A Moment of Truth in Geneva?

Tomorrow, February 15 2010, and for the first time since the 1979 revolution, the UN  will review the human rights record of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The UPR (Universal Periodic Review) is a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States. This recent UN tradition started in 2006 following the growing criticism of the lack of attention given to human rights at the UN. In response, the Human Rights Council was established. And now comes its first moment of truth.

Iran has been oppressed by the rule of tyranny since its birth in 1979 as an Islamic republic. Since then and despite countless attempts to condemn Iran for its gross violations of human rights and its persistent failure to amend its laws and actions, the human rights record in Iran remains deplorable and abysmal.  Iran is in constant breach of international treaties and conventions that its government has ratified, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR); Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (CRC); and the customary binding declaration, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR).

The latest human rights breach took the form of the execution by strangulation of two dissidents, Mohammad-Reza Ali-Zamani and Arash Rahmanipour for “plotting attacks against Islamic rule.” Arash was under 18 years of age at the time the charges were brought against him, which constitutes a violation of Article 37(a) of the CRC whereby no one may be executed for any crime committed whilst below the age of 18. Furthermore, death by strangulation is facilitated by the lifting of the condemned at the neck, by a crane- a very slow and excruciating death which was ruled as a direct breach of Article 7 ICCPR: prohibition of torture, cruel or inhuman treatment in the case of Ng v Canada.

The reprehensible authorities reigning in Iran have also violated anti-gender discrimination laws.  UN Special Rapporteur Yakin Erturk reported that in 2001, 375 of the 575 ‘honour killings’ in the southern province of Khouzestan were forced suicides by way of women setting themselves on fire. Special Rapporteur Coomaraswamy found that national laws dictate that a husband may execute his wife if he finds that she has been unfaithful, whereas if the situation was reversed, the wife would be executed by the state on the charge of murder.  Furthermore, the laws that protect ethnic minorities, such as Azaries, Kurds, Baluchis and  Arabs, who constitute over 30 percent of the population, have been subject to policies of population transfers, discrimination, and executions  without the right to due process of law and a competent court trial. Members of minority faiths, such as the Bahais, Sunni Muslims, Jews and Zoroastrians are often persecuted as well.  A recent ratified law prescribes the execution of one who converts away from Islam (apostasy law under Iranian Penology).

The crimes on this list and other abuses should find their way to the agenda of the Human Rights Council which, thus far, has refrained from condemning Iran for its abysmal human rights record. While the General Assembly continues to ‘monitor’ the human rights situation in Iran, more and more people are persecuted, arbitrarily arrested, tortured, executed and exiled. Next Monday, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will have a chance to amend a long overdue UN course of action.

To help ensure that end, the UN delegates will not be alone in Geneva. A broad coalition  comprising human rights groups whose sole purpose is to speak up for human rights and  to rally and campaign for their effective enforcement will be in Geneva to make sure that the UN delegates think about their vote. Groups such as Cyberdissidents, Neda for a Free Iran, Stop Child Executions, UNOP and others will be present in the Place des Nations to remind UN delegates that real attention is due. The Coalition calls for UN Special Rapporteurs to be granted unfettered access into Iran to further report on the human rights situationand for  Iran to fully honour the human rights instruments that bind it to ethical governance, whilst respecting all tenets of human rights. The Coalition further calls for the international community to refrain from encouraging the abusive authorities in Iran with their assistance and contractual compliance, and to refrain from engaging in business arrangements with the Iranian government, such as  the conduct of China ceasing to provide anti-riot tanks, and Russia ceasing to provide interrogation techniques to the Iranian officials.

The international community must show that human rights violations will not be tolerated and that they take paramount importance irrespectively of any other issue. This is the ultimate test of the UN Human Rights Council – and we will be in Geneva  with the hope of seeing it get a passing grade.

Mehrtash Rastegar is an Iranian blogger based in London, and sits on the board of Neda for Free Iran. Nir Boms is the co-founder of Cyberdissidents.org

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