Rights Violations Continue Under President Rouhani’s Watch
February 22, 2018 — Iran’s deteriorating human rights record requires the UN Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic to maintain constructive pressure on the government and magnify the voices of activists inside the country.
“Renewing the mandate of the special rapporteur will send a strong signal to the Islamic Republic that the international community is watching and expects the government to produce tangible improvements,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Iran’s continued refusal to cooperate with human rights mechanisms further establishes the need for the Human Rights Council to renew the special rapporteur’s mandate. For example, since 2005, no special mandate holder has been allowed to visit Iran.
In November 2017, 83 countries approved a resolution by the UN Third Committee criticizing the state of human rights in the Islamic Republic. The resolution called on Iran to deepen its engagement with international human rights mechanisms by cooperating with the special rapporteurs and special mechanisms, including by approving requests for access to the country by mandate holders.
Despite promising to uphold human and civil rights during both his elections campaigns, President Hassan Rouhani (2013-present) has been unable or unwilling to improve Iran’s human rights record.
Asma Jahangir, who passed away in February 2018, was the fifth special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic. She was assigned to the country after she was appointed to the position in 2016.
In her semi-annual October 2017 report on Iran to the UN General Assembly, she noted a few positive developments under Rouhani while describing the ongoing deterioration of human rights in the country.
Jahangir said positive developments included a high turnout in presidential and local elections (May 2017), positive statements on human rights made by President Rouhani, and the Charter on Citizen’s Rights unveiled by the president in December 2016.
In January 2018, after years of constructive pressure and engagement by the special rapporteur and activists inside and outside the country, Iran passed legislation that raised the bar for death penalty sentences in drug-related cases—which get the vast majority of death sentences—and granted sentence reviews to thousands of prisoners on death row.
Despite repeatedly attacking the special rapporteur, the head of the Iranian Judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights, Mohammad Javad Larijani, had also responded to 20 out of the 28 communications sent by her office as of October 2017. This positive step can only progress towards establishing mechanisms for addressing concerns if the special rapporteur’s mandate is renewed.
However, Jahangir also noted numerous concerns, including but not limited to:
- Ongoing executions of juvenile offenders
- Detaining citizens and activists for their peaceful actions
- Coercing detainees into providing forced confessions
- Sentencing peaceful activists and dissidents to long prison sentences while denying them due process
- Institutionalized discrimination against women
- Preventing women from holding high-level positions in government
- Institutionalized discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities
- Imprisoning labor rights leaders
- Imprisoning and intimidating journalists
- Imprisoning dual and foreign nationals
The state suppression of Iran’s December 2017 demonstrations highlighted the systematic way in which the Islamic Republic stifles peaceful protest and dissent with violence and intimidation.
At least two detainees, Sina Ghanbari and Vahid Heydari, who were arrested in those protests died in state custody in December and January 2018. Another detainee, Iranian-Canadian academic Kavous Seyed-Emami, whose arrest was unrelated to the protests, died a month later.
Despite the suspicious circumstances surrounding all three cases, officials claimed all of them were suicides. Iran has not launched any independent investigation into these cases and the families of the deceased have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation by various state authorities aimed at silencing them.
The special rapporteur could keep the spotlight on these and other human rights issues in Iran and emphasize these concerns to the Iranian government and the international community, especially countries with leverage on Iran such as EU member states, which have expressed interest in forming trade and business relationships.
Failing to renew the special rapporteur’s mandate will give Iran’s Judiciary and security establishment, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the green light to continue severe and widespread rights violations with no accountability.
“The special rapporteur’s work shines a critical light on the experiences of so many ordinary Iranian people who have been deprived of their most fundamental rights,” said Ghaemi. “It should not be taken away.”