Iran Thumbs its Nose at the World

February 21, 2010

The Iranian government has repeatedly insisted that it cooperates with the international human rights community and abides by internationally recognized human rights instruments and agreements. However, these assertions are belied by Iran’s dismal performance at its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva on February 15 and 17. The Iranian delegation incredibly denied its government’s egregious human rights violations, asserting that any criticisms of Iran’s human rights record were merely politically motivated and deliberate mischaracterizations of its efforts to protect its people from “terrorism.”  The Iranian delegation also rejected important recommendations made by the UNHRC which were intended to address the deplorable human rights situation in Iran.

Even before the UPR took place, the Iranian authorities provided evidence that its position would be one of obstruction and denial rather than cooperation and commitment to universally accepted human rights standards. In its submission for the UPR process, Iran claimed full compliance with international human rights mechanisms, and that torture, forced confessions, and other abuses did not occur.  Amnesty International issued a report that thoroughly dissected Iran’s submission. The report’s conclusions were summarized by Hassiba Hadjsahraoui, the Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, who said “The Iranian authorities seem either to have lost touch with reality or are unwilling to acknowledge it.” Although it is true, as Iran’s submission claims, that Iran’s Constitution guarantees many rights such as those of freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial,  those are routinely denied in practice. Even though Iran insists that it permits religious freedom it continues to carry out a harsh campaign of repression against the Baha’i community.  Whereas Iran’s submission maintained that it cooperates with the international human rights community, Amnesty International has not been granted access to the country to carry out research there since 1979 and Iran has not permitted U.N. human rights experts to visit the country in the last several years. And while Iran has made great strides in some areas since the 1979 Revolution—most notably in literacy rates and in education for women and girls—Iran’s overall record is abysmal, as was made clear in Amnesty International’s submission to the UPR process.

At the UPR on Monday February 15, Iran was urged to fulfill many of the recommendations that Amnesty International had been promoting—such as to end execution of juvenile offenders, torture of detainees and the arrest of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly—including peaceful protesters, journalists and women’s rights activists. The response of the Iranian delegation—led by Mohammad Javad Larijani the director of Iran’s Human Rights Headquarters—was essentially complete denial. They maintained, for instance, that all of those arrested and sentenced for their involvement—alleged or real—in the post-election protests were actually guilty of terrorism, espionage and endangering national security.

In the end Iran rejected many of the crucial recommendations in the draft report of the Working Group on the UPR of Iran, issued on February 17. Amnesty International and other organizations have recommended that Iran permit U.N human rights experts—such as the Special Rapporteur on Torture and on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions to visit the country and conduct rigorous and impartial investigations. But the Iran delegation ruled out the visits by independent U.N. experts. “That’s totally out of the question,” Seyyed Hossein Rezvani, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for human rights, told The Associated Press, saying that Iran had numerous domestic mechanisms for handling such issues.

Iran also rejected the recommendation to ensure the immediate release of illegally detained persons, to halt the execution of juvenile offenders and political prisoners and to prosecute officials involved in torture, rape and killing. The delegation accepted the recommendation to respect freedom of religion but rejected a recommendation to end discrimination against the Baha’is. Iran confounded observers by simultaneously accepting and rejecting similarly worded recommendations, which suggested that Iran does not intend to honor even the commitments it has made in regards to the recommendations it has accepted.

The whole purpose of the new UPR process is to engage UN member states in a constructive dialogue to promote human rights best practices, to enhance the fulfillment of each state of its human rights obligations and commitments, and to strengthen the cooperation by states with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. The success of the process depends on the good will of the participating countries. Sadly, Iran has exhibited only recalcitrance and contempt for the entirety of human rights norms and structures to which the international community insists all nations must adhere.