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November 19, 2010

UN Resolution on Human Rights in Iran is Same Old Story

Don’t be fooled by the media’s coverage of the new draft resolution on Iran’s human rights situation that advanced yesterday.  While headlines suggested that the US and the international community were doing something serious on Iran, this resolution is not much different than the Iran resolution adopted by the UN last year.
In fact, the UN has been passing similar resolutions on Iran for the past 26 years.  The difference is that from 1985 to 2002, the resolutions established a UN mandate for a human rights monitor on Iran, which actually helped improve the situation there.  But in 2002 the mandate failed by one vote, and there has been no mechanism in place ever since.  With yesterday’s action—which sets up a vote for final passage in December, the UN continues to catalog human rights violations in Iran, but fails to take any concrete steps to actually address the problem.
The resolution did advance with a wide margin of 80 in favor to 44 against and 57 abstentions. This is an even greater margin than last year’s resolution, which came out only months after the June 12th Iranian elections and passed with a margin of 74 in favor to 48 against and 59 abstentions. The issue of Iranian human rights in Iran is just as prominent now as it was a year ago when millions of people across the globe watched the devastating human rights violations unroll during election aftermath. The increase in the vote margin should be seen as window of opportunity to take concrete steps that can offer protection to Iranian victims instead of merely condemning the abuses.
Regardless of the resolution’s weaknesses, we should also not be fooled by the Iranian government’s arguments against the measure. Iranian officials have once again avoided addressing the outrageous human rights abuses in its own country by accusing the United States of abuses and accusing the international community of using human rights to maneuver Iran in a direction towards “westernization”.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s human rights representative at the UN and one of Khamenei’s right hand men, argued at the UN General Assembly that the resolution does nothing to contribute to the promotion of human rights and should therefore be discarded. But he wasn’t arguing for a stronger resolution that could do a better job of promoting human rights, he was arguing that the United States is “the mastermind and main provocateur behind a text that had nothing to do with human rights” and that they are using as a “politicization of human rights”.  But human rights do not belong to the United States or Iran, they are a universal value that must be respected.  As a signatory to numerous international treaties on human rights, Iran is bound to uphold these basic rights, and arguments of politicization fall short when human rights defenders like Nasrin Sotoudeh continue to languish in prison.
That being said, addressing Iranian human rights must stand on its own apart from other issues of concern, i.e. nuclear weapons, sanctions, Afghanistan, etc. The US Administration must know the implications of using human rights as front for addressing other important issues – namely Iran’s nuclear capability—and have generally been careful to avoid falling into such a trap.
In order to help stem Iran’s human rights violations, it is crucial for the US to engage the international community to address human rights as a strategic goal unto itself.  The Obama Administration must get serious and step up its efforts at the UN to seek an independent mechanism to monitor Iran’s human rights situation.  Mike Hammer, US National Security Council spokesperson, said that, “by adopting the resolution, the international community has sent an unequivocal message to the Iranian government that universal rights must be respected.” But this message has been conveyed repeatedly to no avail.   It’s time to get serious and pursue a concrete approach by establishing a human rights monitor.

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