March 15, 2011

Holding Iran Accountable for its Human Rights Record

Deputy Assistant Secretary Suzanne Nossel

spoke today on Capitol Hill at an event sponsored by the National
Iranian American Council before Congressional staffers, civil society
and the press to make the case for creating a Special Rappateur on Iran
at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The case for a new mandate focused on human rights in Iran is
powerful,” Nossel said, explaining that the human rights situation in
Iran has deteriorated since the 2009 Presidential elections. “The
Iranian government has jammed foreign broadcasts and blocked internet
sites; 28 journalists and 9 bloggers are currently in prison. The
execution rate continues to rise and is now the highest per capita in
the world..with credible estimates suggesting that 80 people were
executed in the first two months of this year.”

This is by no means the entire list of human rights abuses,
but as Nossel pointed out the regime continues to deny responsibility.
In an effort to hold Iran accountable, the Human Rights Council will
vote on whether to call for a Special Rappateur on Iran next week.

Nossel explained why the UN is a critical arena to show Tehran that its
treatment of its own people, its low regard for human rights and its
pattern of abuses have consequences. “While we can and do convey that
message on our own, the UN allows us to make clear that Iran’s poor
human rights record is of grave concern not just to the U.S. and Europe,
but to the entire world. The Iranian activists and dissidents we speak
to confirm the obvious: Tehran cares about what happens at the United
Nations. But so do we.”

A Special Rapporteur is a prominent independent expert empowered by the
United Nations and its membership to carry out monitoring and reporting
on an individual country situation. The Rapporteur carries the
imprimatur of the entire international community, and in this case would
deliver information and messages that would be difficult for Tehran to
dismiss or counter (though they’ll surely try). This individual would
report at least annually to both the General Assembly in New York and
the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Late last year Ted Piccone at the Brookings Institution published a comprehensive study
of the work of UN Special Rapporteurs. He found that such mechanisms
“represents one of the most effective tools of the international human
rights system” and found that they “have a direct impact on elevating
attention to important and sensitive human rights problems by government
officials, nongovernmental organizations, the media and politicians.”

Special Rappateurs serve as key conduits for victims of human rights
abuse and human rights defenders so that their suffering does not occur
in silence. By speaking the names of dissidents and prisoners, Special
Rapporteurs can help save lives.

Nossel insisted that Tehran knows it is under scrutiny. “They have sent a
Deputy Foreign Minister to lobby in Geneva and are approaching
individual delegations at a relentless pace,” she said. “In many
countries Iran can invoke trade relationships and other equities to
exert persuasive influence. They also benefit from regional bloc
dynamics that can result in large groups of countries voting in unison
to defend their own. Finally, they will play on the aversion many
capitals have to country-specific resolutions, often motivated by fear
that someday the spotlight may be turned on them. So we face a
difficult battle with more twists and turns to come as the Council
session enters its final weeks.”

Joanne Levine is a Senior Advisor in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.




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