Statement from IHRDC’s Gissou Nia, from side event “A YEAR OF THE WOMAN, LIFE, FREEDOM MOVEMENT: Crackdown on Dissent and the State of Women’s Rights in Iran”. Find our recap of the 54th session of the Human Rights Council for more information.
I was really delighted to hear the remarks from Dr. Rehman and Dorothy Estrada-Tanck, because this crime of gender apartheid, so there was a… I’ll get into, you know, what we can possibly do, because what I would like to maybe express to this crowd, folks that are working at the missions, that are deeply involved with these procedures in advancing these issues in the system here before the Human Rights Council and in parallel functions, is that there are a lot of people inside Iran who feel let down. They are unclear as to how the UN system will advance change for them, and that is a very real thing that we need to grapple with.
So, I think, you know, part of our job as civil society and lawyers who are working on these files is really to explain to people that we work with inside the country about what the gains that have been made, because there has been a lot of activity. Last fall, we were thrilled to see a special session called at the Human Rights Council and establishment of a fact-finding mission. That was a huge step forward. Still, there are people in Iran who are unclear as to what the function of that mission is, and so we need to be able to explain that a bit better and make them understand why this is a benefit to the cause and to the struggle that they’re in.
There have been other gains that have been made, although this is something that happened in New York and there’s a mix of opinions about it. The fact that the Islamic Republic was removed from the UN Commission on the Status of Women was a real boon to a lot of the women’s rights frontline defenders that really requested that inside the country. I think there was some confusion about where that ask was originating from because obviously there are different states that took an outsized role in requesting those meetings and pushing that resolution along, but that ask really originated with frontline defenders in the country that communicated that to me and others, that that was something that they wish to see and they have their reasoning for that because they don’t believe that engaging with the authorities has really yielded a lot of tangible results for them.
So, the reason that I mentioned this is because I think often there’s a desire to try to see what sort of domestic approaches can be taken inside the country. You know, how can we engage with the authorities? How can we move change and see if there will be some kind of reform? And I think the view of a lot of people inside the country is that they took an incremental approach for a very long time and unfortunately it hasn’t yielded a lot of net gain. We are a year out from seeing the tragic killing of Mahsa Jina Amini, and one would think that there would have been some kind of tangible impact or effect as a result of that, the global outcry that followed and all the internal pressure that was created. But now we see that there will be, and, you know, the introduction of a bill that is going to be just enforcing mandatory hijab more, and so one really wonders how far things are coming now.
What are the things that can be done? I think it’s incredibly important to understand, which many in this room already do, that the judiciary in Iran is not independent and that there really are no pathways for the sort of legal process that one would try to push through those systems. I would say that even a decade ago, there was still some possibilities for that. The human rights lawyers that I worked with in the country, the ones that weren’t yet arrested or exiled, certainly worked on trying to advance arguments within the system and to try to protect individuals in different cases. Now, we see that that route is completely shut off, and it’s definitely shut off when it comes to exploring how to change the situation of women and girls living under the Islamic Republic today.
So, what does that mean? What it means is that we really need to… there really needs to be a reliance on international institutions and also creative ways to find that justice elsewhere. A big part of the work that I do is looking at how to advance universal jurisdiction prosecutions in different countries that have that framework around the world. That can be a very challenging process. Although that’s not the mandate of folks here in Geneva, one thing that’s worth emphasizing is that the fact-finding mission on Iran, with the sort of documentation function it has and with the reporting function it has, could lay a sort of groundwork for some of these war crimes units in different European countries, in Canada, even in Argentina, and elsewhere where there are UJ frameworks to really rely on some of those findings and for them to have an impetus to open structural investigations into alleged perpetrators. And that’s where you don’t need a named perpetrator; you don’t need the presence of a perpetrator to really look at the structures that, for example, are committing sexual and gender-based violence.
Another campaign that I think – an effort that I think is worth noting in this room, and I recognize that the prior speaker also touched on this, is the effort to recognize gender apartheid under international law.
I was part of the effort of more than 100 key signatories, Iranian and Afghan women, former judges, lawyers, some allied international criminal lawyers, that issued an open letter on March 8th, International Women’s Day, calling on states to codify gender apartheid because of course right now the crime of apartheid only applies to racial apartheid and was born out of the experience of South Africa.
I’m happy to report that there have been significant gains in that respect. There will be, we hope, that there will be the inclusion of gender apartheid into the Crimes Against Humanity draft convention that’s currently being negotiated globally. A brief will go to legal advisors at your counterpart UN missions in New York, advising on why there is a protection gap, on why the crime of gender apartheid is distinct from gender persecution, and why it more accurately captures the situation of women and girls living under the Islamic Republic in Iran and living under the Taliban in Afghanistan. So that will go, I think that will be finalized by October 2nd, and then sent out to these LA’s. I know that you are all sitting here in Geneva, but your counterparts in New York will be receiving that, and I hope that some of you will be looking at that document as well and be seriously considering it, and the gender audit of the Crimes Against Humanity convention. And certainly, we need country capitals to be on board with this and to understand why this is something that frontline defenders in Iran and Afghanistan are requesting, that it has really originated out of their desires to see that in international law.
Just to wrap up, I would say that we need to continue to look at creative means to deliver justice for women and girls who really have no domestic remedies at this stage. I’ll note with concern that the allegations around mass poisonings of thousands of school girls in Iran have received relatively little global attention, both from media and also from institutions. Part of the reason may have been that early on, some experts were quoted in media reports dismissing this as mass hysteria. We obviously know that’s no longer the case because there have been deaths that have resulted from these poisonings and because the Islamic Republic authorities themselves have acknowledged that this has happened, though there has been some ambiguity around who the alleged perpetrators are.
So, I really encourage everyone in this room who’s involved in these documentation processes or also on behalf of states to sort of push the political will to look into these files, to very much keep that attention there, to keep the documentation going, and to keep trying to creatively pursue justice solutions. Because there is really no pathway for that domestically, and Iranians in Iran, both the frontline defenders who have been engaged in this work for a long time, but also those who are newer to activism, the young women of a newer generation who just want to dress the way they please, socialize the way they please, and basically have bodily autonomy and do very, very standard normal things where they have control over their bodies and their life, they’re really putting their trust in these international institutions to try to deliver some sort of change for them. Some of the change will come from within and comes from within the stand that they’re taking, but a lot of that is also looking outward to how they can be helped when they are dealing with a very repressive regime that has shown that it will enact violence to silence women and girls. Thank you.