Washington, DC –Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, submitted his first report to the U.N. Human Rights Council this week, cataloguing “allegations that produce a striking pattern of violations of fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law.”
Expanding on a September 2011 interim report that highlighted various human rights issues, the full report is divided between legal issues and the situation of human rights. Shaheed’s findings portrayed an growing human rights crisis inside of Iran, punctuated by “the alarming increase in executions since 2003.” Whereas in the interim report he noted over 200 executions had been announced, as of December 2011, 421 executions were officially announced while 249 additional secret executions were reported to Shaheed. A large majority of the executions were allegedly related to drug offenses, something Shaheed emphasizes does not meet the “serious crime” standard set by international law.
The report comes at a time of escalating tensions and concerns of possible Israeli or U.S. military confrontation with Iran. Human rights and pro-democracy advocates inside Iran warned in a report last year that war would be devastating for their movement, cautioning that military conflict would provoke intensified crackdowns against the government’s domestic opponents. Iranian human rights defenders have strongly cautioned that even the rising threat of war has undermined civil society and emboldened hardliners inside of Iran.
A new round of diplomacy is expected within the coming weeks between members of the UN Security Council and Iran, however it is expected to focus exclusively on the nuclear issue. Diplomacy supporters have called for bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Iran that are broadened beyond the nuclear file to address human rights and regional issues.
In addition to spotlighting the increase in executions, Shaheed’s report outlines violations of “students being deprived of their right to education on the basis of their political and student activities critical of Government or university policies.” It also documents systematic discrimination against women, homosexuals, members of religious minorities, political activists, and lawyers—which has a force multiplier effect of denying legal representation for those whose rights have already been violated.
Another issue of focus in the report is freedom of the press in Iran. As of the report’s writing, 42 journalists were imprisoned in Iran, the highest of any country in the world. At least another 150 journalists have fled the country since the 2009 presidential election for fear of persecution. Moreover, Shaheed received information that 50 publications have been suspended since the election and most press trials are conducted in private, often barring the journalists from appearing at them at all, despite stipulations in the Iranian Constitution.
Iranian representatives denounced the report, saying it was “full of lies.” However, the rapporteur has enjoyed broad support at the UN Human Rights Council and the one-year mandate for the office is expected to be extended for another year.
The UN human rights monitor post was first reestablished in March of this year. The post had been in place since 1986, but the mandate for the position failed to be renewed in 2002. The reestablishment of the human rights monitor was supported by a broad coalition of states at the Human Rights Council, and was strongly advocated by international human rights organizations including the Democracy Coalition Project and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and groups including the National Iranian American Council. Supporters of the post have argued that a broad, multilateral effort that enjoyed the imprimatur of the international community was critical in pressing Iran to resolve concerns about its human rights obligations.
Shaheed, who was appointed June of 2011, has been denied access by Iranian officials to enter the country as part of his investigation of Iran’s human rights situation. Although he was granted meetings with the Permanent Missions of Iran in New York and Geneva, Shaheed has not yet been granted the opportunity to engage with Iranian government representatives in any substantive discussion about the cases presented in the report. The findings in Shaheed’s report are based on information obtained from various “independent and reliable sources” such as human rights organizations, first-hand accounts from witnesses, and families of detainees in Iran.
Shaheed formerly served as the foreign minister of the Maldives until 2007, when he resigned in protest over the government’s failure to implement democratic reforms. He was appointed to the Iran monitor post in June 2011 and will report to the Human Rights Council on at least an annual basis so long as the post’s mandate is renewed.