May 23, 2022

UN Envoy Sparks Controversy on Human Rights Situation in Iran

Alena Douhan, the United Nations Special Rapporteur of unilateral coercive measures, was in Iran last week to examine and report on the impact of U.S. sanctions on the humanitarian situation in Iran. A professor of international law at the Belarusian State University, Douhan was appointed in 2020 and reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures and the enjoyment of human rights. 

Not surprisingly, Douhan’s findings show that “sanctions have been substantially exacerbating the humanitarian situation in Iran,” especially U.S. “maximum pressure” sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration after quitting the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018 and have been essentially maintained by the Biden administration, despite President Biden’s own admission that sanctions impede the flow of humanitarian goods. According to Douhan, sanctions have adversely affected medicine and food production, caused inflation and growing poverty, and impacted the most vulnerable groups such as women-led households, Afghan refugees, and children. 

However, Douhan’s visit was not without controversy given the broader issue of human rights abuses in Iran at the hands of Iranian authorities. While the Iranian government allowed Douhan to examine and report on the impact of sanctions on Iran’s humanitarian situation, they have not allowed a similar in-country assessment of broader human rights issues for the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman. In fact, human rights advocates in Iran urged Douhan to meet with activists during her trip. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, activists published an open letter lambasting the selective access Iranian officials provide for human rights experts in order to deflect from their own outrageous abuses. 

While Douhan was reporting on the impact of sanctions and Iranian authorities refused a larger probe into the country’s human rights situation, Iranian protestors were being suppressed and even killed by security forces. With deadly force and internet blackouts, Iranian authorities have attempted to crush protests and limit communication with the outside world. There is a long list of abuses that Iranian authorities carry out against their own people, such as censorship, arbitrary detentions, torture, execution, and unequal treatment of women and religious minorities to name a few. 

Just today, reports surfaced that an Iranian student activist, Hastee Amiri, was sentenced to a year in prison on bogus charges of “propaganda against the system,” simply for participating in an International Women’s Day rally and rightfully calling for the abolition of the death penalty. There is no question that the issue of sanctions and the impact of coercive measures undermine the human rights of Iranians, but the wide-scale abuses of Iranian authorities and their apparent expansion in recent years must be addressed, and violators must be held to account. The tragedy for ordinary Iranians is the innumerable injustices they face at home, which are sadly worsened by the impact on their livelihoods and health from sanctions from abroad. 

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