UN report a grim reminder on human rights in Iran

The publication on Monday of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s interim report on Iran to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva did not reveal any startling new information.

Yet, it was a grim reminder to the international community of the wide scale and range of human rights violations in Iran which Amnesty International has been documenting for years.

As the report notes, the last six months have been marked by an intensified crackdown by the Iranian authorities on human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, journalists and critics and opponents of the government.

Secretary-General Ban highlights the ongoing use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including flogging and amputations.  Such treatment is often used to extract “confessions” that are then used as evidence against arbitrarily detained defendants in grossly unfair trials.

It also draws attention to the extensive and increasing use of the death penalty, including executions of juvenile offenders – people sentenced for crimes committed when they were under 18 – public executions and sentences of death by stoning.

It reminds readers of entrenched and continuing discrimination – in some cases amounting to persecution – against ethnic and religious minorities, especially the unrecognized Baha’i minority whose entire seven-strong leadership group is in prison.  It also describes ongoing restrictions curtailing exercise of such basic freedoms as the rights to peaceful assembly, association, opinion and expression.

The report further criticizes Iran’s ongoing patchy record of cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, particularly the authorities’ refusal to allow any UN thematic human rights experts to visit the country since 2005, despite a “standing invitation” that the government issued in 2002.

Amnesty International has been drawing attention to this failure since 2009, and to the fact that Amnesty International itself has been barred from visiting Iran for fact finding on human rights for over 30 years, since before the Islamic Revolution.

In conjunction with other international NGOs, we say now that enough is enough.  It is high time that the international community sent a clear signal to those ruling Iran that their ongoing failure to engage with existing human rights mechanisms will no longer be tolerated. One concrete way for states to do this is by creating a Special Rapporteur on Iran to report to the Human Rights Council.

This step would create a special procedure whereby the the Human Rights Council would receive regular reports on human rights developments in Iran and so keep it under the international spotlight.

A Special Rapporteur would provide an impartial voice for the thousands of victims of human rights violations in Iran who are silenced through harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture and imprisonment and who, in some cases, have paid the ultimate price with their lives.

Some prisoners of conscience are well known and have many people around the world who are advocating on their behalf. They include courageous individuals such as imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, AIDs expert Arash Alaei, and human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi – all serving long prison sentences – and film director Ja’far Panahi who is facing imprisonment.

Other Iranians are serving their terms in obscurity, including journalist and human rights activist Abolfazl Abedini Nasr in Ahvaz, Azerbaijani rights defender Saeed Metinpour held in Tehran, Kurdish rights defenders Zeynab Beyezidi and Ronak Safazadeh held in Zanjan and Sanandaj, and women’s rights activist Fatemeh Masjedi, imprisoned for six months in Qom solely for peacefully collecting signatures to a petition calling for changes to discriminatory laws.

Some are held in internal exile in prisons far away from their homes, like student activists Zia Nabavi and Majid Dori, and Hamed Rouhinejad, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, who was exiled to prison in Zanjan after his death sentence was overturned.

Others still are not even in prison, but are held under house arrest, or in “safe houses” belonging to one or other of Iran’s myriad intelligence agencies.  They include opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and Ebrahim Yazdi, leader of the Iran Freedom Movement, who at 80 and in poor health may be Iran’s oldest prisoner of  conscience.  His trial has now been postponed at least three times.

Harder still to bear is the plight of the death row prisoners. Zeynab Jalalian, a Kurdish woman sentenced for membership of PJAK waits nightly to hear if a date has been scheduled for her to follow fellow Kurds Farzad Kamangar and Shirin Alam Holi to the gallows.  They were executed in May 2010.

None of these victims should be forgotten. The creation now of a Special Rapporteur on Iran would be one small but vitally important step to ensure this. It would send a much-needed message of solidarity to these individuals, and a clear warning to the Iranian government that the international community will not sit idly by while it rides roughshod over human rights.