By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
NEW YORK, New York — On September 23 the Secretary-General of the United Nations presented a report to the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This report is the result of a mandate pursuant to the Human Rights Council, which assigned Ahmed Shaheed as the Special Rapporteur to the region.
It is the job of the Special Rapporteur to submit reports to both the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council on the current human rights situation in Iran.
The mandate calls upon Iran to cooperate fully with Shaheed by permitting access to visit the country, and providing all necessary information to enable the fulfillment of the mandate.
Shaheed was assigned as Special Rapporteur in June so the report was only a preliminary list of findings based on interviews with NGOs and persons who claimed to suffer abuses at the hands of the Iranian government. A more substantive report will be released in the future.
Shaheed’s report begins by noting that Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 24 June 1975. This covenant committed Iran to recognizing the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion. It also provided for the right to due process, legal assistance, humane treatment of detainees. It prohibited the arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals. Further protections included the “equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights,” and the protection of the rights of minorities.
Shaheed’s report examines Iran’s human rights abuses on the backdrop of this covenant as well as the guarantees contained in Iran’s constitution. His report, while only preliminary, highlights incidents of particular importance.
Using first-hand testimonies from various NGOs and concerned parties, Shaheed presents a pattern of systematic violations of the previously mentioned rights. The testimonies reveal allegations of physical and psychological mistreatment and torture for inducing self-incrimination, the use of solitary confinement for long periods during case investigation, excessive bail requirements, predetermined sentences, and the use of threats, violence, and intimidation of family members to encourage admission of guilt.
The treatment of detained political activists, including political leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, also draws a lot of ire in the report. Both men and their wives have been under house arrest since February. Sources reveal that they have been allowed little contact with the outside world, and their families. They also have been deprived of control over their health care, access to publications, privacy, and their ability to live a normal life.
Detained journalists fare little better. Sources give numerous accounts of detained journalists facing long bouts of solitary confinement, difficult interrogations, torture, and coercion to incriminate themselves.
Iranian journalist Reza Hoda Saber takes concerns about such arbitrary detentions to another level after having suffered a heart attack while in prison following a hunger strike protesting his incarceration. There are worries that prison authorities may have denied proper medical attention to Saber, who reportedly complained of chest pains for hours before the heart attack.
Other civil actors, including students, artists, lawyers, and environmentalists, faced similar fates for anti-government activism. Many individuals also faced bans on practicing their respective jobs, some for periods up to 20 years. Some students faced permanent bans on their access to higher education.
There are several accounts of the Iranian government denying permits and using intimidation methods to prevent demonstrations in a clear violation of the right to assembly. Shaheed specifically mentions one incident in which the government allegedly denied mourners the right to attend the funeral of a political activist. Accounts suggest that security forces disrupted the funeral services by removing the activist’s body and beating mourners, including the deceased’s daughter who suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after.
Shaheed’s report finds that the application of certain laws “erect[s] barriers to gender equality” undermining Iran’s commitments stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Men have an absolute right to divorce. Women can only initiate divorce if they meet certain conditions. Mothers can never be awarded guardianship rights of their children, even when their husbands die. Women do not have equal inheritance rights. Even if a woman were the sole survivor upon her husband’s death she would at most only receive a quarter of the estate.
An issue of grave importance in the report is the targeted violence and discrimination against minority groups. This includes an encroachment on their rights including the freedoms of assembly, association, expression, movement, and liberty. The Baha’i community, the largest non-Muslim religious minority, is not recognized by the government, and has been the victim of historical discrimination. Recognized religious minorities face serious constraints on their ability to worship freely, and often subjected to severe limitations on their respective practices.
Shaheed also expresses concern over the increase in the number of executions in Iran. Noting, that while the frequency is a definite concern, this issue is compounded further by worries that the death penalty is often used in cases where due process has been denied to the defendant. There is also reason to believe that the death penalty is being used in cases that do not meet the international standard for serious crimes. This includes usage of the death penalty for cases involving drugs, immoral acts, and kidnapping. Four percent of the crimes announced by the Iranian government stipulated no charges. There have also been reports of secret executions that go well beyond those officially reported.
Shaheed concludes the report by expressing his wish to open a “constructive dialogue” with Iran as he completes his mandate, and encourages Iran’s government to make strides in correcting the elements discussed in the preliminary report.
Since the report’s release Iran has actively denied the allegations contained within it, describing Shaheed as having “hostile views” towards Iran. A special envoy from Iran did meet with Shaheed on Tuesday, which he described as frank and friendly.
The UN is expected to act on an annual human rights resolution on Iran by the end of the year. Shaheed’s final report is due at the spring 2012 session of the Human Rights Council.
For more information, please see:
National Iranian American Council– UN Human Rights Report on Iran Spotlights ‘Increasing Trend’ of Violations — 20 Oct. 2011
UN News Centre — Iran: UN human rights expert stresses need for dialogue — 20 Oct. 2011
Voice of America — Iran Slams UN Human Rights Report — 20 Oct. 2011
Voice of America — UN Cites ‘Systematic Violations’ of Human Rights in Iran — 19 Oct. 2011
United Nations — The situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran — 23 Sept. 2011