Violations of International Law
Human Rights Treaty Obligations
Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1975 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1975.1 Together, these treaties obligate the Iranian government to respect freedom of opinion, expression, association, religion, the right to education and the right to be free from discrimination.
Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.”2 According to the Human Rights Committee (HRC) General comment No. 10, a government cannot place restriction on one’s freedom of opinion.3
Article 19 also requires that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to … impart information and ideas … either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The Iranian government has breached its obligations under article 19 by barring or expelling students on the basis of their beliefs or expression of views critical of the government or their university, whether at public forums, in publications, on blogs, at protests, within their work, to the press or in the classroom. These bars and expulsions are measures that punish students for exercising their article 19 rights and place an undue chilling-effect on the exercise of these rights.
Freedom of Association and Assembly
ICCPR article 22 obligates the government of Iran to ensure:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.4
The Iranian government has violated article 22 by barring or expelling students for membership and participation in student groups critical of official policy, including activists and leaders in the Council for the Right to Education and Daftar Tahkim-e Vahdat Student Union.
Article 21 of the ICCPR requires governments to recognize “the right of peaceful assembly.”5
The Iranian government has breached its obligation under article 21 by barring or expelling students that organized or participated in public forums, gatherings or peaceful protests.
Freedom of Religion and Non-Discrimination
Under article 18 of the ICCPR:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.6
HRC General Comment No. 22 explains that:
The terms “belief” and “religion” are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions. … The Committee therefore views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community.7
Article 18 further stipulates that:
No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.8
HRC General Comment No. 22 adds that, “Policies or practices … restricting access to education … [are] inconsistent with article ”
Article 18 also states that:
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.9
The HRC explains that the “[r]estrictions may not be imposed for discriminatory purposes or applied in a discriminatory manner.”10
Furthermore, under article 26 Iran has undertaken that:
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.11
The Iranian government’s regulations restricting university admissions to members of the official and recognized religions only, constitutes a violation of article 18 and denies the “equal protection” guarantee of article 26. Moreover, such regulations alongside a policy of barring Baha’is from universities, is a form of coercion impairing freedom of religion and amounting to a form of discrimination prohibited under articles 18 and 26. These policies specifically discriminate against a religious minority subjected to hostility from Iran’s predominant religious community. Furthermore, requiring Baha’is deny, hide or lie about their religion in order to gain access to universities breach’s Iran’s article 18 obligation to respect a person right to publicly adopt a faith.
Right to Education
Article 13 of the ICESCR “recognize(s) the right of everyone to education,” stating that:
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.12
Article 13 stipulates that, “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity.”13 The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 13 explains that, “educational institutions and programs have to be accessible to everyone, without discrimination,” especially with regards to “the most vulnerable groups.”14 Article 2 of the ICESCR makes clear that:
The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.15
In 1993, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights specifically raised concern with Iran’s “[p]rohibition of the admission to university of Baha’is.”16
The Iranian government has violated the right to education under ICESCR article 13 by barring or expelling activists and Baha’i students, discriminatorily denying them access to higher education on the grounds of political opinion and religion.