From September 11 to October 15 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Council held its 54th regular session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The session coincided with the 1 year anniversary of the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, and featured several statements and side events on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, including from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, the Independent and International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran (“FFMI”), and other UN human rights experts. Notably, the session was marked by a joint statement of 40+ UN Member States from various regions calling on Iran to reconsider the impending “Hijab and Chastity” bill and expressed deep concerns at authorities’ intensified surveillance tactics, developments which “exacerbate an already dire situation for women and girls, marked by widespread and systematic discrimination, both in law and in practice.”
Opening of the HRC Session / Annual Report from High Commissioner Volker Türk
On September 11, High Commissioner Volker Türk opened the 54rd session of the council with a global update on human rights and a presentation of his annual report, and briefly touched on the situation of women and girls’ rights in Iran and the new hijab bill: “In Iran, a year after Mahsa Amini’s death, I am seriously concerned that a new bill currently under review imposes severe penalties on women and girls who do not obey the compulsory dress code, including travel bans and withdrawal of access to social services. It also enables the use of surveillance technology to monitor women’s behaviour and dress. Reports of women facing legal action for dress code violations have multiplied, even before passage of the bill. In this context, I flag my concern regarding renewed deployment of the morality police, a force almost exclusively aimed at controlling women and girls. Accountability for Ms. Amini’s death, and for violations in the context of subsequent protests, has been inadequate. Use of the death penalty has risen sharply, notably against the Baloch and others from minority communities”. Watch the High Commissioner’s full remarks on Iran above.
In the margins of the HRC session, UN Human Rights Experts mark 1-year anniversary of Jina Mahsa Amini’s death in custody
On September 14, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran released a statement marking the 1 year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death and the onset of state-led brutal repression of nationwide protests. Experts condemned the State’s failure to investigate and adjudicate the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini in acccordance with international standards, as well as its detaining of protesters and its reprisals against journalists, lawyers and family members of victims – “Since Jina Mahsa’s death in custody, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has failed to ensure truth, justice and reparations to her family, or to families of other victims, women, girls and all protesters who have been subjected to violations of fundamental human rights,” Chair Sara Hossain said. “Instead, the Islamic Republic is doubling down on repression and reprisals against its citizens and seeking to introduce new and more draconian laws that severely restrict further the rights of women and girls.” while “refin[ing] and reinforc[ing] its capacity and actions to quell dissent.”
Another statement was delivered on September 19, from a group of UN Special Procedures experts, condemning the escalated crackdown to prevent public commemoration of Jina Mahsa Amini’s death in custody: “The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran could have learned important lessons from the tragic death of Jina Mahsa Amini. But its response to the demonstrations that have led to the deaths of hundreds of protestors since September 2022 shows that authorities have chosen not to”. “We remain concerned and alarmed by the ongoing policies and practices in Iran which amount to total impunity for grave crimes committed under international law in the year that followed Jina Mahsa Amini’s death,” the experts said. See the full list of co-signatories below.
|Javaid Rehman||Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran|
|Irene Khan||Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression|
|Mary Lawlor||Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders|
|Priya Gopalan||Chair-Rapporteur, Working Group on arbitrary detention|
|Matthew Gillett||Vice-Chair on Communications, Working Group on arbitrary detention|
|Ganna Yudkivska||Vice-Chair on Follow-Up, Working Group on arbitrary detention|
|Miriam Estrada-Castillo||Working Group on arbitrary detention|
|Mumba Malila||Working Group on arbitrary detention|
|Margaret Satterthwaite||Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers|
|Fernand De Varennes||Special Rapporteur on minority issues|
|Morris Tidball-Binz||Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions|
|Alice Jill Edwards||Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment|
|Dorothy Estrada Tanck||Chair, Working group on discrimination against women and girls|
|Elizabeth Broderick||Working group on discrimination against women and girls|
|Ivana Radačić||Working group on discrimination against women and girls|
|Meskerem Geset Techane||Working group on discrimination against women and girls|
|Melissa Upreti||Working group on discrimination against women and girls|
|Reem Asalem||Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women|
|Clément Nyaletsossi Voule||Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association|
IRAN’S WOMEN, MINORITIES AND THE FIGHT FOR RIGHTS: One Year After Jina Mahsa Amini’s Death in Custody
On September 15, the eve of the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, Kurdistan Human Rights Association-Geneva (KMMK-G) hosted a side event during the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, in collaboration with Impact Iran, IED, Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM), and Minority Rights Group., to The side-event sought to “serve as a dual platform: a space to examine developments since the start of the protests and the emergence of the movement “Women, Life, Freedom,” and a resounding call for collective action”. The discussion addressed the multifaceted challenges for accountability in Iran, explored pathways to advance justice, and emphasized the pivotal role of the international community.
Participants included coalition members representatives such as KMMK-G’s Taimoor Aliassi and Kurdpa’s Kochar Wallad Begi, minority representatives and activists Sabah Bandoui from Balochistan Human Rights Group and Simin Fahandej from Baha’i International Community, as well as human rights experts Javaid Rehman (the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran) and Sara Hossain (chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran)., The side-event marked the first time that an expert of the FFMI participated to a public event. Hossain’s remarks highlighted the most recent activities of the FFMI, including its interactions, or rather lack thereof, with the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as preliminary findings, notably vis-à-vis the failure of the State to carry out investigations into the death of Jina Mahsa Amini in accordance with international standards.
Kurdistan Human Rights Association-Geneva / International Educational Development
“Iran persists in denying the facts: repression and killings have been the state’s sole response for the past 40 years, with impunity. It’s time for international community to take responsibility and to put an end to Iran’s long history of impunity.”
Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran (chair)
“Unfortunately, we have yet to receive a positive response to visit Iran in response to our repeated requests on this line. […] we have sent out 14 detailed letters seeking information on particular issues to the government of Iran. We have received only partial responses to date. This is regrettable, as we’ve repeatedly said, we are open to and committed to making an independent assessment with information from a wide range of sources.
Establishing facts to expose human rights violations is a crucial first step to ending impunity. […] the people of Iran […] have fundamental rights to equality, truth, justice, accountability, and reparation, and we’re determined to make every effort to support them on this journey to achieving their legitimate aspirations.”
Kochar Wallad Begi
Women and human rights activist, Kurdpa
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not respect nor adhere to international human rights standards. We, therefore call upon the international community to take notice of the human rights abuses in Iran, especially those against ethnic nations such as Kurds, that the voices of oppression against ethnic nations and the widespread suppression and massacre of people to be heard, and Iran to be held accountable for its actions against women, girls and ethnic nations.”
Balochistan Human Rights Group
“BHRG calls on the international community to put an end to Iran’s systemic violations against the Baluch and all Iranians exercising their fundamental rights […] to support efforts for accountability, including the investigation by the FFMI and prosecutions in third countries using universal jurisdiction […] to mobilise international pressure for change.”
Bahá’í International Community
“It is only through putting aside our differences, discarding ideas of “us and them,” “pure and unclean”, and learning to live together, side by side, as members of different ethnicities and faith groups, desiring equal rights for all, and allowing for and valuing the participation contrubution of all, that we can create an Iran where every person sees for themselves a place and can work together and shoulder to shoulder for its betterment.”
UN Special Rapporteur on the human right situation in the Islamic Republican of Iran
“In my view, the scale and gravity of the violations committed by Iranian authorities, especially since the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini points to the possible commission of international crimes , notably the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence and persecution. […] On this day, one year from the tragic death of Jina Mahsa Amini, I seek accountability and ask for justice for the victims of human rights.”
A YEAR OF THE WOMAN, LIFE, FREEDOM MOVEMENT: Crackdown on Dissent and the State of Women’s Rights in Iran
On September 15, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) and ARTICLE 19 hosted a side event during the 54th session of the Human Rights Council, in collaboration with Impact Iran, to “examine the human rights violations that have taken place in Iran since the start of the nationwide Woman, Life, Freedom movement, particularly focusing on restrictions on women’s rights”. Panelists closely examined “the legal framework that has created the discriminatory system that led to the custodial death of Mahsa Jina Amini and sparked the protest movement […] and the wide array of suppressive tactics used by the Iranian government to stifle dissent.”
Panelists included coalition members representatives such as Iran Human Rights Documentation Center’s Gissou Nia, Human Rights Activists in Iran’s Skylar Thompson, and ARTICLE 19’s Mahsa Alimardani, as well as UN Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman and Chair of the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, Dorothy Estrada-Tanck.. Estrada-Tanck notably called on UN Member States to develop standards of international law to better grasp and address the nature and scale of state-led discrimination, segregation and exclusion of women and girls in Iran, notably through the concept of gender apartheid.
UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran
“I want to focus directly on what has happened since the death in police custody of Jina Mahsa Amini. What about the veiling laws? Have there been any lessons learned from the strategy and indeed the tragedies emerging from the deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children? The short answer to this painful question is no.“
Chair, UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls
“And not only that, but after a first layer of promises that the morality police would change its methods and approaches, we have seen that not only has this not happened, but actually the violations have increased, and the level of discrimination and segregation and exclusion of women and girls has become even harsher […] we are asking for states to be stronger, to have a more decided stance, to develop standards to really respond to the challenge of gender apartheid as a system of state-led and state-sponsored misogyny.”
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center
“There is no pathway for justice domestically in Iran […] There needs to be a reliance on international institutions and also creative ways to find that justice elsewhere. […] the Fact-Finding Mission […] could lay the groundwork for some of these war crimes units in different European countries, in Canada, even in Argentina, and elsewhere where there are universal jurisdiction frameworks to rely on the FFMI’s findings and for them to have an impetus to open investigations […] another campaign is the effort to recognize gender apartheid under international law.”
Human Rights Activists in Iran
“The bill places the authority of intelligence organizations, police and the Basij to involve themselves in the lives of women, girls, and the men that support them in public, private, physical, and digital spaces. […] Despite the widespread calls against this enforcement, not only dating back to the protests but for decades, the bill further symbolizes a broader pattern of gender inequality within a legal framework that […] reinforces discriminatory practices against women that are deeply embedded into the domestic judicial system.”
“The issue of [digital] surveillance goes hand in hand with the chastity and hijab bill, which is in the efforts to instill fear in women […] we have seen concerning trends of technology being used for surveillance to Iran […] so there is this need for your delegations to be working with your different allies and partners, or with different countries, to ensure that this transnational flow of digital repression technology is not going to Iran. And, of course, there is a need to support especially the plight of women and what they have been trying to achieve […] bodily autonomy and equality in Iran.”
General Debate under Item 4
On September 26, 50+ member states made remarks during the 54th session’s general debate under Item 4 (human rights situation that require the council’s attention). Several states drew attention to the human rights situation in Iran.
|Finland||Finland is strongly opposed to the use of the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. There is no justification for Iran to carry out capital punishment, including against individuals who have exercised their civic freedoms|
|USA||Iran’s government has responded to its people’s calls for freedom with more repression.|
|Belgium||La Belgique réitère sa ferme condamnation du recours disproportionné à la force par les autorités iraniennes contre tous ceux qui défendent pacifiquement les droits humains et prennent position contre les discriminations persistantes et systématiques à l’égard des femmes et des filles. Nous sommes consternés par les peines sévères prononcées contre les manifestants, y compris le recours à la peine de mort. Nous exhortons l’Iran à s’abstenir de nouvelles exécutions et à garantir une procédure régulière à tous les détenus.|
|Austria||Austria is gravely concerned by the escalating number of executions in Iran, with 582 reported in 2022, as per the Secretary-General’s report during the 53rd Human Rights Council session in June 2023. We urge Iran to halt this inhumane punishment and release all individuals detained for exercising their legitimate right to peaceful assembly. We also deplore Iran’s new chastity and Hijab bill, which further oppresses women and girls.|
|Norway||Norway remains deeply concerned about efforts in Iran aimed at controlling women and girls, including the proposed bill imposing more severe penalties for not obeying the compulsory dress code.|
|Spain (on behalf of the European Union)||We remain concerned about the human rights situation across Iran. We call upon Iran to eliminate all forms of systematic discrimination against women and girls. We are appalled by the way the authorities handled domestic dissent.|
|Australia||Iran – where the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission is investigating alleged grave human rights violations. Australia remains deeply concerned about Iran’s systematic persecution of women and girls, and the execution of protestors. We continue to stand resolutely with the people of Iran, including ethnic and religious minorities.|
|United Kingdom||One year after the tragic death of Mahsa Amini, Iran continues repressing women and girls. Through the new Hijab and Chastity Bill, the authorities seek to police what women wear and how they behave. Iran must listen to its people and respect women’s rights. Woman, Life, Freedom.|
|Denmark||On Iran, we are deeply concerned about the dire human rights situation. We call on Iran to put a halt on executions, release all arbitrarily detained and respect the human rights of all Iranians, including women and girls.|
|Sweden||In Iran, the human rights situation remains of deep concern. The violent repression of peaceful protests and increased use of the death penalty is alarming.|
We express concern at the continued occurrence of arbitrary detention and call for the release of all Swedish and EU citizens arbitrarily detained.
|Iceland||In Iran, we are deeply concerned about reports of authorities reinforcing actions to quell dissent, including through surveillance technology, and the exacerbating punitive measures against those exercising their fundamental rights. We urge the authorities to repeal the new Chastity and Hijab Bill and to eliminate, in law and in practice, the systemic discrimination against women and girls in public and private life.|
General Debate under item 8 / Joint Statement on Chastity and Hijab Bill
On October 4, UN Member states made remarks during the 54th session’s general debate under Item 8 (Follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action). Canada notably intervened on behalf of a group of 40+ states to deliver a joint statement addressing women’s and girls’ rights in Iran and the recent adoption of the ”Hijab and Chastity” bill by Iranian parliament:
I deliver this statement on behalf of a group of countries and my own country Canada.
The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action underscores that “the human rights of women and [girls] are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights.”
Yet, 30 years after its adoption, pushback against gender equality and women’s empowerment continues globally. Together, we recall the Vienna Declaration and once again urge all states to eradicate “all forms of discrimination against women, both hidden and overt.”
Against this backdrop and alongside the voices of the women and girls of Iran, the High Commissioner, UN Special Procedures and the Fact-Finding Mission on Iran, we express serious concern at the recent adoption of the Chastity and Hijab bill by the Iranian Parliament and call for it to be reconsidered in line with Iran’s human rights obligations.
The bill intensifies punishments for women and girls who do not obey Iran’s compulsory dress code, ultimately undermining their right to freedom of expression. It creates unprecedented social and economic barriers for women by imposing travel bans, denying them education, and limiting access to health facilities and other public services, among existing de facto restrictions and punishments.
We are also deeply troubled by reports of the use of new artificial intelligence and digital facial recognition technology to surveil, arrest and punish women perceived to be noncompliant with the law. These developments exacerbate an already dire situation for women and girls, marked by widespread and systematic discrimination, both in law and in practice.
Women and girls of Iran should enjoy the full array of their human rights, free from discrimination, surveillance and fear of retribution. We urge the Government of Iran to heed the legitimate claims of its citizens and the protesters who rallied behind the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom”, and to abide by its obligations under international law, including in matters of women’s rights and gender equality.