New UN Report on Iran: Systematic Violations of Human Rights and a Culture of Impunity
UN Special Rapporteur Calls for Immediate Release of All Political Prisoners and Prisoners of Conscience, and a Moratorium on Executions.
(October 11, 2012) Cataloguing “a wide range of human rights violations,” UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed released his third report today. The Iranian government has thus far failed to cooperate with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and to address the issues raised in his two earlier reports.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran welcomed this latest UN report and called on the Iranian government to seriously engage with the Special Rapporteur and allow him immediate access to the country. The Campaign also called on related UN mechanisms, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and member states of the UN General Assembly, to take further steps to address the dire situation of human rights in Iran.
The report was published today in New York for distribution to the UN General Assembly. Shaheed is scheduled to present its contents at the Third Committee of the General Assembly on October 24, 2012, at which time the Iranian delegation will have an opportunity to respond.
In the Conclusions and recommendations section of the report, the Special Rapporteur states that he has so far “catalogued a wide range of human rights violations” and “asserts that these violations are products of legal incongruities, insufficient adherence to the rule of law, and the existence of widespread impunity.”
The Special Rapporteur also concludes, “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.”
Continuing with his conclusions, the Special Rapporteur refers to the importance of perpetuating “a culture of tolerance” and asks the Iranian government to prevent discrimination against women and girls, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. He specifically asks the Iranian government to comply with international standards for the minimum age of marriage for girls.
In his latest report, Ahmed Shaheed renews his request for an extensive, impartial, and independent review of Iran’s 2009 post-election violence and calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The Special Rapporteur also urges a moratorium on all capital punishment, especially that of juveniles, pending demonstration of fair trial standards.
Before the 23-page report was finalized, a copy of it was submitted to Iranian authorities for their response, according to UN protocol. Unlike the two previous reports, where instead of responding to the report Iranian authorities questioned the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and his character, they did respond to this most recent report in the allotted time. However, Iranian officials did not address the specific instances of violations of human rights, attempting instead to discredit the resources used to prepare the reports, as well as statements made by human rights defenders, international organizations, and victims of human rights violations.
According to the report, Iranian authorities have referred to the report’s conclusions as “based on unfounded claims.” Iranian authorities stated that the Iranian Constitution guarantees the rights of all Iranians regardless of their gender, religion, ethnicity, and race. They further claimed that the instances documenting a lack of due process are “fabricated,” as, according to the Iranian officials’ interpretation, Iranian laws prohibit prisoner abuse and use of forced confessions, and facilitate access to legal consultation.
The Special Rapporteur characterized the Iranian government’s failure to review the numerous, specific cases of violations of human rights as indicative of “a culture of impunity.”
In response to the claims raised by Iranian authorities, the report states that Iran does indeed have a legal framework and the required mechanisms for respecting human rights. Shaheed emphasized, however, that the existence of such mechanisms does not discredit the testimonies of the 221 individuals he interviewed between November 2011 and July 2012. He also expressed regret about the Iranian government’s failure to note and review the numerous instances of human rights violations cited in the report.
In the Note by the Secretary-General introducing the report, it is noted the report does not contain all instances of human rights violations, but rather “an overview of the prevailing human rights situation, with a focus on systemic issues that pose obstacles to the ability of the Islamic Republic of Iran to comply with its international obligations.”
The Special Rapporteur reviewed 124 cases of human rights violations between February and July 2012, conducting 99 interviews with relevant individuals inside and outside the country. Seventy-five of these interviews were given by people with first-hand experience of violations, and the remaining twenty-four were provided by reliable sources or eyewitnesses of human rights violations.
The report indicates that the Special Rapporteur reviewed several documents related to the subject of human rights, including Iranian laws pertaining to the issue, national and international reports, content published in the media, and reports by non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur’s report is presented in six sections: I. Introduction, II. Methodology, III. Civil and political rights, IV. Economic, social and cultural rights, V. Rights of the child, and VI. Conclusions and recommendations.
Section III, civil and political rights, which comprises the majority of the report, includes a variety of sub-sections: Freedom of expression and the right to information, Freedoms of assembly and association (Human rights defenders), Freedom of religion (Baha’i community, Christian community, Dervish community), and Administrative justice (The revised Islamic Penal Code; Rights of due process; Independence of the legal community; Situation in prisons; Torture, cruel and degrading punishments and executions).
According to the new rules of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, UN reports like the Special Rapporteur’s must be around 10,000 words in length. Previously, the Special Rapporteur included details of various cases in report appendices. But according to the new rules, the appendices are now also included within the 10,000-word limitation. In this report, therefore, the Special Rapporteur announces the implementation of a website to present all the information and details used to compile the reports, as well as responses submitted by Iranian authorities. The website will soon be available at: http://www.shaheedoniran.org/english/reported-cases/index.1.html.
The present report places special focus on systematic trends and legal impediments which violate the legitimate rights and liberties of Iranian citizens. Details of specific cases are expected to be placed on the above-mentioned website.
In paragraph 12 of the report, the Special Rapporteur expresses concern that “some elements of the Press Law and more recent legal developments undermine the rights to freedom of expression and to information. Despite legal provisions for public press trials in ‘the presence of a jury’, dozens of journalists have unanimously maintained that their trials were conducted behind closed doors, and that trial deliberations were always undertaken by judges and not juries.”
The report also discusses the issue of “blasphemy,” one of the subjects addressed by the new Islamic Penal Code. According to the report, “Article 263 of this law states that any person that insults the Prophet of Islam or other Great Prophets shall be considered as sabb al-nabi and punished by death.” The Special Rapporteur states that “acts of insult and defamation do not constitute ‘serious crimes’ for which the death penalty may be permissible” according to Iranian laws. “Despite attempts to refine the Code’s blasphemy provisions, the law remains vague on what constitutes an ‘insult,’” the report continues. The Special Rapporteur states that the general reference to “insults” in the Islamic Penal Code without specific manifestations is inconsistent with Iran’s international commitments.
In paragraphs 14 through 17, the Special Rapporteur discusses limitations imposed pertaining to Internet crimes and banning websites under different reasons. The report refers to 19 “netizens,” including four men sentenced to death, Vahid Asghari, Ahmad Reza Hashempour, Mehdi Alizadeh Fakhrabad, and Saeed Malekpour. The report states that witnesses reported all four men were psychologically tortured to deliver forced confessions.
The Special Rapporteur indicates that in his March report (PDF), he highlighted that more than 150 journalists fled Iran after the 2009 presidential election, but that according to recent reports this number could be as high as 400. He also reported in March that Iran “had detained more journalists than any other country in 2011. Of those detained, it is estimated that 50 per cent were kept in solitary confinement at some point during their detention; 42.8 per cent were forced into exile in 2010-2011; and half were serving sentences between 6 months and 19.5 years in prison on charges such as ‘working with hostile governments,’ ‘propaganda against the state,’ and ‘insulting religious sanctities.’”
In paragraph 21 of the report, the Special Rapporteur reflects the growing concern regarding “independent journalists and employees of Radio Farda and the BBC, who allege that their family members are frequently arrested, detained, interrogated and subjected to intimidation for the purpose of placing pressure on them to cease their reporting activities, or to solicit information. During interviews for this report, a BBC employee reported that his/her family member was detained and ordered to contact and encourage him/her to resign from the BBC. In another case, a family member of a BBC employee was reportedly arrested and pressured to contact the employee in London, who was subsequently subjected to an online interrogation.”
The case of Mohammad Shokrayeh, a Qazvin cartoonist who drew a cartoon of a Member of the Parliament and was sentenced to 25 lashes, is noted in paragraph 22 of the report. The prosecution and sentencing of Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are also mentioned.
The report also covers prosecution of human rights defenders and their sentences of 6 months to 20 years in prison for their activities. Interviewees told Shaheed of their detention and imprisonment and the interrogations of their family members and friends.
The report also extensively discusses freedom of religion, addressing the situation of Baha’i, Christian, and Dervish communities in Iran.
The cases of Arab and Azeri ethnic minorities are also addressed in the report.
In the Conclusion and recommendations of the report, the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that there is a serious need for an explicit definition of vaguely worded crimes such as “acting against national security.” The report calls on the government to “guarantee the space for public criticism or advocacy through peaceful activities.”