Washington, DC – Human rights promises to be a central topic of discussion in Iran over the next few weeks, as two major UN human rights reports are scheduled for release. This week, the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon released his report to the UN Human Rights Council regarding the human rights situation in Iran. The UN Special Rapporteur to Iran will follow with his own, more comprehensive report, in the coming weeks – ahead of an expected vote to extend his mandate at the end of the month. While the reports cover the final months of the Ahmadinejad presidency in addition to the beginning of Rouhani’s term, they will be important to gauge whether Iran’s new president is following through on his campaign pledges and taking the steps to herald a new era in Iran.
The UN Secretary-General’s report suggests mixed results from the Rouhani administration. The report notes that the new Iran government “has taken some commendable steps in the area of human rights,” including the release of high-profile political prisoners such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, and the introduction of a Citizens’ Rights Charter. “Despite these welcome developments, a large number of political prisoners, including high profile lawyers, human rights activists, women rights activists and journalists, continue to serve sentences for charges that are believed to be linked to the exercise of their freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the report states.
The report also notes with alarm the escalating rates of execution in Iran in the second half of 2013 and extending into 2014, including of political prisoners and following “proceedings that did not meet international human rights standards on fair trial and due process guarantees.” The Secretary-General also outlines systemic discrimination against religious minorities such as Bahai’is, including restrictions on access to higher education and public sector employment, and against the formation of religious institutions.
Troublingly, the antagonism that exists between Iran’s Government and significant parts of its population – most especially in the fields of civil liberties, Internet freedoms, women’s rights, and equal protection for ethnic and religious minorities – has continued apace. Despite impressive gains in the developmental field, including in reducing poverty and further expanding women’s education, political and social freedoms remain under severe restrictions in Iran. The Secretary-General concludes that the “new administration has [made no] significant improvement in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and opinion.”
The Secretary-General’s report criticizes Iran’s continued failure to “engage substantively” with the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Special Rapporteur to Iran. This failure has extended, the report notes, into Rouhani’s term in office, as the Government remains non-responsive to the Council’s request for information and refuses to permit a visit from the Special Rapporteur.
The report also expresses “the hope that [the nuclear negotiations] will ease the impact of sanctions that chiefly affected the general population, particularly the distribution of medical and pharmaceutical supplies.” The UN Secretary-General promised to further detail the impact of the sanctions on Iranians’ human rights in a coming report timed for the opening of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. In previous reports, the Secretary-General has noted the detrimental effects of the sanctions on human rights in Iran, partially ascribing the rise in commodity and energy prices, increased rates of unemployment, and the shortages of medicines and other necessary items to the sanctions.
NIAC has strongly supported multilateral mechanisms such as the UN mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran and consistently called for Iran’s government to release political prisoners, honor its human rights obligations, and grant unhindered access to the Special Rapporteur to investigate the human rights situation in Iran. Recently, NIAC reiterated its call for the U.S. and others to expand engagement with Iran beyond the nuclear issue to include human rights, arguing that doing so is ultimately the only means to achieve a sustainable diplomatic solution.