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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN

11 March 2019

The Human Rights Council today held an interactive dialogue with Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

Presenting his report, Mr. Rehman said that the people of Iran faced a myriad of challenges.  The re-imposition of secondary sanctions by the United States had further increased such concerns and was likely to significantly impact economic and social rights, in particular the right to health.  Highlighting the most critical issue in Iran, the Special Rapporteur reminded that Iranian law allowed girls as young as nine, and boys as young as 15 to be sentenced to be sentenced to death for certain crimes.  At least 21 children had been sentenced to death, and at least 33 child offenders had been executed since the enactment of article 91 of the Penal Code in 2013. 

Iran, speaking as the concerned country, said that it rejected country specific resolutions as counterproductive to the work of the Council.  The appointment of the Special Rapporteur was an unjust and politically motivated scheme.  The protection of human rights was one of the fundamental characteristics of the Iranian revolution.  Iran would continue its genuine interaction with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Deputy High Commissioner had recently visited Iran on a technical mission.  Iran did not shy away from speaking frankly with the Special Rapporteur himself, pointing to deficiencies in order to enlighten him and to point out to some methodological deficits.  It was regretful that the main source for the report was the same terrorist groups. 

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers were appalled by the extensive use of the death penalty, particularly against children, and in the context of torture and lack of due process.  The increasing rate of execution of juveniles, the cracking down on protesters, and the woeful state of women’s rights were alarming.  Speakers urged Iran to impose a complete moratorium on the death penalty.  They also called attention to the continued persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, journalists, and human rights defenders.  Other speakers said that the discussion on Iran was a clear example of the politicization of human rights and of selective mandates being adopted against developing nations, which did not contribute to the atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation. 

Speaking were European Union, Denmark, Israel, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Cuba, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Netherlands, France, Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, Ireland, China, Iceland, Luxembourg, Seychelles, North Macedonia and Syria.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Baha'i International Community, International Educational Development, Inc., British Humanist Association, International Federation of Journalists, Family Health Association of Iran, Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik, The Charitable Institute for Protecting Social Victims (in a joint statement with several NGOs1), and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada.

The Council has a full day of meetings scheduled today. It will next hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (A/HRC/40/67).

Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran

JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said that the people of Iran faced a myriad of challenges.  Many had voiced their concern through protests, demonstrations and strikes.  Many of their concerns related to rising inflation, working conditions, late or unpaid wages, living standards, and access to work, food, healthcare and water.  The re-imposition of secondary sanctions by the United States had further increased such concerns and was likely to significantly impact economic and social rights, in particular the right to health.  It was in that context of increased challenges that concerns were mounting about human rights, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and to association.  Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labour rights activists signalled an increasingly severe State response.  The situation of arrested protesting workers of the Haft Tapeh sugar mill illustrated the breadth of concern.  The Special Rapporteur thus urged the Government to release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.  The evolving situation also reflected positive developments.  In late 2017, an amendment to the drug trafficking law had amended punishments for certain drug offenses from the death penalty to a maximum prison term of 30 years.  The change had led to a significant reduction in the number of persons executed in 2018, and numerous individuals on death row had reportedly had their sentences commuted.  Another welcome development was the adoption by Parliament of a bill allowing children of Iranian mothers and foreign fathers to apply for Iranian citizenship when they reach the age of 18.

Notwithstanding those steps, the Special Rapporteur noted that the ongoing arrests of lawyers and advocates was worrying, given concerns related to their right to a fair trial.  That was disturbing given reports of ill-treatment to compel confessions during the investigative stage.  Discrimination of ethnic and religious minority groups, including the Baha’i, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Kurdish and Baloch communities, was reflected by the disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of members of such groups.  A number of women had been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment.  More broadly, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the enjoyment of the right to health as a result of the re-imposition of secondary sanctions in November 2018, and restrictions placed on financial transactions, which had impacted the availability and cost of medicines, medical services, supplies and equipment.  He called on all States to take all possible steps to ensure that humanitarian and procedural safeguards and exemptions prevented a harmful impact on the enjoyment of human rights in Iran in policy and practice.

Highlighting the most critical issue in Iran, the Special Rapporteur reminded that Iranian law allowed girls as young as nine, and boys as young as 15 to be sentenced to death for certain crimes.  That constituted a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  At least 21 children had been sentenced to death, and at least 33 child offenders had been executed since the enactment of article 91 of the Penal Code in 2013.  At least 85 child offenders currently languished on death row, whereas six had been executed in 2018.   Information reviewed indicated that many children sentenced to death had lower levels of economic and social standing, education, and support networks, and in some cases had faced extreme situations, including forced marriage and alleged domestic violence.  However, the Iranian law did not allow the court to take into account those mitigating factors.  The Special Rapporteur reiterated his call to Iran to abolish the ongoing execution of child offenders and to commute their death sentences.  He also invited the Government of Iran to engage together with him on the substance and content of his report and issues of concern in line with the common commitment to work towards the improvement of the situation of human rights in Iran.

Statement by Iran as the Concerned Country

Iran, speaking as the concerned country, said that it rejected country specific resolutions as counterproductive to the work of the Council.  The appointment of the Special Rapporteur was an unjust and politically motivated scheme.  The protection of human rights was one of the fundamental characteristics of the Iranian revolution.  The promotion of human rights was a moral imperative and Iran was determined to safeguard its people from violent extremism and terrorism.  It was ironic to pretend to care about the human rights of Iranians, and at the same time not care about refugees that Iran had been hosting for decades or worry about the plight of those lacking medicaments due to sanctions.  Iran would not be distracted from its home-grown system of democratic governance.  Iran would continue its genuine interaction with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Deputy High Commissioner had recently visited Iran on a technical mission.  Iran did not shy away from speaking frankly with the Special Rapporteur himself, pointing to deficiencies in order to enlighten him, and pointing out some methodological deficits.  It was regretful that the main source for the report was the same terrorist groups.  The execution of children aged 9 and 15 was far from truth, as it never happened.  The death penalty was only for the most heinous crimes.  The Special Rapporteur was urged not to discredit Iran’s judicial system.  The title of human rights defenders did not mean such persons should avoid punishment when committing offences.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union was concerned about the continued arrest, detention and harassment of people exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, as well as by the reports that ethnic and religious minorities were unable to enjoy their human rights, and urged the Government to take further measures to ensure respect for fundamental freedoms.  Denmark said the continued use of capital punishment was deeply concerning, particularly against children and in the context of torture and lack of due process.  It asked the Rapporteur what prospects there were for strengthening civil society actors.  Israel said that Iran should be strongly denounced as it was providing Hamas and Hezbollah with weaponry to the detriment of the Iranian people.  It expressed concern at the increasing rate of executions of juveniles, the cracking down on protesters, and the woeful state of women’s rights.

United Kingdom noted with alarm the number of executions in the report, and urged Iran to impose a complete moratorium on the death penalty.  It was also concerned about the continued persecution of ethnic and religious minorities and called on Iran to drop the criminal investigation of BBC Persia journalists.  Belgium was concerned about the reports of the death penalty being applied to children.  It asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the specific challenges faced by girls in the criminal justice system in Iran.  Germany expressed serious concern about the restrictions imposed on civil society, including the rights to assembly, expression and the systematic oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, journalists, human rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities.  Germany urged Iran to proclaim a complete moratorium on the death penalty.

Czech Republic took positive note of Iran’s engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, but remained appalled by the extensive use of the death penalty.  It also expressed concern about the situation of ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  Cuba noted that the discussion on Iran was a clear example of the politicization of human rights and of selective mandates being adopted against developing nations, which did not contribute to the atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation that was necessary for the effective protection of human rights.  Russian Federation reiterated its view that the discussion of human rights in Iran was not objective and that it was politicized.  It was an unnecessary waste of United Nations funds, which would be better used for technical assistance and capacity building to countries. 

Venezuela stressed that country-specific mandates did not promote dialogue and cooperation; they seriously undermined the credibility of the Council and they should be eradicated once and for all.  Iran had demonstrated complete cooperation with the Council and progress in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  Netherlands urged Iran to fully cooperate with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and voiced concern about the continued high number of death sentences handed down to juveniles.  It was also concerned about restrictions on the right to a fair trial, and freedom of association.  France said that despite the drop in the number of executions in 2018 in Iran, the use of the death penalty remained high, and the sentencing of juveniles to death was very worrying.  France called on Iran to respect freedom of opinion, religion, and peaceful assembly.

Belarus did not support the adoption of country resolutions, and believed the Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate mechanism for addressing concerns.  Iran had been working to improve the social and economic rights of its people, in difficult conditions.  Belarus asked for the Rapporteur’s mandate to be withdrawn.  Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected all attempts to use human rights as a pretext to interfere in the affairs of sovereign States.  The Special Rapporteur’s report on Iran was far from objective and ignored the reality on the ground.  Switzerland recognized the positive impact of the new narcotics law in Iran, but asked Iran to revoke the sentence of all those under the age of 18 currently facing the death penalty, and for them to be given the right of access to legal representation.  They were particularly concerned at reports of the persecution of minorities such as the Bahá'ís.  Norway was concerned about the human rights situation in Iran, particularly that of women, who lacked equal rights and had limited access to work.  It deplored the high number of executions carried out, and particularly the continued use of capital punishment on offenders under the age of 18. 

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, urged the Government to immediately halt the execution of juvenile offenders and to follow its commitments under international human rights law, including the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review.  He highlighted a number of concerns concerning human rights defenders, including increased surveillance by the State, and also the banning of youtube, twitter and instagram.  Women were arrested for protesting against compulsory veil.  There was intimidation of journalists and the matter of the BBC Persian staff was raised again.  The position that the Iranian State took concerning the BBC Persian staff was deploring, including temporary freezing orders where BBC staff were charged.  The Government was urged to stop all cases against journalists.  As for the criminal justice system and minorities, he said that ethnic and religious leaders were disproportionally represented in both executions and arrests.  Looking at executions, it was noticed that Balochi and Baha’is were targeted.  Gender discrimination was observed even in the matter of executions, where the age limit was 9 for girls and 15 for boys; there was also a concern regarding the age of marriage, which was 13 for girls.  Girls were discriminated against in every aspect of life, employment, education and marriage.  The Government was urged to follow the rule of law principles.

Interactive Dialogue

New Zealand was worried that the Iranian Government had taken an increasingly severe response to protests, and called for the banning of the use of the death penalty on juveniles.  It deplored the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, especially members of the Baha’i faith.  Ireland called for a moratorium on the death sentences handed down to juvenile offenders in Iran, and it voiced concern about the harassment of religious and ethnic minorities.  It also called on Iran to cease discrimination against women.  China opposed the imposition of external mechanisms on countries without their agreement because it would not contribute to the protection of human rights.  It expressed hope that the international community would objectively and impartially view the situation of human rights in Iran.

Iceland welcomed the reduction in executions in Iran in 2018, but objected that children continued to receive the death penalty.  Iceland regretted that human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and labour activists were being arrested and harassed.  Luxembourg called on the Iranian authorities to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.  It reiterated its firm opposition to the use of the death penalty on juvenile offenders, as a flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Seychelles positively noted the reduction in executions in Iran, but remained deeply concerned about the continued use of death sentences, especially for child offenders.  It encouraged Iran to explore alternative measures to the death penalty, and to address discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.

North Macedonia noted the substantial decline in the death penalty.  However, the death penalty, including its application to juveniles, as well as its application for crimes that did not constitute the most serious laws in international law, remained their primary concern.  Syria reiterated its opposition in principle to country specific resolutions, and their use as tools for interfering in sovereign countries on the pretext of human rights.  The report on Iran was just such an example of work that had nothing to do with human rights. 

Baha'i International Community stated that many minorities were persecuted in Iran.  Bahá'ís remained banned from working in the public sector, and were prevented from working in certain areas.  The authorities were deliberately impoverishing a minority group, and also preventing them from contributing to the Iranian economy.  Family Health Association of Iran said that despite claims that medicines were not included in sanctions, banking sanctions did prevent the purchase of medicines.  Iranian non-governmental organizations were not able to carry out work or receive funding from international organizations as a result of financial restrictions.  Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik, stated grave concern at the appointment of Mr. Ebrahim Raisi as the new head of the judiciary, who was responsible for the summary execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, which could be tantamount to crimes against humanity.  The Charitable Institute for Protecting Social Victims, in a joint statement with several NGOs1, articulated concerns that affected thousands of patients who were denied access to medication as a result of sanctions.  They stated that the collective punishment of a population was a crime, and urged the Human Rights Council to address the issue of sanctions as universal coercive measures.

International Federation of Journalists said that BBC Persia journalists were systematically harassed and persecuted by Iran and were unable to return to Iran because they were charged with conspiracy.  The speaker said she had faced reprisals from Iran for raising this issue at the Council.  International Educational Development, Inc. stated that Kurds comprised 13 per cent of Iran’s population but represented 50 per cent of political prisoners and 25 per cent of executions.  Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada said that since mid-2018, Iran had cracked down on lawyers and human rights defenders.  The organization called on Iran to end their attacks on those advocating for human rights.  British Humanist Association called on Iran to fulfil its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to abolish the use of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy and to remove these crimes from their statue books.


Concluding Remarks

JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, urged the Government of Iran to comply with and follow all its international obligations, especially to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  He urged Iran to immediately halt the execution of all child offenders.  Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur asked Iran to abolish the death penalty, in light of the alarming reports of convictions based on forced confessions.  If the death penalty was to be retained, it had to be reserved only for the crime of intentional killing, and not for economic crimes and adultery.  The Penal Code retained the life of a woman as half of the life of a man.  For certain offenses relating to external and internal security, the choice of lawyer was limited during the investigative phase, and there was a risk of the use of torture.  The Kurds, and other ethnic and religious minorities, were disproportionately represented in the Iranian penal system.  The Baha’i religious minority was not constitutionally recognized and its members suffered from significant discrimination, such as in employment and education.  Mr. Rehman drew attention to the treatment of dual and foreign nationals, noting that they faced lengthy pre-trial detention and were denied access to lawyers and medical treatment.  Speaking of limits to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, the Special Rapporteur deplored the arrests of women human rights defenders, as well as the banning of various media outlets.  He was also concerned about the harassment of current and former BBC staff members.  The Special Rapporteur called for an end to the criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  With respect to the sanctions imposed on Iran, Mr. Rehman recognized their adverse effects on the population.  He was concerned about the re-imposition of the secondary sanctions against Iran.  Reminding that in his report he had set detailed and specific recommendations, he invited the Government of Iran to engage with him on them. 

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1Joint statement on behalf of : The Charitable Institute for Protecting Social Victims; Ertegha Keyfiat Zendegi Iranian Charitable Institute, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Society of Iranian Women Advocating Sustainable Development of Environment, and Prevention Association of Social Harms (PASH).



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