Human Rights Watch and Impact Iran
Dr Ahmed Shaheed
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
26 October 2015
Good morning ladies and gentlemen,
On Wednesday, I will present my fifth report to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In some ways, this report, presents a more optimistic view of the opportunities to address the serious human concerns in Iran than those reports presented to the UN in years past.
The main thrust of this point of view is, frankly, due in part to the policy of engagement currently being pursued by President Rouhani and his administration to resolve international concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program and to bring Iran in compliance with some of its international obligations. It is also rooted in my own recent experiences with Iranian officials who, under the Rouhani administration, have begun to pursue a policy of engagement with both my mandate with other UN special procedures seeking clarity on a number of issues.
And while I remain disappointed that I have not been granted access to the country, that individuals continue to be prosecuted for trying to seek redress though my mandate, and that I have not been able to have more substantive discussions about a number of pressing concerns with Iranian officials, the tone, tenor, and willingness to engage with my work is encouraging.
Of course, these gestures do nothing to address the concrete issues that challenge progress, but for me, they represent opportunities to build on the momentum resulting from a winning election campaign built on a platform of promises to better realize the agreements Iran voluntary ratified decades ago under the international human rights framework.
My latest report presents a complex situation that should both provide the international community hope, but that should also give it pause as it considers its next steps towards working with Iran to bring the Government in line with its human rights obligations.
In the weeks following the agreement between the international community and the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program, many posited that the deal would be beneficial for the country’s human rights situation. For many, the agreement represents the Iranian government’s willingness not only to gain the international community’s trust and confidence, but to also affirm its commitment to abide by its international legal obligations. For others, the deal is the first of many steps towards much needed relief from sanctions, which has placed considerable stress on the country’s economy and has given rise to concern about the country’s humanitarian situation.
My report demonstrates that despite positive efforts made by President Rouhani and his administration to both address certain issues in the country and to more meaningfully engage with the international community, including with my mandate, the human rights situation in Iran remains deeply concerning, and in some cases, quite alarming.
Of serious alarm is the unprecedented assault on the right to life in Iran. A surge in executions has been observed this past year, despite repeated calls on Iran by the United Nations and the international community to implement a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and calls on Iran, both domestically and internationally, to re-examine its use. At least 694 individuals were reportedly executed by hanging in the first seven months of the year, and a number of human rights organizations now report that well over 800 individuals have been executed over the last ten-months. The majority of these are executions of non-violent drug offenders. And regardless of the scourge posed by drug trafficking and abuse, this is unacceptable, and undercuts Iran’s obligation to reserve the death penalty for crimes involving intentional homicide that are adjudicated in line with fair trail standards.
Less than two weeks ago, Iranian authorities reportedly hung two juvenile offenders in the span of a few days. This is notwithstanding an absolute ban on the execution of juvenile offenders under international law. The two executed prisoners join a long list of other juvenile offenders who have been put to death by Iran’s judiciary in the past few years. And there are dozens more awaiting a similar fate on death row.
My report identifies a range of other allegations and developments that Iranian authorities must examine and address in order to comply with their international human rights obligations. This includes laws, policies, draft legislation, and practices that continue to lead to the detention of 46 journalists, including Jason Rezaian, and continues to result in the detention of lawyers, and human rights activists. They also continue to institutionalize the second-class citizenship of Iranian women and girls in Iran, and to marginalize and undermine the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
The troubling state of human rights in Iran today is also due, in large part, to a deeply flawed justice system who’s actions violate both international standards and a number of national laws meant to give the accused a fair opportunity to respond to his or her charges, and meant to protect and uphold human security and dignity. The absence of a functioning justice system leaves much uncertainly for the realization of those rights guaranteed by Iran’s constitution and promulgated by international human rights conventions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The struggle for human rights in Iran is not an abstract fight over political freedoms, but a matter of daily survival. Now is the time for the international community and Iranian officials to sharpen their focus on the challenges to realizing the rights of those still waiting for the agreements that protect their basic rights to be realized.
We must continue to support efforts advanced by President Rouhani and his administration that work to strengthen protections for fundamental rights, and member states of the United Nations must continue to encourage ambitions that actually improve laws and processes that better ensure rule of law. It is clear, however, that they must seek to engage on concrete steps, not just on gestures, and that we must all continue to reserve our optimism for times when clear results are observed.
Fundamental reforms necessary to improving the country’s human rights situation cannot take place without the involvement of all branches of government in Iran. Therefore, it is my sincere hope that Iranian officials come together with the same constructive spirit that resulted in the nuclear agreement, to address the serious rights abuses taking place in the country today.