Human Rights

At the UN, governments express "deep concern" over human rights violations in Iran

In Brief: 
  • By a vote of 86 to 32, the UN General Assembly expressed in December “deep concern” over “serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations in Iran.”
  • The vote followed new reports from the UN Secretary-General and the Special Rapporteur on Iran that documented abuses ranging from torture and increased executions to discrimination against minorities, including members of the Bahá’í Faith.

UNITED NATIONS — In an overwhelming vote, the UN General Assembly in December approved a resolution expressing “deep concern” over Iran’s “serious ongoing and recurring” human rights violations, decrying abuses that include torture, an increase in executions, widespread restrictions on freedom of expression, and discrimination against minorities, including members of the Bahá’í Faith.

By a margin of 86 to 32 with 65 abstentions, the General Assembly called upon Iran to stop such violations, to release prisoners of conscience, and to open its doors to international human rights monitors.

“This vote signals loud and clear the international community’s refusal to accept Iran’s ongoing and intensifying repression of its own people — or the government’s claims that such violations do not take place,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations.

“The list of abuses outlined in this resolution is long and cruel. Overall, the picture it paints is of a government that is so afraid of its own people that it cannot tolerate anyone who holds a viewpoint that is different from its own repressive ideology.

“For the Bahá’ís, there has been persistent and worsening persecution at the hands of the government and its agents,” said Ms. Dugal, noting that more than 100 Bahá’ís were currently imprisoned in Iran.

The text of the resolution — which was put forward by Canada and co-sponsored by 43 other countries — calls on Iran to better cooperate with UN human rights monitors, particularly by allowing them to make visits to Iran, and asks the UN Secretary-General to report back next year on Iran’s progress at fulfilling its human rights obligations.

The resolution, which was the 25th such on human rights violations in Iran by the General Assembly since 1985, followed the release in October of two high-level reports that documented and similarly condemned Iran’s behavior.

In his annual report on Iran to the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “grave concern” over reports of torture, amputations, unfair trials, overuse of the death penalty, and the persecution of minorities, including Bahá’ís.

Ahmed Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, also released his report to the Assembly, saying he had this year “catalogued a wide range” of human rights violations, including illegal limits on freedom of expression, failures of legal due process, attacks on freedom of religion, and the wrongful imprisonment of children.

“These violations are products of legal incongruities, insufficient adherence to the rule of law, and the existence of widespread impunity,” said Mr. Shaheed.

Journalists imprisoned

Mr. Ban’s report highlighted the situation of journalists, human rights defenders, and women’s right activists, who he said are increasingly targeted by the Iranian government as it seeks to limit freedom of expression or assembly.

“As of December 2011, at least 40 journalists had reportedly been imprisoned, with several others at risk of arrest,” said Mr. Ban.

Mr. Ban also noted that human rights defenders have reportedly been tortured while in detention for “peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.”

He also took note of the situation of minorities, highlighting in particular the situation of Iran’s Bahá’í community. More than 474 Bahá’ís have been arrested since 2004, he said, and Bahá’ís face “severe socioeconomic pressure.” He noted for example that Bahá’í students are “frequently prevented” from pursing higher education.

Freedom of religion denied

Dr. Shaheed’s report extensively discussed freedom of religion, specifically addressing the situation of Bahá’í, Christian, and Dervish communities in Iran. “Members of both recognized and unrecognized religions have reported various levels of intimidation, arrest, detention and interrogation that focus on their religious beliefs,” said Dr. Shaheed.

Dr. Shaheed devoted two paragraphs to the situation of the Bahá’í community of Iran. He noted that while the government claims that Bahá’ís have “equal legal, social and economic rights,” he continues to receive reports that Bahá’ís “face intimidation and arrest because of their religion.”

“For example, on 17 February 2012, officials reportedly arrived at a charity event in Mashhad, demanded the cell phones of all present, required them to report on their personal details, and identify their religion in writing and in front of a video camera….

“Moreover, individuals that identified themselves as Muslims were reportedly separated from Bahá’ís, questioned about their relationships with Bahá’í attendees and released. The authorities then reportedly proceeded to arrest a number of Bahá’ís,” wrote Dr. Shaheed.

“On 17 February 2012, officials reportedly arrived at a charity event in Mashhad, demanded the cell phones of all present, required them to report on their personal details, and identify their religion in writing and in front of a video camera…. Individuals that identified themselves as Muslims were reportedly separated from Bahá’ís... and released. The authorities then reportedly proceeded to arrest a number of Bahá’ís.”

— Report of Ahmed Shaheed

Dr. Shaheed also expressed concern about revisions to Iran’s national “Islamic Penal Code,” which he said treats men and women unequally and institutionalizes religious discrimination.

“For example, article 558 of the revised Islamic Penal Code stipulates that diya [blood money] be equally distributed to religious minorities that are recognized by the Constitution. However, equitable application of the law does not apply to religions that are not recognized by the Constitution, such as the Bahá’í.”

The oppression of children

Mr. Shaheed’s report also expressed concern over violation of the rights of children, noting in particular that Iran itself had recently announced that some “70 children that had not committed any crime lived in prisons because their mothers were imprisoned.” Other reports, he noted, indicated that as many as 450 innocent children are wrongfully imprisoned in this way.

“In addition to being deprived of childhood experiences, these children are also exposed to poor prison conditions, including poor hygiene and malnutrition, which drastically impair their physical, emotional and cognitive development and place them at a serious disadvantage when they are released with their parent,” wrote Dr. Shaheed.

Dr. Shaheed concluded: “The submissions and interviews considered for this report provide a deeply troubling picture of the overall human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, including many concerns which are systemic in nature.”

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