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Iran Pressured to Open Doors to U.N. Rights Investigators

Omid Memarian

GENEVA, Jun 11 2010 (IPS) - The Iranian government rejected charges that it has violated human rights and freedom of speech and assembly before a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva Thursday – the same day that the Iranian opposition’s request to hold a peaceful protest was denied by authorities.

Iranian officials denied reports that opposition prisoners had been tortured at the U.N. review in Geneva. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

Iranian officials denied reports that opposition prisoners had been tortured at the U.N. review in Geneva. Credit: Omid Memarian/IPS

Although Tehran insists there is a standing invitation for U.N. special human rights rapporteurs to visit, none have gained access to the country since 2005.

“We would like see the Iranians actually follow through with concrete action on their commitment to allow special rapporteurs, as well as the [U.N.] high commissioner’s office, to enter Iran and do full investigations of the human rights situation,” Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the U.S. representative to the Council, told IPS.

“Claiming that they are open to it is one thing,” she said. “We want to see actual results that convey the sincerity of this statement, and today we see no actions that prove the truth of that intention.”

In its official reply, the Iranian delegation welcomed visits by the special rapporteurs in “due course”, without specifying any time frame.

At the Council’s periodic review, the United States, Britain and Norway explicitly criticised Iran, while strategic partners or neighbours – such as China, Kuwait, Pakistan, Venezuela and Cuba – defended Tehran’s human rights record.

One Western diplomat told IPS on the condition of anonymity that the Iranian government had made extensive effort to enlist allies to sign up for the 12 slots allocated to official government speakers, and this had been a serious struggle.

Addressing allegations of torture, particularly following last year’s post-election crackdown, the Iranian delegation asserted that, “Islam is against all forms of torture and the Iran’s constitution forbids it in the strongest terms. Torture is strongly prohibited by the Constitution and other laws of the Country. Torture is a punishable criminal offence and the perpetrator is severely punished.”

“Death sentences are only issued for the most serious crimes and none of the international instruments totally reject them and countries may choose to use capital punishment,” it said in response to charges that political dissidents had been executed after trials utterly lacking in basic protections of due process.

As at previous Council sessions, delegation members complained that criticisms were politically motivated.

“Many of the human rights criticisms directed at Iran are made and produced by Iran’s enemies,” Fatemeh Alia, a conservative member of the Iranian Parliament and a member of the Iranian delegation, told IPS. “If there are any cases, report them to us and we will follow up.”

Iran’s representative at the Council, Javad Larijani, at one point characterised Iran as one of the strongest democracies in the region – a statement that provoked laughter among some audience members.

In the middle of his speech, one member of the audience shouted, “Mr. Larijani, you are lying”, and was escorted outside by the police.

The delegation also defended the situation of “freedom of expression and assembly” and said that this is “guaranteed” in Iran. “Annually, numerous political and trade unions assemblies and meetings are being held,” Iran’s response said.

Ebrahim Mehrati, who was detained during the post-election unrest, severely abused and raped by a baton, was among those who challenged the Islamic Republic’s narrative at a side event in Geneva.

“My friends and I, who have experienced prison in the Islamic Republic and were present at the session yesterday or watched its live web cast, felt so much pain, sadness, and disgust at this inhumane cover-up of truth,” Mehtari told IPS on Friday. “Just search for words such as rape, torture, and repression on the Internet, the truth shines like daylight.”

Ten non-governmental organisations – seven of them critical and three in support of the government – also presented their cases. A member of the official Iranian delegation shook hands and thanked the Iranian NGO representatives after their presentation.

“The Iranian delegation’s performance and description of the situation in the country at the Human Rights Council on Thursday served to mislead the international community about the realities on the ground,” Dokhi Fassihian, executive director of the Democracy Coalition Project, told IPS. Her group was among those that addressed the Council.

“The fact that the Iranian government will not allow independent U.N. human rights monitors in the country – at the request of the international community – proves they have something to hide,” she said.

“Javad Larijani’s attempt to bypass discussion of Iran’s serious human rights crisis and particularly his claim that no one is tortured in Iran is contradicted by so many testimonies of victims,” Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told IPS.

“Just during the past few days, several more human rights defenders have been detained, including Narges Mohammadi, a close aide to [Nobel prize-winning attorney] Shirin Ebadi,” he said.

“Furthermore, coerced confessions, taken under duress, continue to be broadcast on Iranian TV on a daily basis,” Ghaemi added.

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