Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Post #233 - Human Rights and the United Nations

This article was posted on the website of United4Iran, a human rights group (it has been lightly edited for length). Though its style is rather dry -- this is no one's idea of exciting reading -- it informs us of some important developments regarding outside monitoring of the situation within Iran.

"UN Human Rights Council and Secretary-General Call on Iran to Allow Special Rapporteur to Visit the Country"

HRC Votes to Extend Mandate of the Special Rapporteur by Overwhelming Margin

March 22, 2012 – The UN Human Rights Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon increased pressure this week on Iran’s government to begin meaningful cooperation with the appointed UN expert assigned to help improve the human rights situation in the country. United for Iran applauds the overwhelming decision today by the 19th Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran by a vote of 22 in favor, 5 against, and 20 abstentions.

The 47-member rights body passed the resolution to extend the mandate for one-year and urged Iran to cooperate with it. [the Secretary General], in a report released this week, also called on Iran to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, by allowing him to visit the country.

The resolution, which enjoyed broad cross-regional co-sponsorship by 13 current UNHRC members and 32 non-members, expresses regret over Iran’s lack of cooperation with the requests made by previous UN resolutions and mechanisms. The resolution welcomes the report presented by the Special Rapporteur to the Council, and calls upon Iran to cooperate by permitting a country visit and providing the information needed to fulfill the mandate...

[It may seem odd to many that one of the United Nations human rights study centers is hosted by Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, whose faculty of law staffs that center., AP]

Among the newest UNHRC members elected in 2011, Austria, Benin, Botswana, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Italy, and Peru all demonstrated strong leadership as they began their three-year terms by casting their first positive Council votes on the human rights situation in Iran. United for Iran particularly welcomes the decisions by Benin and Guatemala to vote “yes” on today’s resolution after having abstained on the UNGA resolution in December. United for Iran also welcomes Mauritania’s decision to vote in favor of the resolution this year after having voted against it last year.

A shrinking group of only five countries this year voted against continuing UN engagement on the situation in the country – namely, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, Qatar, and Russia. Surprisingly, many Arab UNHRC members that supported strong UN mechanisms to address violations in Arab Spring countries, such as the situations in Libya and Syria, refrained from extending the same support to victims of human rights abuses in Iran. Qatar, in particular, which has been a regional leader on the Arab Spring– showed stark inconsistency in its policy on human rights promotion in the region by voting against the mandate on Iran.

In a significant development, Ecuador abstained this year after voting against the establishment of the mandate last year. The country, which has strengthened its relationship with Iran in recent years, made an appeal to the Iranian government to cooperate with UN mechanisms. Equally important was a statement made by China during the session in support of cooperation with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate toward the aim of improving human rights in Iran. Yet, China’s continued “no” vote on the resolution did not reflect this position. United for Iran welcomes China’s stated support for cooperation with UN mechanisms, and urges China to encourage Iran to ensure that such cooperation is meaningful, and leads to real improvements in the country.

Unfortunately, six of the fourteen new members of the UNHRC – Burkina Faso, Congo, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, and the Philippines – abstained on the vote, raising questions about their commitment as elected members of the UN’s premier rights body to effectively promote human rights where it is needed. India and Indonesia, in particular – two of Asia’s largest and most influential democratic countries – did not take a clear position in favor of human rights promotion in Iran. Nigeria, an influential African leader with a record of supporting critical human rights initiatives in its own region, fell behind its regional neighbors on the Council with its disappointing abstention on today’s vote. Uruguay, ending its term on the Council this year, maintained its inexplicable position of abstaining on the Iran resolution despite its strong human rights credentials at home and previously being a world leader in its UN voting record on human rights issues.
Regrettably, Libya – which itself continues to undergo its own transition from authoritarian rule – abstained on the vote to extend the mandate on Iran, neglecting that its own people, just last year, benefited from a country-specific mandate set up by the Human Rights Council.

The first interactive dialogue with Dr. Shaheed took place earlier during the session with states and NGOs taking part. Over two-thirds of the nearly 30 states that spoke raised concerns about Iran’s human rights situation and expressed regret that Iranian authorities had yet to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. A much smaller number of states – generally with poor human rights records themselves- such as Cuba, Belarus, and Syria, showed support for Iran by denouncing country-specific mandates as a policy of human rights politicization.

United for Iran spoke at the Council, welcoming the report of the Special Rapporteur and expressing regret that Iranian authorities had yet to cooperate with the mandate. A webcast of the statement can be watched here. A transcript of the statement is also available in English and Farsi.

United for Iran also welcomes the March 20, 2012 report of UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon on the situation of human rights in Iran. The Secretary-General’s report details difficulties encountered by Dr. Shaheed since his August 2011 appointment, including Iran’s lack of genuine cooperation with the Special Rapporteur. It also states that efforts by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to meet with independent civil society actors and political prisoners during a field visit to the country in December 2011 was rebuffed by Iranian authorities. The report states that while the Iranian government reconfirmed its plan to invite two special procedures to visit Iran in 2012, no dates have been specified.

The Secretary-General also noted with concern Iran’s low rate of replies to the large number of communications sent by Special Procedures alleging violations. Out of 17 urgent communications sent to Iran in 2011, only one was responded to by the Iranian government. The Secretary General stated that he is “deeply troubled by increased reports of executions including in public, executions of juvenile offenders, amputations, flogging, arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trials, torture and ill-treatment and, the crackdown on media professionals, film makers, human rights defenders, lawyers, and opposition activists.” He reiterated his call on Iran to revise its laws, including the Islamic Penal Code and its juvenile justice laws to comply with the human rights Covenants that Iran is a party – and to ratify the remaining core international human rights treaties that Iran has not signed – particularly the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention against Torture (CAT).

As noted by both the UN Secretary-General and UN Special Rapporteur, Iran’s offer to allow two thematic special procedures to visit the country is welcomed. Yet, this announcement does not change the international human rights community’s expectation that Iran, for which the UNHRC deemed a country mandate necessary, extend full cooperation to that mandate.

United for Iran urges the Government of Iran to reconcile its words with its actions and demonstrate that its stated desire to cooperate with the international human rights system is genuine and based on the will to improve the situation for its citizens. This requires authorities to recognize and work with the assigned country mandate holder prioritized by the Human Rights Council to assist Iran on all thematic areas of rights.

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