The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors how states comply with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, begins meeting today to consider Iran. The Iranian authorities’ report to the Committee, the first submitted since 1993, is more than a decade late.
“The Iranian authorities have already shown contempt for the Committee by submitting this report so late,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“They must now provide truthful answers to its questions and commit to providing a remedy to the many Iranians and their families who have suffered human rights violations”.
The Committee’s task is to consider how far Iran has upheld key rights enshrined in the Convention, including the right to life, freedom of expression, non- discrimination, and the prohibition of torture and arbitrary detention.
Iran’s report to the Committee and its written answers to the Committee’s initial questions both paint a severely distorted picture of its human rights record and fail to reflect serious and continuing abuses.
The Iranian authorities do implicitly acknowledge ways in which laws discriminate against women and minorities. They also refer to some laws which would offer protection if implemented, but which are widely flouted in practice.
And they make it clear that Iran is continuing to impose the death penalty on juvenile offenders – those convicted of offences when under 18 – despite the fact that this is explicitly prohibited under international law.
In reality, Iran is a serial human rights violator which executes hundreds of people each year, including juvenile offenders.
The Iranian authorities also deny that minorities face any kind of discrimination. They vilify the Baha’i community, and accuse women’s rights activists of “contributing to public disorder”.
“It is shocking that the Iranian authorities are trying to imply that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community do not have rights which are protected under the Covenant,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“It only highlights the degree of the authorities’ blindness and bigotry against those who identify themselves outside the narrow confines of state-imposed gender norms”.
In reality, consensual same-sex relations face draconian punishments including flogging and the death penalty.
Baha’is are frequently arrested or imprisoned on account of their faith, with over 100 currently behind bars. A Christian pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, is awaiting the outcome of a retrial for “apostasy” for refusing to renounce his religion. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Iran jails defence lawyers and other human rights defenders and persecutes religious and ethnic minorities, along with anyone who expresses any form of peaceful dissent, after trials which are usually grossly unfair. Torture and other ill-treatment is routine.
“Iran’s appearance before the Human Rights Committee offers a small glimmer of hope to victims and their families. The country’s authorities must begin to listen to them, and implementing the Committee’s recommendations would be an important first step”, said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“Cooperation with international human rights mechanisms must consist of more than appearing before the Human Rights Committee and rejecting the questions of the Committee’s experts. Allowing all UN Special Rapporteurs – and particularly the new Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran – into the country to conduct a fact-finding mission would be a welcome sign that the authorities are serious about their international engagement on human rights issues”, she said.
Iran has a patchy record on cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. When it appeared before the UN Human Rights Commission’s Universal Periodic Review in 2010, it refused to acknowledge the gravity of its human rights situation, despite substantial evidence to the contrary.