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March 18, 2016

Special Rapporteur Details Potential for Progress on Human Rights Abuses

4bhd741a80d4c2d8i_800C450A UN human rights monitor reiterated concern for continued human right abuses in Iran in a new report, but also pointed to – for the first time – improvements in the Iranian government’s approach toward specific human rights concerns.  

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, has once again noted a dark year for executions in Iran.  The report estimates that between 966 and 1,054 were executed – the highest rate in ten years and averaging four people per day between April and June. A majority of the executed were reportedly convicted of drug-related offenses, which is not considered a “most serious” crime under international law and is not an executable offense in most countries.

However, Shaheed notes that Iranian “government officials have increasingly voiced their belief that the country’s anti-narcotics law requires reconsideration” due to its “ineffective deterrent effects” and “increasing international criticism.” If Iran reverses the law, it could significantly reduce the rate of executions in the country and address one of the most troubling human rights concerns. In December 2015, the Supreme Court also demanded to review drug-related death sentences issued by the revolutionary courts. The revolutionary courts have been criticized of torturing drug-offenders in order to “secure their death sentence” and reports indicate that judges have sentenced drug-offenders to death based on “intuition.” Despite applauding the minor improvement, Shaheed points out that challenges remain and that the “ruling must be properly implemented.”

The report highlights that Iran is currently ranked as the seventh-most censored country in the world. The government has rejected a number of recommendations for improving freedom of expression, stating that they are “contrary to our fundamental values, Islamic tenets, and the Constitution.” The Special Rapporteur noted “a widening crackdown on freedom of expression and opinion” carried out by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The arbitrary arrests are often connected to allegations made by ultra-conservative news outlets.

There has also been a disturbing continuation of the pattern of unlawful detentions of journalists and artists. According to the report, 47 journalists and internet users have been imprisoned since the beginning of 2016 and at least six cultural figures since October 2015. Although the Special Rapporteur welcomed the recent release of Jason Rezaian and other imprisoned Americans, he urged authorities to “pave the way for the release of all remaining detainees unlawfully held in the country’s prisons.”

Shaheed also noted that only one percent of the reformist candidates were initially allowed to run for parliamentary elections by the Guardian Council. President Rouhani had accused the Guardian Council of an “intrusive role” in the elections and stated, “all individuals wishing to serve to the country should be allowed to run for office.” However, the Supreme Leader supported the Guardian Council, stating “nowhere in the world do decision-makers allow those who have no faith in the system to run.” There have also been several reports of attacks against Reformists by hardline Basij members. “At the time of this writing none of those responsible for the disruptions had been arrested or punished by the authorities,” noted Shaheed.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur articulated concern regarding backlash against women’s rights. He highlighted that women are often prohibited from independent travel abroad, particularly after the case of Niloufar Ardalan – the captain of the Iranian futsal (indoor soccer) team who sought to compete in Malaysia without the permission of her husband – gained widespread publicity. The parliament also voted in favor of a framework for a “Comprehensive Population and Family Excellence Plan,” which discriminates against women in the workplace by prioritizing men over women in employment decisions. The Rapporteur urged Iran to “amend laws that violate the rights of women, or that undermine their equal and full enjoyment of civil, political, social and economic rights, including the rights to freedom of movement, work, and the right to be free from discrimination, especially in the workplace”.

Shaheed highlighted continued infringements on minority rights, particularly the arbitrary arrest of Baha’i followers and the shutdowns of their businesses. He believes that the “existence of systematic policies designed to discriminate, target, harass and economically deprive them of the right to a livelihood” is of particular concern. Unfortunately, the government has not shown any regrets about their abuses and justified their actions by trying to paint them as a security threat. Yet, a positive development is President Rouhani’s appointment of Dr. Saleh Adibi – the first Iranian Sunni to serve as a permanent representative of the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian government is still denying Shaheed’s entrance to the country, however he notes that the government has enhanced its engagement with his work through increased dialogue. The Special Rapporteur believes that Iran’s human rights situation can significantly improve if the government implements his recommendations. In order to improve the government’s ability to uphold its obligations, the Special Rapporteur recommends a voluntary midterm review. 

NIAC supported the establishment of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and has since supported efforts to renew the mandate of Dr. Ahmed Shaheed.

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