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13/07/2023 English, HRC 53, Human Rights Council, Independent International Fact-Finding Mission

Recap: 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council

From June 19 to July 14 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Council held its 53rd regular session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The session featured several meetings, events, and remarks from Member States on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran:

Opening of the Session / Global Update from High Commissioner Volker Türk

June 19

On June 19, High Commissioner Volker Türk opened the 53rd session of the council with a global update on human rights, and briefly touched on Iran’s limited engagement with human rights bodies: “Iran continues to engage FORMALLY with my Office, including on issues pertaining to discrimination against women and girls; accountability for severe human rights violations; and imminent executions. YET substantive implementation of the State’s obligations under international human rights law remains very limited, and I am concerned by the massive recent increase in executions, as well as continuing discrimination against women and girls. Iran does not cooperate with the Special Procedures country mandate, and has received only one Special Procedures mandate holder in the past 17 years”. Watch the High Commissioner’s full remarks on Iran above.

Interactive Dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner

June 20

On June 20, following High Commissioner Volker Türk’s global update on human rights, the HRC held an interactive dialogue for member states to engage with Mr. Turk on his latest annual report (A/HRC/53/17), during which a number of states commented on the human rights situation in Iran.

Lithuania“We are also alarmed by the grave violations in Iran and Afghanistan, especially against women and girls.”
Netherlands“We are witnessing severe crackdowns on independent media and media workers in Iran and Sudan.”
USA“We again condemn the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in Iran.”
Australia“Australia is alarmed that the rights of women and girls remain under threat globally; repressive authorities grossly deprive women and girls of their human rights in Afghanistan and Iran”
New Zealand“We call on Iranian authorities to end the weaponisation of criminal procedures and the use of the death penalty.”
Sweden“In Iran, the human rights situation remains deeply concerning, not least for women, protesters, human rights defenders and persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities.”
European Union“We are concerned about human rights in Iran, including discrimination against women and girls.” (Find the EU’s extended statement here.)

Presentation of UNSG’s report on the human rights situation on Iran

June 21

Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif presented UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ interim report (A/HRC/53/23) on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran during the session’s 6th meeting. The report outlined the ways in which respect for rights has deteriorated in both law and practice, including violations of women’s rights, freedom of opinion and expression, protection from arbitrary detention and deprivation of life, as well as protection from excessive use of force. According to al-Nashif, “the report shows a worsening human rights landscape in Iran coupled with the chronic lack of meaningful and effective avenues for the population to voice grievances or indeed to seek remedy”. The report highlights that the number of persons executed who belong to minorities remains “disproportionately high, particularly for drug-related or security-related crimes. One-third of those executed in 2022 belonged to the Baloch minority, who also accounted for half of drug-related executions.”

The UN Secretary General’s recommendations include:

  • “Immediately halt the execution of all individuals, including those sentenced to death in the context of protests and for drug-related offences, and to refrain from further application of the death penalty,” pending the introduction of a moratorium on its use and ultimately total abolishment.
  • “Release immediately all persons detained arbitrarily”
  • “Guarantee the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and of peaceful assembly” and “Uphold the full respect for due process and fair trial rights,” in line with international standards.
  • “Take further steps to eliminate all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls in law and in practice”
  • “Protect the rights of all persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, and address all forms of discrimination against them without delay”
  • “Conduct independent, impartial, prompt, thorough and effective investigations into reported poison attacks on girls’ schools” and “allegations of the excessive and lethal use of force and firearms when not strictly unavoidable to protect life, including during protests” with a view to hold perpetrators to account.

The Deputy High Commissioner also noted that “substantive engagement on the State’s obligations under international law remained limited, as was the implementation of recommendations from international human rights mechanisms.

For more information on recommendations to Iran from UN mechanisms, see Impact Iran’s Iran Rights Index, which assesses the implementation of hundreds of said recommendations, dating back to 1993.

Side Event on Freedom of Assembly and Association

June 30

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly Clément Voule hosted a side event at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights featuring civil society members from Iran, Sudan, Myanmar and Chile. The side event came off the heels of Mr. Voulé’s interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council on June 28, during which he presented his latest report (A/HRC/53/38).

The side event’s first speaker was Balochistan Human Rights Group’s Sabah Bandoui, who highlighted human rights violations experienced by the Baloch community in the context of peaceful protests. Find Ms. Bandoui’s full remarks here.

“I’d also like to note that coverage of the June protests in Balochistan that ended in the “Bloody Friday” tragedy was scant. The unfortunate reality for marginalized communities in Iran –– and everywhere  –– is that our stories and the struggles they recount often go unheard.  Despite the perseverance and strength that our communities exhibit in the face of systemic and systematic abuses, a lack of resources and access to international media and mainstream NGOs means that too many people never learn about these injustices.”

Oral Update and Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran

July 5

On July 5, the FFMI addressed the Human Rights Council (HRC) for the first time. Sara Hossain, Chair of the FFMI, delivered an oral update on behalf of the FFMI (فارسی).

Ambassador Shara Duncan Villalobos from Costa Rica delivered a joint statement on behalf of 53 member states, including six Latin American states,[1] two states from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,[2] all states but one from the Western and Other States Group,[3] and the whole of EU states[4] (some states belong to more than one group). The group of states raised concerns at “the reports of the ongoing surge of executions in Iran and the authorities’ use of the death penalty as a tool to chill dissent […] often imposed following unfair trials procedures, without due process, and based on forced confessions obtained through torture.” The group of states strongly condemned the execution of three alleged child offenders in 2022 and raised deep concern “that dozens of alleged child offenders remain on death row, at risk of execution.” Notably, the statement also highlighted, “Persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities are being executed at disproportionately high rates; one-third of those executed in 2022 belonged to the Baloch minority.”

During the interactive dialogue, the representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran repeatedly raised “points of order,” interrupting the US, France, and Canada’s statements, for using the term “regime” when speaking of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iranian delegates argued that the term “regime” is disrespectful, and that its use is in violation of UN etiquette. A “point of order” can be raised at any moment during proceedings by a delegation. The President of the Human Rights Council, the Ambassador of the Gambia, enjoined Council Members to act respectfully and dignifiedly and reminded that in line with precedents, the term “regime” may be used if not preceded or followed by a qualification. Delegates from Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Russia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) expressed opposition, emphasizing that “regime” should not be used altogether. Israel’s delegate pointed to the fact that many states opposing the use of the term “regime” in this instance, including the Islamic Republic of Iran itself, had been using the term “regime” to designate Israel in previous statements.

The States of Venezuela, on behalf of the Like-Minded Group countries,[5] on behalf of the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the UN[6], and in an individual capacity, Cuba, Russia, China, DPRK, and Zimbabwe, expressed their opposition to the existence of the FFMI. On the other hand, 15 Member states [7], the EU, Finland on behalf of the Group of Nordic-Baltic Countries [8], Costa Rica, on behalf of a group of 53 states, thanked the FFMI for its oral update, reiterated their support to the mechanism and/or called on the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate with and grant unfettered access to FFMI experts to the country. Iceland added that it is “strongly supportive of the FFM analysing patterns of impunity and identification of individuals and entities responsible for alleged violations and the establishment of facts regarding their responsibility” and urged “Iranian authorities to reconsider their initial rejection of the mechanism.”

Of note during the interactive dialogue:

  • 10 Member states [9], the EU, Finland (on behalf of the Group of Nordic-Baltic Countries) and Costa Rica on behalf of a group of 53 states raised alarm at the recent surge of executions based on alleged offenses that do not meet the threshold of most serious crime under international law, including in the context of protests. 6 Member states (Argentina, Belgium, Ireland, Liechtenstein, North Macedonia, Spain) and Finland, on behalf of the Group of Nordic-Baltic Countries, called on Iranian authorities to halt all pending executions and to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty.
  • 8 Member states (Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands) and the EU mentioned the human rights of Iranian minorities, some highlighting institutionalized discrimination in law and practice. Among them, Costa Rica emphasized that minorities, including the Baluch and Kurds, represent disproportionate numbers among those killed during the protests and in execution statistics.
  • 3 Member states (Belgium, Moldova, Romania) and Finland on behalf of the Group of Nordic-Baltic Countries highlighted mandatory veiling laws and practices as part of systemic and pervasive discrimination against women and girls in Iran. Belgium condemned, in particular, “the use of face-recognition technology to monitor unveiled women” and called for “the immediate disbandment of the morality police.” On behalf of Nordic-Baltic countries, Finland expressed alarm at “the draft bill regarding the enforcement of compulsory veiling laws and the draft Penal Code provisions.”

To conclude, the experts of the FFMI answered points and questions raised by delegates during the interactive dialogue.

  • Experts ensured that the FFMI had adopted a victim-centered protocol to ensure the security and confidentiality of all victims coming forward to the mechanism, including victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Experts reiterated the importance of the international community’s role in encouraging the Iranian authorities to cooperate with the FFMI. They ensured that they had tried to contact the Government repeatedly, including to request access to the country, victims, and witnesses. They also informed the Council that they had sought contact with the Committee established by the Government to investigate the protests since September 2022. Experts emphasized that Member States could support the work of the FFMI by granting access to the team in their territory so that experts may speak with victims and witnesses. They should also grant protection and support to victims and witnesses on their soil. Experts also encouraged States to support civil society, journalists, and lawyers.
  • Experts acknowledged the concerns about the slow pace of the search for truth and accountability, which has resulted in accountability gaps and victims and families seeking legal avenues outside Iran. Experts emphasized that the international community is very important in supporting efforts in other national jurisdictions to ensure truth, accountability, and reparation.
  • Experts answered the allegations of bias raised by Member States that they are committed to working impartially and independently in accordance with all UN principles. They made clear that they do not accept any instructions from any government.

Press Conference with the FFMI

July 5

Following their interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council, the Fact-Finding Mission on Iran held a press conference at the United Nations Office in Geneva. The FFMI’s 3 experts each shared opening remarks, detailing the scope of their mandate and a broad overview of the human rights violations the FFM is investigating. The experts then responded to a series of questions from the media, which include the excerpts below:

  • A journalist from Iran International asked about the main challenges the mechanism has faced in its first 200 days, noting several member states’ oppositions to the mandate. Chair Sara Hossain responded that the FFM’s main challenges include not having access to the country, ensuring the security and safety of everyone the FFM is in contact with, as well as contending with disinformation. On opposition to the mandate, Hossain made note of “a sort of polarized response. I think for us as a mandate that is concerned with human rights issues, and particularly with the application of human rights law, I think we acknowledge the world as in the very polarized state. We understand there are many challenges, but it’s critical that we have to uphold the universality of human rights, and we have to uphold the mechanisms that exist in this very polarized and difficult world to try and establish human rights principles, establish where violations have occurred, and take action.”
  • Radio France‘s Jérémie Lanche asked the experts how many witnesses they spoken to thus far, as well as more information on the experts’ recent meeting with an Iranian committee, to which Ms. Hossain responded: “We’d rather not share the exact numbers of how many people used spoken to and where and so on but it is ongoing, we have started and we’re taking interviews in different means and methods. In terms of the committee, we did meet with the special committee and we were able to have discussions yesterday about their procedures and methods and we got some responses around that. We were interested in learning whether they would be putting out public calls, whether they would be having any public hearings, how they would engage the public in general, how they would meet the requirements, the minimum requirements regarding any domestic investigation, machinery which include the promptness requirement […] is in question, given it’s just been set up very recently. But how would they meet the requirements regarding transparency and independence and impartiality and effectiveness in terms of the preparedness and in terms of their processes? So we essentially asked those questions.
  • A journalist from BBC Persian asked the chair about the time period allotted to the mandate: “there seems to be a lot more to do. Are you confident that in the period until March you can actually do the job or do you need more time to do justice to this thing?” to which Ms. Hossain replied “I think what I wouldn’t say right now that we don’t think we can conclude by March, but I think it may well be considerations about whether we can report as comprehensively as you would wish to by March. And I think we would have to make that assessment shortly before we reach that point”.
  • The Swiss News Agency‘s Laurent Sierro asked the experts what they made of Special Rapporteur on Iran Javaid Rehman’s recent conclusions that “the behavior of the security forces towards the demonstrators after Mahsa Amini’s death amounted to crimes against humanity. I know that it’s very early and that your report is due to be released in March but you have already gathered an indication that could go in the same direction?”. Ms. Hossain responded by detailing the differences between Mr. Rehman’s mandate and that of the Fact-Finding Mission’s, and emphasizing that “because we are in an investigative process, just as one of the previous questions mentioned, we are still very much in the earlier stages of our investigation process. So I think we wouldn’t comment right now on our findings and analysis. We’d ask you to wait until our final report for that”.

[1] Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay
[2] Albania and Bosnia-and-Herzegovina
[3] Andorra, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Israel, San Marino, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Canada, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Finland, Malta, France, Monaco, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, United States of America, Greece, New Zealand
[4] Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden
[5] Syria, Cuba, Iran – Islamic Republic of
[6] Algeria, Angola, Belarus, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Cambodia, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran – Islamic Republic of, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea , Lao People’s Democratic Republic , Mali, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Syrian Arab Republic, Zimbabwe, State of Palestine
[7] Albania, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Spain.
[8] Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden
[9]France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Moldova, New Zealand, Slovenia, Switzerland, U.S.