historic,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations in Geneva. “The decision today to create a new mandate to examine Iran’s compliance with human rights standards marks a new stage in the Council’s exercise of its responsibilities to uphold and protect the fundamental human rights of all peoples throughout the world,” said Ms. Ala’i.

In the past, the Council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, approved a string of country-specific resolutions calling for “special rapporteurs,” as these investigators are known, including some 16 for Iran.

In 2002, the Commission stopped appointing investigators for Iran in an effort to encourage a dialogue with the country on human rights. Then, in 2005, the Commission was disbanded in favor of a new entity, the Human Rights Council, which, for a variety of reasons, has been considerably more reluctant to criticize individual countries — until now.

Human rights activists said they believe the moral authority behind having such a UN-appointed special rapporteur is a critical step in bringing to light the severity of rights violations in Iran — and in giving encouragement to human rights defenders within the country.

Increased legitimacy

“Today we have a vigorous human rights community in Iran, even though the majority of rights defenders are in prison, their offices shuttered or they are in exile,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

“But their impact on the discourse in Iran is very significant, and having a UN-mandated special rapporteur will make a huge difference to them — and we believe it will make a huge different in the situation in Iran because it gives legitimacy and documentation to the reports of violations taking place in Iran,” said Dr. Ghaemi.

Dr. Ghaemi and others said it was very significant that the resolution was supported by countries which have had good relations with Iran, such as Brazil. Some 52 countries from every region of the world co-sponsored the resolution, including many who are not on the 47-member Council.

In the discussion at the Council before the vote, Iran tried to deflect concerns by suggesting that the resolution was a purely political move, led by the United States, which “has the largest range of violations of human rights within and outside the country,” according to a statement read by the Iranian representative, Zamir Akram.

The resolution itself was short, just seven paragraphs. It states simply that the Council had decided to appoint a new special rapporteur on the situation in Iran. It also calls also on Iran to let the new investigator visit the country. This would be the first such visit by a human rights investigator from the UN since 2005.

Secretary-General expresses “serious concern”

The resolution also took noted of a recent report by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that expressed “serious concern” about Iran’s human rights record.

“The Secretary-General has been deeply troubled by reports of increased executions, amputations, arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trials, and possible torture and ill-treatment of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and opposition activists,” wrote Mr. Ban in a 14 March report to the Council.

Mr. Ban’s report also expressed concern about continuing reports of the persecution of minority groups in Iran. He specifically highlighted reports of persecution against Iranian Bahá’ís, and noted as well that members of the Arab, Armenian, Azeri, Baloch, Jewish, and Kurdish communities have also reportedly faced discrimination and persecution.

In the case of Bahá’ís, Mr. Ban noted that a number of Bahá’ís have been arrested recently, and that seven Bahá’í leaders were sentenced to long prison terms after a trial last year. That was denounced as completely unjust by a succession of governments, lawyers, and human rights organizations.

“The High Commissioner for Human Rights raised their case several times in letters to and meetings with the Iranian authorities, expressing deep concern that these trials did not meet due process and fair trial requirements,” said Mr. Ban, noting that the High commissioner had asked Iran to allow independent observers in to monitor the trial but the request was rejected.

Mr. Ban referred to the fact that the High Commissioner expressed concern that the charges brought against them appear to be a violation of their internationally recognized right to freedom of religion and belief, and freedom of expression and association.

Mr. Ban also noted that the UN also has been receiving reports of persecution directed against Christians.

And he said that members of the Kurdish community have continued to be executed on various national security-related charges, including Mohareb (enmity against God).

Finally, Mr. Ban expressed concern over the fact that Iran has not allowed any UN human rights Special Rapporteurs to visit the country since 2005. He encouraged Iran to “facilitate their requested visits to the country as a matter of priority in order that they might conduct more comprehensive assessments.”