Israel and many Western countries called on Iran to end public executions and capital punishment – particularly of juveniles – as they attacked the country’s human rights record at a UN hearing in Geneva on Monday.
“Commute all death sentences, especially all executions of political prisoners, and abolish in practice public executions by hanging and stoning,” said Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar.
Italy’s representative, Laura Mirachian, also urged a “moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition,” and said that she was “concerned about the systematic use of capital punishment in Iran, especially against juvenile offenders.” She and Leshno Yaar were among dozens of state representatives who spoke about Iran during a three-hour session of the UN Human Rights Council.
As part of its periodic review of all 192 UN member states, the council this month is looking at the human rights record of Iran and 16 other countries: Qatar, Nicaragua, Italy, El Salvador, Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Iran’s review on Monday morning comes as the US and Israel lobby for stricter economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic in hopes of thwarting its plans to develop nuclear weapons.
At the council on Monday Iran spoke of its strides in gender equity and its fair treatment of minorities.
“Iranian society is a successful model of brotherly and amicable coexistence,” said Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary-general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights. He claimed that the imposition of “unilateral and coercive sanctions by certain Western countries for purely political reasons as well as ongoing international sanctions resulting from political actions of the same countries at the Security Council have had a negative impact on realization of all aspects of human rights of Iranian citizens.”
European countries as well as Israel took Iran to task for its use of the death penalty, torture, discrimination against minorities, religious suppression, incitement to hatred and restrictions of freedom of expression and the Internet. Israel also asked that Iran end its denial of the Holocaust.
“News organizations have been shut down and Iranian and foreign journalists arrested, detained or prevented from doing their job,” the US added.
Mirachian said that Iran’s “grave, massive violations” of the rights of freedom of expression and political activity are inconsistent with the country’s bid to secure a four-year term, 2010-2013, as one of the 47 states with voting rights on the Rights Council.
During the session, Britain and France led a call for an international probe into the violence that followed last June’s disputed presidential election in Iran.
Iran should invite UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to “investigate the post-election violence and independently assess the human rights situation,” Britain’s ambassador in Geneva, Peter Gooderham, said during a three-hour UN debate.
Iran swiftly rejected the demand.
France, a member of the UN Security Council and a frequent critic of abuses in Iran, joined Britain in urging Teheran to accept an international panel to probe the “bloody repression” of peaceful protests and the arrests of political dissidents in the wake of last year’s elections.
Opposition groups say the vote that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power was fraudulent.
A high-ranking US official said a UN-led investigation could be one way of shedding light on claims that some of those arrested were tortured and killed in detention.
“I don’t think the form or the means matters as much as it does that there be some international scrutiny of what’s going on,” US Assistant Secretary of State Michael H. Posner said.
Seyed Hossein Rezvani, a senior Iranian diplomat, told reporters that an international investigation was “totally out of the question” since the country’s own judicial system was capable of examining allegations of wrongdoing.
But he said Iran had issued an open invitation to all of the UN’s independent investigators to visit the country, something campaigners have demanded for years. None of the global body’s investigators has been able to visit Iran since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005.
One investigator, Manfred Nowak, the UN’s expert on torture, told The Associated Press he had asked for years to visit Iran and would welcome any invitation by the government.
Posner said Teheran’s report to the Rights Council – which said any allegations of wrongdoing in Iran are being investigated – cast doubt on its willingness to honestly address claims of official abuse.
“The human rights crisis in Iran continues and it’s imperative that the UN find the appropriate ways to address it,” he said. The Iranian government’s account of the human rights situation was “clearly at odds with reality,” he added.
Several of Iran’s allies, including Cuba, Venezuela, Sri Lanka and Nicaragua, defended Teheran’s record, citing the government’s achievements in promoting cultural, education and health-care rights.
Iran defended itself, telling the Geneva-based council that the country’s Islamic constitution safeguards its people’s human rights.
Iran “has taken a genuine and long-term approach to safeguarding human rights,” said Larijani, the secretary-general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights.
Larijani, the brother of former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, accused Western countries of criticizing Iran’s rights record “to advance certain ulterior political motives.” He didn’t elaborate.
Posner dismissed suggestions that the US treats Iran more harshly because of concerns over its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. However, he acknowledged that the recent political turmoil might raise concerns about the country’s stability.
Dozens of Iranian exiles held a rally outside the UN’s European headquarters on Monday to protest abuses in Iran.
Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch commended the US, France and other democracies for their “forceful criticism” of Iran’s abuses, but expressed alarm over a report in Le Monde that Asian countries might facilitate Iran’s election in May to the 47-member body, “an eventuality underscored by the litany of speeches today – by China, Cuba, Libya and others – falsely praising Iran.”
UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer cautioned that the outcome of Monday’s council session could be limited to a “toothless” report to be adopted on Wednesday.
“If the Human Rights Council is serious about tackling Iran’s wide-scale and escalating attacks on its own citizens – and this an open question – then it must use the tools at its disposal to convene an emergency session; adopt a resolution condemning the violations and establishing an international inquiry into Iran’s post-election arrests, rapes, show trials and executions; and reinstate the permanent post of a special rapporteur to monitor and report on the Iranian government’s compliance with international human right covenants,” Neuer said. AP contributed to this report.