The rights to education, health and life of millions of schoolgirls are at risk amid ongoing chemical gas attacks deliberately targeting girls’ schools in Iran. Since November 2022, thousands of schoolgirls have been poisoned and hospitalized. The authorities have failed to adequately investigate and end the attacks and dismissed girls’ symptoms as “stress”, “excitement” and/or “mental contagion”.
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Prosecutor General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri
c/o Embassy of Iran to the European Union, Avenue Franklin Roosevelt No. 15, 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium
H.E. Mr. Amir Saeid Iravani
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN
622 Third Avenue, 34th Floor, New York, NY 10017
Phone: 212-687-2020 I Fax: 212-867-7086
Email: [email protected]
, [email protected]
Salutation: Dear Ambassador
Dear Mr Montazeri,
I am gravely concerned about the rights to education, health and life of millions of schoolgirls in Iran amid ongoing gas attacks deliberately targeting girls’ schools across the country in a campaign that appears to be highly coordinated and organized. Since November 2022, more than 100 schools have been targeted, some more than once. The attacks were first reported in Qom province and have since spread to other provinces and become more frequent with multiple schools attacked daily. These attacks have left schoolgirls hospitalized with symptoms including coughing, difficulty in breathing, nose and throat irritation, heart palpitation, headache, nausea, vomiting and numbness in limbs. Some parents have removed their daughters from school fearing for their safety. Since news of the attacks first emerged, the authorities sought to coverup their gravity and scale and have yet to carry out effective and independent investigations or take meaningful steps to end them. In March, the authorities announced the arrest of over 118 people for alleged involvement in “smuggling stink bombs”, which they claimed was the main cause of the poisonings. On 14 April, despite official statistics that 13,000 schoolgirls have received medical care for poisoning, the minister of health announced there was “no hard evidence” that schoolgirls were being poisoned and said “more than 90% of the ill health was caused by stress and mischief”. Other officials similarly dismissed the symptoms experienced by schoolgirls as “anxiety”, “excitement” and/or “mental contagion”. The authorities have also tried to silence public calls for accountability by subjecting distressed parents, schoolgirls, teachers, journalists and others to violence, intimidation and arrest for peacefully protesting or reporting on the authorities’ failure to stop the poisonings.
The poisonings appear to be a coordinated campaign to punish schoolgirls for their peaceful participation in nationwide protests that erupted in mid-September 2022, including through acts of resistance such as removing their mandatory hijabs and showing their hair in public while in school uniform. Many people in Iran suspect actors tied to the state or pro-government vigilantes, who have been empowered by Iran’s discriminatory and degrading laws and policies that perpetuate violence against women and girls, of being involved in the attacks, especially given the authorities’ failure to take meaningful action and their attempts to silence public criticism.
I call on you to immediately conduct an independent, thorough and effective investigation into the poisoning of schoolgirls and bring to justice anyone found responsible in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty. The authorities must also ensure girls have equal and safe access to education and are protected from any form of violence. An independent international delegation to investigate the attacks, including UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, and Committee on the Rights of the Child, must also be granted access to the country.