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RIGHTS: Iran Rebuffs U.N. Criticism, Denies Abuses

Omid Memarian

GENEVA, Feb 18 2010 (IPS) - International human rights groups and Iranian activists say Iran’s decision to reject major recommendations made by the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday is disappointing and signals that Tehran has no intention of easing the crackdown on dissent in the country.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Credit: Ehsan Norouzi

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Credit: Ehsan Norouzi

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, said on Monday during the review of Iran’s human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process that Iran is open to accepting human rights rapporteurs in the country.

But Iranian officials backtracked on this pledge Wednesday in their formal response to the recommendations of Council members.

During the session Monday, a number of countries criticised the government’s use of excessive force following the disputed June 2009 elections, calling for the release of political prisoners, respect for women’s rights, and an end to the harassment of journalists, bloggers, and religious and ethnic minorities.

Larijani characterised these critics as an “organised clique” and said they were “very dangerous to the atmosphere” of the Human Rights Council.

Iran’s top representative at the Council, he is the brother of Sadeq Larijani, the head of Iran’s judiciary. His other brother, Ali Larijani, is speaker of the parliament.

“I want to say that we would take the suggestions under advisement,” said Larijani on Monday during the Council session. “I hope this positive cooperation and the spirit of the dialogue will be continued. We should pay attention to cultural and historical values and the roles these cultures play in human rights.”

“We mustn’t think that all people live in Washington, Paris and London. Let’s imagine that there may be other ways of life. This is the slogan we have in Iran,” he stated.

A member of the government-sponsored NGOs that accompanied the Iranian delegation told IPS on the condition of anonymity that Iranian authorities believe that the criticism by the Western countries is politically motivated and related to their pressure to disband Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Those countries like the United States that have an embarrassing human rights record [of their own] are not in a position to advise Iran on human rights issues,” one said.

The Iranian delegation accepted 123 recommendations, mainly on broad issues like access to education. It reserved response on 20 others, and rejected 45 recommendations, mainly those related to the country’s major human rights challenges over the past three decades and particularly since the Jun. 12 presidential elections, officially won by incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International, told IPS that the Iranian response was often contradictory.

“On the one hand, the delegation accepted a recommendation to respect the human rights of prisoners and detainees and to investigate and stop immediately any alleged abuse, and on the other hand, rejected a recommendation on fair trial guarantees and right to a lawyer,” she said.

“In this review, we have witnessed Iran’s denial of human rights violations and negation of international law,” Hadj Sahraoui added.

Ending the execution of juvenile offenders, upholding fair trial guarantees, investigating allegations of torture, including rape, and releasing people detained for peacefully exercising their human rights are among the recommendations that were rejected by the Iranian delegation.

It also rejected a recommendation that the new penal code more clearly define or remove offences open to political manipulation, such as so-called “offences against national and international security,” currently used to curtail freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

An invitation to allow the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit the country’s detention facilities was also denied, as was a request “to repeal or amend all discriminatory provisions against women and girls in national legislation” and “to sign and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).”

Citing the examples of the U.S.-run detention facilities at Abu Ghraib, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Larijani asked, “Were they closed down with the same speed? We don’t claim there are no shortcomings. There are shortcomings everywhere.”

“There is violence against women in the U.S. There are violations everywhere. But the question is which country’s policies are used as the basis for measuring the violations? I must say that our legal system confronts any kind of corruption in our police force and in other areas,” he told the Council.

He also asserted that no human rights defenders were imprisoned in Iran, and that those who some claim are activists are either spies or are facing terrorism-related charges.

Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based human rights group, told IPS that during the Monday session in Geneva, the Iranian delegation not only denied the current realities in Iran, but attempted to undermine international human rights standards by resorting to cultural relativism.

“The session was a success in the sense that for the first time the Iranian government was put on the spot regarding recent atrocities. Its denials did not fool anyone,” Ghaemi said.

Karim Sadjadpour, a leading Iran analyst at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told IPS, “Though Larijani tried to paint Iran as a human rights utopia, in practical terms, the Iranian delegation refused to condemn the use of torture, execution of minors, imprisonment of journalists, and discriminatory laws against women and religious minorities.”

Last month, Iran executed two political activists, Arash Rahmaniour and Mohamad Alizamani. Authorities have confirmed that nine other activists are currently on death row.

“Either Iranian officials are profoundly lacking in self-awareness or they simply have contempt for international public opinion,” Sadjadpour said. “It doesn’t seem to occur to them, however, that when they declare Iran a bastion of free speech, justice, and democracy, they above all insult the intelligence of their own people.”

“I think years from now, historians will look back at Larijani’s performance as an example of the hubris and arrogance that ultimately expedited the regime’s demise,” he added.

On Monday, hundreds of Iranians living in Europe and North America protested the worsening human rights situation in Iran just a few blocks away from the United Nations building in Geneva where the meeting was ongoing.

Iran’s rejection of the Council’s report was met with disappointment. “This shows that there is no intention for any change in the foreseeable future,” an Iranian woman activist told IPS in Geneva.

On Wednesday, Iranian authorities vowed to strengthen cooperation with human rights organisations, yet they failed to respond to repeated requests by Amnesty International, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and other groups to meet with members of the Iranian delegation.

The delegation was accompanied by a number of NGOs from Iran which, according to Iranian activists following the session in Geneva, were government organised groups.

“The major human rights activists and NGOs in Iran are either silenced by extensive pressure or reside inside Evin prison in Tehran,” one observer told IPS on the condition of anonymity.

“According to my conversation with a few NGO members during the session, the authorities have told them not to talk or meet with international human rights organisations and independent Iranian activists who were participating in this conference,” she added.

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