Published in Athens Views (print – no longer in circulation) on 7 November, 2014
A report by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, slammed the country for its human rights record. The report, written in August and submitted to the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in October examined civil and political rights, economic, social, and cultural rights, and economic sanctions and found that the human rights situation Islamic Republic “remains of concern”. In turn, Mohammad Javad Larijani, chief of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights rejected the charges and stated that the report creates “Iranophobia and Islamophobia”. Forouzandeh Vadiati, the Iranian envoy to the UN said that the report’s accusations were politically motivated.
The UN report came a few days after the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari who was convicted in 2009 for murdering Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi in 2007, who allegedly sexually assaulted her. Jabbari’s conviction had garnered international outcry and was condemned by the UN, the European Union, and Amnesty International all of which had lobbied for a reduced sentence. Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the MENA Programme stated that Jabbari’s execution was another “bloody stain on Iran’s human rights record”. Mohammad Javad Larijani claimed that he personally urged the Sarbandi’s family to forgive as according to Iranian customs they could have spared Jabbari’s life. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), as of October 22nd 585 people have been executed in 2014.
Additionally, the arrest of Ghoncheh Ghavami and the acid attacks on women in Esfahan have refuelled the debate on women’s rights in country. Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian citizen was arrested because she was protesting outside a stadium where a volleyball game was taking place. Ghavami, along with a group of demonstrators were peacefully asking to be allowed to watch the game, as, since 2012, women were not allowed in the audience. For more than a month Ghavami was in solitary confinement before she was moved to a cell, and was sentenced to one year in prison.
During October, women were attacked with acid by men on motorcycles. According to various reports the women were attacked because they were not properly covered and wore ‘improper hijab’. Thus far four arrests were made but although various Iranian officials condemned the attacks others claimed that the attacks were a conspiracy, and the timing was suspicious.
Since the election of Hasan Rouhani, who is considered a more moderate president, human rights have not really gotten any better in the country as demonstrated by the recent UN report. Although Iran’s administration has shown signs of willingness for a rapprochement with the West, they should start addressing the state of human rights in the country leaving groundless accusations aside. According to Human Rights Watch since Rouhani took power things have actually gotten worse in several areas including freedom of speech and women’s rights. UN member states have a good opportunity to put some more pressure on Iran during the Universal Periodic Review at UN Human Rights Council which started on October 31st. Even though Iran will probably accept many of the recommendation, as Leila Alikarami, an Iranian lawyer and human rights advocate, says without pressure Iran will fall short on its promise, as it did with the previous UPR recommendations it had accepted.