Will Iran be held accountable?

The Islamic Republic’s Universal Periodic Review on its human rights record will be yet another test of the seriousness of the UN organization.

Earlier this month, Iranian officials announced that the regime would soon hang nine more protestors who were arrested for participating in the demonstrations following the June presidential vote. This is the same regime who, in its report to the UN Human Rights Council, claims that it upholds the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly, and prohibition of arbitrary arrests.
O Monday, Iran will confront its controversial human rights record in front of concerned citizens of the world, at the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Switzerland. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), created in 2006, is the first ever UN mechanism to look systematically at the human rights records of all 192 UN member states once every four years.
The world has witnessed Iran’s brutal suppression of free speech and democracy with public executions and intimidation tactics that challenge the moral norms of most UN member states. The Iranian regime’s hanging of two political dissidents on January 28th was only the latest (at the time of the writing of this article) of a slew of egregious human rights abuses by the Islamic regime.
For the past 30 years, Iranians have been living under an oppressive theocracy which limits the access of its citizens to the international community, subjects them to harsh punishments for minor offenses, and deprives them of their basic social and political rights. Just to name a few examples: The punishment for a woman deemed “adulterous” (including victims of rape) is to be buried up to her neck and then stoned to death; There are currently at least 23 people on death row due to their opposition to the Iranian regime; Iranian law allows the death penalty for boys from the age 15 and girls from the age of nine – Iran has executed at least 46 children under the age of 18 since 1990.
The Islamic Republic is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). These contain fundamental norms – such as the prohibition of human rights violations including torture, flogging, public executions, stoning, execution of minors, and violence against women – that are binding on all members of the international community.
The Iranian constitution, adopted in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution, calls for equal rights among races and ethnic groups, gender equality, protection of the rights of women, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and communication, and freedom of association. Religious minorities “are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies.” However, the constitution includes inherent contradictions, making these principles subject to Islamic jurisprudence with stipulations such as “All laws and regulations must conform to the principles of Islam.” The rights of women, of expression, of communication and association and of the press are followed by modifiers such as “within the limits of the law,” “within the precepts of Islam,” “unless they attack the principles of Islam,” and “unless the Law states otherwise.” For example, as Iran states in its UPR report, “Freedom of press is guaranteed by the Press Law provided that the Islamic teachings and the best interest of the nation are observed”.
THE UN Human Rights Council’s record to date has not been encouraging. Despite extensively documented violations of basic human rights, countries such as Cuba and Saudi Arabia have been elected to seats on the Council. In the past, the UNHRC has decided to discontinue consideration of the human rights situations in Iran, Sudan and Cuba, despite concrete evidence of ongoing violations in those countries. On its Preparatory Committee for the Durban Review Conference against Racism, the Human Rights Council appointed Libya as chair and Cuba and Iran as vice-chairs.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the Human Rights Council need to be awakened from their slumber and reminded that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not upheld its commitment to preserving human rights in accordance with the international treaties to which it is a signatory, nor in accordance with its own constitution.
Iran’s Universal Periodic Review will be yet another test of the seriousness of the UN Human Rights Council. It remains to be seen whether Iran will be held accountable for its abuses of human rights by the Council, which is the stated goal and raison d’être of the UPR process, but it is also the job of the international community to ensure that the recommendations brought up during the UPR process are implemented.
The Human Rights Council decides on the measures it will need to take in case of persistent non-cooperation by a state with the UPR. Concerned citizens can make their voices heard by contacting their country’s UN representatives. Every voice can influence change.
To help raise awareness of the Review and of human rights in general, a large number of Iranian dissidents, NGOs, and human rights groups will be present in Geneva on February 15th to lobby UN member states and hold rallies outside of the building.
They will be carrying messages from those in Iran whose words are being silenced. We can only hope that at least in Geneva, their voices will be heard.
The writer is the Coordinator of the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps at the World Jewish Congress. She is also a former Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and a founding member of the Tel Aviv International Salons.