Human Rights Violations in Tehran as COVID-19 Continues to Spread

By: Dianne Jahangani

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

TEHRAN, Iran – The world is currently at war. For the first time in history, all 195 nations have the same exact enemy. The only caveat is that this time, the enemy is invisible, which makes defeating it so much more difficult.

It seems as though the world has been put on pause. For the past few weeks, every single headline on every single news outlet is about COVID-19, ranging from how many people have been infected to how many people have died, or what progress has been made on finding a cure and what the United States government is currently doing to combat the unforeseen effects of this virus.

One would think that in a time of grief, nations would come together to help fight this virus. However, human rights violations have not subsided; in fact, some may argue they have gotten worse.

History has demonstrated that even if a leader is deemed to be unfavored, during times of war, the people will always support him to defeat the enemy, since many naturally look to their leader to protect them. However, in many cases, the leader does not act in the best interest of the people or the public, which leads to a significant increase in human rights violations. In fact, statistically speaking, during times of war, human rights violations typically exceed the average amount. This phenomenon is exactly what is currently occurring in Iran.

On March 31, the United Nations released a statement stating that history has shown that the effects of sanctions against a country include dramatic and detrimental impacts on economic, social, and cultural rights. The statement further emphasized that economic sanctions need to be lifted to prevent hunger crises in countries that have been hit hard by COVID-19.

Iran has become one of the worst effected countries by this pandemic, reporting over 58,000 cases and 4,000 deaths. Additionally, Iran is subject to many sanctions imposed by the United States, which further causes Iran’s economy to suffer. With this new outbreak, the United States does not have any plans to release Iran from its sanctions; however, understanding the reality of the difficulty COVID-19 has imposed on all countries, the United States has indicated that it would be more than willing to assist Iran in this time of crisis. Yet, on March 22, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran vocally expressed its strong opposition towards receiving aid and resources from foreign nations such as the United States, but still requested that the U.S. remove its sanctions. This refusal by Iran demonstrates the lack of political leadership within the country, further exacerbated by the rising death toll and number of cases increasing exponentially each day.

According to the Health Ministry, “one person dies in Iran every 10 minutes from the coronavirus, and someone is infected every 50 minutes.” Iran does not have enough medical supplies or resources to combat this virus on its own. By refusing to accept aid during the peak of the pandemic, the Iranian government is leaving its people vulnerable to the virus. This is a significant human rights violation.

According to the World Health Organization, international human rights law guarantees “everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it.” The Iranian government’s actions are directly contradicting the words of the World Health Organization. The number of infected and dead continues to rise in Iran due to the Supreme Leader and his affiliates pushing conspiracy theories, rather than analyzing concrete data to resolve the pandemic. In many of his public statements, Ayatollah Ali Khameni blames the U.S. for the outbreak of COVID-19, despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating in a White House briefing that “the whole world should know that humanitarian assistance to Iran is wide open … they’ve got a terrible problem there and we want that humanitarian, medical assistance to get to the people of Iran.”

Khameni publicly commented on his refusal to accept aid and medication, stating that he believes the virus is naturally structured to further spread amongst the Iranian people.

The Iranian government is violating human right laws as it continues to deprive its people of basic necessities such as medications, proper hospital care, and other such medical supplies. The fact is that people are dying every 10 minutes, and the government continues to deny foreign aid. The Iranian people have the right to life and the government is infringing upon this right.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – Trump grilled on punishing Iran sanctions amid coronavirus crisis- 3 Apr. 2020

Aljazeera – Iran leader refuses US help; cites coronavirus conspiracy theory – 23 Mar. 2020

France 24 – Iran’s Khamanei refuses US help to fight coronavirus, citing conspiracy theory– 22 Mar. 2020

TIME – Iran Leader Refuses U.S. Help to Fight COVID-19, Citing Conspiracy Theory – 22 Mar. 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer – Iran leader refuses U.S. help, citing coronavirus conspiracy theory – 22 Mar. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Human Rights Dimensions of COVID-19 Response – 19 Mar. 2020

Business Insider – The coronavirus has caused a full breakdown in Iran, with an unknown death toll, infected leaders, and massive burial pits visible from space – 17 Mar. 2020

Masking Domestic Violence During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By: Ann Ciancia

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

GENEVA, Switzerland – April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, but during this month, there has been an increase in the number of domestic violence incidents across the world due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Entire nations have requested lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus and to flatten the curve. Many victims are forced to quarantine with their abuser and have no shelter to seek. Victims cannot escape the violence and are not given the option to maintain six feet apart from their abuser.

A victim of domestic violence in isolation. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

The Coronavirus has led to a downfall in social and economic environments around the globe. According to the U.N., this collapse has led to an increase in violence against women around the world. U.N. Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, wants all of the international community to understand the threat of violence that is imminent for victims and to put pressure on countries in order to protect their citizens. Guterres states that, “[f]or many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest – in their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home – and in homes – around the world.”

A multitude of countries have reported an increase in domestic violence. France reported a one third increase in the rates of domestic violence in one week. Within the first week of South Africa’s lockdown, there were over 90,000 reported instances of violence against women. In Turkey, there was a surge of women being killed in their homes after a stay-at-home order was in place. According to the police, during the rise of Coronavirus in China domestic violence cases tripled. The number of victims of abuse continue to rise during quarantine.

“For people who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 have trapped them in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them.”

Within the United States, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an increase in victims calling in for help and protection. Some abusers have threatened their partners to withhold them from financial and medical assistance. Abusers have a sense of power and control over their victims. During times of crisis, there is a lack of control overall. When this occurs, the abuser needs to rein in their control over the victim and take out their frustrations. Victims are likely to face extreme violence by their partner during this pandemic.

Although research has shown quarantining can help slow the spread of Coronavirus, many women and girls are faced with an abusive burden at home. In a locked down home, an abusive husband can be working from home, or he can be laid off and take his frustration out on his wife. It is important to self-quarantine and slow the spread of the virus, but some women may struggle to stay alive in their own home.

For further information, please see:

VOA News – UN Chief: Coronavirus Pressures Leading to Global Surge in Domestic Violence – 5 Apr. 2020

Time – As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out – 18 Mar. 2020

Coronavirus Restrictions on Asylum Seekers May Be Pretext to Achieve Broader Immigration Policy in the United States

By: Hannah Gabbard

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor 

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia – As the rapid spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has garnered fear for vulnerable peoples such as individuals with underlying health conditions and the elderly, the United States has implemented measures that place asylum seekers at risk under the guise of coronavirus protections. 

Asylum seekers wear protective masks while they wait in Matamoros, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Go Nakamura/Reuters.

Citing the need to protect United States customs officials and the general public from the spread of novel coronavirus by potentially infected migrants, President Trump implemented strict immigration controls along the United States-Mexico border. These controls empower Customs and Border Protection officers to “expeditiously expel” asylum seekers encountered between ports of entry and to turn asylum seekers back at the ports of entry despite their expression of credible fear. These measures implicate the United States’ obligations to asylum seekers under domestic and international law.

These measures require asylum seekers to remain in conditions which increase their risk of contracting the coronavirus. In Mexico, many asylum seekers live in overcrowded shelters near the United States border with limited sanitation facilities. As stay at home measures have been the “front-line defense against the coronavirus,” asylum seekers waiting in these conditions are inherently devoid of the opportunity to protect themselves against potentially contracting coronavirus. Human Rights Watch indicates that nearly 92 percent of asylum seekers have family or other close friends living in the United States. Access to these individuals by granting asylum seekers their right to access the United States asylum process would provide asylum seekers the opportunity to adequately self-isolate for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. 

The United States is not the only country to restrict asylum seekers travel through its international borders during the coronavirus crisis. In late March 2020, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that asylum seekers attempting to reach Canada between ports of entry will be automatically repelled.  Similar to the United States, the Canadian government cites the risk of public safety and security as the objectives of this policy. However, unlike the United States, the Canadian government has overtly indicated that these measures are temporary. 

Since President Trump took office, he has pursued policies which impose tough immigration restrictions including restrictions on asylum seekers. Critics of President Trump indicate that recent measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the United States may instead be a tool to accomplish the immigration policy objectives the Trump administration has pursued over the past three years of his presidency. Only the administration’s actions after the risks of coronavirus have subdued will indicate the true motives of this policy. 

For further information, please see

The Washington Post – Facing coronavirus pandemic, Trump suspends immigration laws and showcases vision for locked-down border – 3 Apr. 2020

Human Rights Watch – US: COVID-19 Policies Risk Asylum Seekers’ Lives – 2 Apr. 2020

The Guardian – Rapes, murders…and coronavirus: the dangers US asylum seekers in Mexico must face – 23 Mar. 2020

CNN – US is pushing to reject all asylum seekers, citing coronavirus worries – 17 Mar. 2020

Depreciating Human Rights Conditions in Zimbabwe

By: Eronmwon Joyce Irogue

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Since the reelection of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa in July 2018, human rights conditions in the country have deteriorated. In September 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association fact-finding mission discovered a “serious deterioration of the political, economic and social environment.” Even after supposed legal reforms, Zimbabwe continues undeterred on its path of human rights violations.

On March 4, 2020, the United States extended its restriction on several senior Zimbabwean government officials for another year. The United States referenced the extant human rights oppression by the government against critics as one of its reasons and urged for a more tenable reform. This extension occurred one month after the European Union commented on the “deteriorating humanitarian crisis” in Zimbabwe.

Human rights violations have allegedly been committed by the Zimbabwean security forces. Specifically, they have used force against peaceful protesters. In August 2018, the security forces used deadly force against post-election protesters where 6 people died and thirty-five were injured. In mid-January 2019, the security forces used brutal force against protesters of the President. There, seventeen people died, seventeen women were raped, eighty-one people were injured, and over a thousand protesters were arrested. After the incident, the government shut down social media and the internet on January 15 and only restored social media and internet access on January 21 after a ruling by the Harare High Court. The Zimbabwean government relies on the authority on “subverting a constitutional government” contained in Section 22, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to punish individuals suspected of organizing protests.

Zimbabwe remains a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The ability of the human rights conditions in Zimbabwe to continue to deteriorate despite the country’s status as a signatory indicates that these instruments may lack importance in the region. Increased awareness and compliance with these human rights covenants is required if there is to be growth and stability in Zimbabwe and likewise in other African countries. As is apparent from the reports, continuous human rights violations contribute to both economic and political setbacks.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Rampaging Rights Violations Despite Lukewarm Reform – 20 Mar. 2020

Human Rights Watch – World Report 2020

Human Rights Watch – UN Expert “Shocked” By Abuses In Zimbabwe – 27 Sept. 2019

Coronavirus Protections Threaten Human Rights in Panama

By: Elizabeth Wright

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Like other countries around the world, Panama has implemented measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Over the past few weeks the country has passed several different measures that require citizens to remain in their homes, impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine for those entering the country, and limit purchasing goods. Additionally, on March 13, President Laurentino Cortizo announced that the country was under a state of emergency.

While declaring a state of emergency might seem standard given the current situation, concerns have been raised regarding the freedom of Panamanian citizens. Professor of Law Antonio Bernal has expressed concern with the lack of restriction and direction in Panama’s constitution regarding the scope of a state of emergency. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has expressed similar concerns. The Court has stated that the constitutional provisions used to justify the state of emergency have the potential to violate fundamental human rights.

Countries within the Court’s jurisdiction voluntarily agree to its terms, so if the Panamanian government were to decide to issue laws which violate the basic human rights of Panama’s citizens, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights would likely intervene. The Court would first advise the government of appropriate changes and then, if the Court deemed that the country failed to make the appropriate changes, the Court would initiate a further measures against the country.

Bernal explains that while the current state of emergency seems protective, the government may begin to create laws without any oversight. For example, like in the United States, the Panamanian government decided to restrict all prison visitations. Bernal claims that this practice may be a human rights violation.

However, Juan Carlos Araus, President of Panama’s Bar argues that the state of emergency is the most appropriate way for the government to act in this situation because it expedites the law-making process. Araus concedes that the state of emergency does temporarily “suspend constitutional guarantees,” but that it is currently necessary due to the virus’ fast spread.

The upcoming weeks will be difficult for Panama and other countries around the world as they struggle to contain the spread of coronavirus. Each of these countries should be mindful of the fundamental rights of its people while making policies which are intended to protect their citizens’ health.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Panama Imposes Full-Day Curfew, Guatemala Extends State of Emergency – 24 Mar. 2020

The Tico Times – Panama Restricts the Entry of Foreigners to the Country – 16 Mar. 2020

Westlaw – Corona Virus and State of Emergency – 14 Mar. 2020

Lexology – The Government of Panama Decrees State of National Emergency Due to the Coronavirus – 6 Mar. 2020