President Rouhani’s New Rights Charter
By Hadi Ghaemi
This article was originally published in The Iran Primer. Republished with permission.
On November 26, 2013, President Rouhani’s government published a draft Citizens’ Rights Charter and solicited public reaction. The publication of this draft within the first 100 days of his presidency was widely seen as a major step by his administration to address his promises to improve the state of human rights in Iran.
The draft Charter is viewed as a welcome step by Iranian and international rights groups, but they also pointed out major deficiencies.
The main strength of Rouhani’s proposed Charter is that it recognizes the current “security environment” has degraded people’s fundamental rights. Simply proposing the Charter facilitates public dialogue on this pressing issue. It has created limited space for the Iranian media to discuss the human rights situation—for years an off-limit subject—and the need for improvements. It has also helped identify the state institutions that are chiefly responsible for rights violations and the arbitrary implementation of the rule of the law by the judiciary, intelligence organizations, and the Revolutionary Guards, a necessary prerequisite for accountability.
The Charter ostensibly addresses a wide range of rights, including access to information and online content; freedom of opinion, expression and the press; due process and the rule of law; and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Finally, the Charter’s range of concerns is enhanced by its references to social and economic rights, albeit including some seemingly irrelevant clauses.
Despite its ambitious list of rights to address, the draft Charter suffers from serious shortcomings, both in terms of its unclear legal status within the Iranian legal system and in the actual content of the Charter itself.
Iran is a signatory to major international human rights treaties and its own constitution contains many clauses guaranteeing basic rights, so it is not clear why the president felt a charter is needed. Rouhani opted to create a new standard rather than focus on full implementation of existing rights in the constitution, domestic laws or international treaties to which Iran is a signatory. The new charter fails to do several things. It does not create effective mechanisms for the protection and promotion of these rights. It does not clarify ambiguities or close loopholes in existing law. It does not address security laws routinely used by the courts to circumvent protections and stifle dissent, imprison critics, and violate the fundamental rights of Iranian citizens. Specifically:
• Under the “Right to Life” section, the Charter fails to address the fact that Iran is a leading state in implementing capital punishment. The judiciary routinely executes people for crimes that do not meet international standards for capital punishment. The charter fails to propose any specific ways to guarantee fair trials, implement internationally accepted safeguards, or adopt internationally accepted standards regarding capital punishment.
• Regarding the exercise of fundamental rights, the Charter contains language that reinforces existing security laws used to restrict freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. The draft Charter reiterates vague and open-ended conditions and disclaimers, restricting freedoms with phrases such as “within the framework of the law,” or “with due consideration to Islam.”
• On women’s rights, the draft Charter contains few details and completely avoids the most glaring shortcoming of Iran’s existing legal codes that explicitly discriminate against women on personal status matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, child custody, travel, and legal testimony.
• The draft Charter fails to explicitly define who is considered “a citizen” and therefore entitled to rights. For example, it makes no reference to at least 3 million Afghan and Iraqi refugees and migrants who live and work in Iran.
• The draft Charter is silent on cruel and inhuman punishments routinely employed under existing law, such as stoning, hanging, amputation, and flogging.
• On religious minority rights, the draft Charter fails to recognize Baha’is, one of the largest religious minorities in Iran, as citizens who should enjoy equal rights.
Hadi Ghaemi is the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Click here to read Hadi Ghaemi’s chapter on Iran’s judiciary from The Iran Primer.
Read the full English translation of Rouhani’s new rights charter here.