“My Government has always been and continues to be, fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights as well as fulfilling its relevant obligations under international legally binding instruments on human rights.”
Over the past four decades, there have been countless reports from the UN Secretary-General, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Treaty Bodies’ concluding observations, UN experts’ statements and communications, and civil society documentation reporting extensively on Iran’s failure to uphold its human rights obligations under international legally binding instruments. All have been met with Iran’s unfounded denial or outright contempt.
Notably, Iran has shown little to no commitment to the promotion and protection of women’s and girls’ rights and fulfilling its international obligations under the ICCPR, ICESCR, CERD or CRC, repeatedly ignoring recommendations from multiple UN bodies and experts, including ratifying CEDAW, or raising the age of criminal responsibility for women which is currently at 9 years old.
As recently asserted by ten UN experts, the “continuum of long-standing, pervasive, gender-based discrimination [is] embedded in legislation, policies and societal structures. All of which have been devastating for women and girls in the country for the past four decades.” During the Arria formula meeting on the ongoing protests in Iran held on Wednesday, 2nd November 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Dr. Javaid Rehman affirmed that “the law exonerates violence against girls and women in a variety of ways.” Repeated calls “for accountability to the government to end structural gender-based discriminatory laws and practices, as well as other human rights violations” have largely remained ignored.
Speaking of the current nationwide protests ongoing in Iran and the violent state crackdown on protestors, UN experts also added that “This is not the first time that women and girls in Iran have demanded the dismantling of discriminatory laws and practices and that they have been met with intimidation, repression and violence.”
“The right to free expression and peaceful assembly has been recognized and ensured by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the enjoyment of our people of this rights has always been supported by the Government, the living example of which is many peaceful assemblies that have taken place around Iran.”
While Article 27 of the Constitution ostensibly protects the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the guarantee falls short of international standards set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by requiring that participants are not “in violation of the fundamental principles of Islam”. There is no clear definition or criteria that define what can be considered “fundamental principles of Islam”.
The right to freedom of expression, recognized under Article 24 of the Constitution, is similarly undermined by vague qualifications, such as being “deemed harmful to the principles of Islam or the rights of the public”. Article 40 further allows for restrictions of rights, including peaceful assembly, if their exercise is deemed “injurious to others” or “detrimental to public interests”. These restrictions fail to meet requirements of international standards that limitations are necessary and proportionate, and in pursuit of one of a limited number of narrowly-drawn legitimate aims, per Article 19 of the ICCPR. This grants authorities’ significant discretion to impose overbroad and vague restrictions on individuals’ rights in violation of the country’s international human rights obligations.
As reported by the UN Secretary-General, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran and other UN experts, and countless civil society reports, the authorities frequently resort to the above provisions in order to intimidate, arrest and prosecute individuals who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, including journalists and media workers, trade unionists, and lawyers.
Additionally, Iran’s judiciary has reportedly engaged in over 1,000 legal proceedings against those who participated to the protests following the death of Mahsa Jina Amini, some of them charged with criminal offenses that carry capital punishment.
“Every government is responsible to protect its people against such violent acts and securing the law and order, and Iran is no exception.”
If Iran allegedly protects its people from “violent acts” of vandalism and terrorism, who protects the people from Iran’s state lethal violence?
It has been now seven weeks that protests following the death in custody of Mahsa Jina Amini continue unabated despite Iran’s deadly resolve to crush demonstrations at any costs, including by unlawfully killing, including children, arresting, detaining, and torturing protestors and bystanders and subjecting them to enforced disappearances. UN experts reported that “an alarming number of protesters have already been detained and killed, many of whom are children, women and older persons.” Only within the course of 24 hours, Iranian security forces unlawfully killed at least eight protesters when on 26 October, tens of thousands of people in Iran commemorated the 40th day of mourning for Mahsa Jina Amini’s death.
According to UN Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman, “since the wave of protests, the unabated violent response by security forces including Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps forces and the military Basij forces have led to the reported death of at least 277 persons […] At least 40 children, some of them as young as 11 years old, have been killed by live ammunition at close range and some beaten to deaths.” Additionally, UN experts have qualified as “frightening” the “reports of physical and sexual violence against women and girls during protests and in public spaces, and the denial of other women’s and girl’s rights while in detention, or when acting in public.”
The unrelenting, brutal crackdown on ongoing protests in Iran follows the same patterns of killings and commission of other gross violations of human rights and crimes under international law documented in previous waves of protests, including in December 2017-January 2018, November 2019, July 2021, November 2021, and May 2022. Each time security forces, in blatant violation of international law, have reportedly fired live ammunition at individuals who posed no imminent threat of death or serious injury, misused tear gas and water cannons, violently beaten protesters with batons and sticks, and used weapons and ammunition such stun guns and metal pellets including birdshot, which violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
Over the years, the Iranian authorities have shown nothing but contempt for repeated calls by the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, many UN Special Procedures, UN Member States, and the UN General Assembly to cease the unlawful use of force against protesters and bystanders and to effectively investigate and prosecute those responsible.
“The tragic death of Ms. Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian girl, has broken the hearts of all Iranians including the officials. While a thorough investigation was carried out to determine the circumstances leading to this incident – the preliminary findings of which have been issued publicly – my Government continues to develop and implement all necessary precautionary measures to ensure that such an incident will never happen again.”
Historical and systematic impunity which prevails in the country and “the absence of a system for accountability for violations of human rights” in Iran’s political and legal system, as highlighted by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Dr. Javaid Rehman, means that there is no prospect of independent and impartial investigations by the Iranian authorities themselves.
In fact, UN experts have concluded that “investigations into Amini’s death, as well as others that have been reported since, appears not to have met minimum requirements of independence and impartiality.”
The authorities have tried to deny responsibility by stating that the police had not committed the slightest wrongdoing and suggested that Mahsa Jina Amini had pre-existing health conditions that precipitated her death. Official forensic reports concluded that Amini did not die as a result of “blows to the head and vital organs and limbs of the body” but as a result of heart failure, multiple organ failure caused y cerebral hypoxia, was related to a “surgery for a brain tumor at the age of eight,” or all of the above, depending on the state source speaking of the matter.
Mahsa’s father affirmed that she was healthy prior to the arrest and that bruises were observed on Mahsa’s body following her detention. Mahsa Jina’s family were reportedly not allowed to see her head and body in the hospital, were denied access to her autopsy report, and pressured by authorities to quickly bury her and not to speak publicly about the case. Witnesses have also stated that “morality police” officers subjected Mahsa to violent beatings as they forcibly transferred her to a detention center.
Documentation by human rights defenders and organizations points out that the Iranian authorities routinely blame custodial deaths on suicide, drug overdose, pre-existing health conditions, and illness without conducting investigations.
“Nevertheless, addressing internal issues of States by the Security Council, including through establishing an artificial link between such issues with international peace and security, […] would definitely run counter to the Purposes and Principles of the United Nations explicitly enshrined in its charter […] Against this backdrop, attempts to hold the above-mentioned meeting by the United States constitutes a flagrant violation of the UN Charter and international law”
Human rights feature prominently in the Charter of the United Nations. Promoting respect for human rights is included among the purposes and principles of the organization, notably through Article 55, which provides that “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights” is integral to the “creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations”.
The Security Council has over the years, increasingly considered human rights as an important factor in the situations it is striving to address, and human rights have gradually become accepted as indispensable to the Council’s thinking and action in its efforts to safeguard international peace and security. In a presidential statement adopted by the Council in 1992 acknowledged that human rights verification had become one of the “integral parts of the Security Council’s effort to maintain international peace and security” and welcomed this development.
The Council has received briefings from special procedures and the High Commissioner for Human Rights over the years. Most missions created or authorized by the Council now have various human rights tasks in their mandates, and most missions have substantive human rights capacities or components. In addition, the Council has used or developed bodies such as commissions of inquiry, judicial mechanisms, visiting missions or sanctions—to achieve goals with an impact on human rights in different parts of the world.
The UNSC and the greater UN system have repeatedly recognized that gross and serious human rights violations threaten peace and security and that impunity endangers civilians. Given the scale of unrest and the systematic and systemic patterns of human rights violations witnessed in Iran, there is nothing that precludes the UN Security Council from addressing the situation. We would welcome any steps in New York to support the initiative in Geneva for holding a Special Session with a view to establishing an investigative accountability body.