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March 19, 2015

UN: Iran Human Rights Worsens, Hopes If Diplomacy Succeeds

Washington, DC – The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, has issued a new report documenting the worsening human rights situation in Iran. 

In 2014, the report says, Iran executed 753 people – the highest number in 12 years – and continued to commit violations from politically motivated arrests to the trampling of free speech and religious persecution. 

The situation has clearly gotten worse, despite the promises of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to improve the situation inside the country. “The multiple factions involved in the state are perhaps trying to counter the president’s reform efforts,” said Shaheed. “In very simple language, the argument is that there are elements which are hardline, for want of a better term, who might want to undermine the president’s image as a reformist.”

Shaheed suggested that diplomatic success at the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran could usher in opportunities to utilize diplomacy to improve Iran’s human rights situation. “If there is improvement in terms of the engagement on security issues,” he said, “there is potential for improvement in other areas as engagement widens, and if you look at what human rights steward states are saying in this area, the expressions are that they remain committed to pursuing human rights promotion in the country.”

Indeed, a major facet of Shaheed’s approach is his call for increased diplomatic collaboration between the Iranian government and the UN. In a recent address to the United Nations Human Rights Council, he stated that “we must remain steadfast in our encouragement of the recent deepening of Iran’s engagement with the international community, which presents numerous opportunities for future cooperation,especially with regard to capacity building to advance the country’s international human rights obligations.” 

However, Shaheed’s report highlights a disturbing pattern of human rights violations that persist, in particular the right to free speech and a free press. According to the report, “as of December 2014, 30 journalists were detained,” often on charges as nebulous as “propaganda against the system,” or “spreading falsehoods with intent to agitate the public consciousness.” Furthermore, authorities continue to block certain websites and shut down critical TV stations with impunity. 

In addition, religious minorities, in particular Baha’is, continue to face discrimination. For example, the Iranian authorities have not authorized the building of a Sunni mosque since 1979. Furthermore, the report states, “despite statements from high-ranking officials that Baha’is are entitled to citizenship rights, they continue to face discrimination, arrest, and arbitrary detention in connection with their religion.” 

The Iranian government, the report notes, contests these accusations of religious persecution and other abuses. The report states that the Iranian government “maintained…that no one in Iran is arbitrarily detained, and that all accused individuals are granted due process and fair trials in accordance with relevant domestic law.” Such claims are frequently at odds with the report’s findings. 

Despite the violations noted in the report, there are some signs of gradual progress. According the report, “the [Iranian] Government communicated its support for some 65 percent of all recommendations” received during the country’s UN human rights review, and there appears to be at least some credibility to these avowals. For example, the report hails the prosecution of Saeed Mortazavi, who is accused of “facilitating illegal detentions.”    

Unfortunately, the Iranian government continues to deny Shaheed entrance to Iran, “despite several statements since 2011 regarding the Government’s intent to strengthen this aspect of its cooperation with the human rights mechanisms.” NIAC has consistently condemned the Iranian government’s human rights violations and urged that Dr. Shaheed be granted entrance to the country. The mandate for the human rights monitor, which NIAC has strongly supported, will be up for renewal by the UN in the coming weeks.

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