By Neda Shahidyazdani and Reza Ghazinouri
This month at the United Nations General Assembly, Mexico and its partners in Latin America will vote on a resolution at the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in Iran. Mexico has supported this resolution for years, and we urge it to continue to do so.
Why is this year so critical?
Iran has engaged in an effort, to build stronger diplomatic and trade ties in Latin American, targeting the likes of Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, and Mexico. This comes after the multilateral nuclear agreement when Iran wants to show itself as a more cooperative member of the international community. While this agreement should be welcomed as a boon to peace globally, it should not change the position of Mexico, because what is not different this year is Iran’s human rights record.
Indeed, Iran is seeing some of the worst abuses in a long time in some areas, including the use of the death penalty and women’s rights.
This year, Iran has executed people at a higher rate than it has for two decades, approximately three deaths a day. This makes Iran the number one executor per capita in the world. It’s on track to execute more than 900 people by January 1.
It’s not just the numbers that are shocking. Most of these executions are conducted after proceedings that fall dramatically short of internationally accepted fair trial standards. Lawyers are often not present, trials can last mere minutes, and often, the only evidence against the accused is a confession derived under torture. Most executions target the most vulnerable groups, the poor and minorities. Some executions seem to be politically motivated, targeting people for non-violent political activism.
Fittingly, the UN Secretary General has called on Iran several times to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, but to no avail.
Iran also executes people who were minors at the time of the crime, including at least 17 juvenile offenders since January 2014. For example, Fatemeh Salbehi was convicted of killing her husband, whom she had reportedly been forced to marry when she was just 16. Several UN Special Rapporteurs denounced this juvenile execution and lack of judicial leniency given that Salbehi was a victim of domestic abuse, including forced early marriage.
Salbehi’s case also shows how the plight of women has worsened. Indeed, early marriage of girls under the age of 13 is on the rise after new government policies designed to encourage population growth.
Women actually face discrimination in nearly every area of life. Women cannot be judges, and no Iranian woman has ever been allowed by authorities to run for president. A women’s testimony is worth only half of a man’s in court. Women cannot pass their nationality on to their children, and Iranian law requires women to seek their husbands’ permission to travel, work and attend university.
These laws are out of touch with the reality of Iranian women who are among the most educated and skilled women in the region.
Last month, Niloufar Ardalan, the captain of Iran’s female indoor soccer team (futsal), was prevented from traveling to compete in a tournament in Malaysia because her husband, sports journalist Mahdi Toutounchi, refused to let her renew her passport. Ardalan represents an athlete capable of competing at the highest level but was unable to pursue her talents and represent her nation because of cruel and unequal legal norms.
Still, lawmakers are looking to make things worse with several proposed laws. One draft law would require businesses to hire men over women, and married people over unmarried people.
For decades, at great risk, Iranian civil society has been trying to advocate for more human rights protections. Dozens of human rights defenders, including death penalty abolitionist Narges Mohammadi and women’s rights activist Bahareh Hedayat, are currently in prison as a result of their peaceful efforts.
Iran even blocks the UN from conducting human rights investigations on the ground, not letting a single Special Rapporteur, the UN independent rights experts, into the country for over a decade.
We all welcome Iran’s steps at increased diplomacy. Mexico should push for Iranian authorities to change the human rights situation on the ground. Supporting the General Assembly resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran could be the tipping point in Iran reducing its illegal executions and ongoing assault on women’s rights.
Neda Shahidyazdani is a human rights lawyer and advocate focused on the Middle East and China. She is the UN advocacy officer for Impact Iran. Reza Ghazinouri is the program director of United for Iran; born and raised in Iran, he was expelled and blocked from finishing his academic career at the University of Tehran because of his outspoken pro-democracy student activism.