Iranian Delegate addressing the Human Rights Council Iranian Delegate adressing the Human Rights Council (UN Photo/Jess Hoffman)

The Relationship Between Iran and the Human Rights Council is Extremely Contentious 

An Iranian government official who is under sanctions by the United States and European Union addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday. This, appropriately, caused a great deal of concern among human rights proponents around the world. The official, Seyyed Alireza Avaei, is believed to be responsible for the arbitrary detention and executions of regime opponents.

Avaei addressed the opening plenary the Human Rights Council’s 37th session. Iran is not a member of the council (more on that later) but any country is able to address this particular opening session before the actual work of the council begins.

His appearance in Geneva is yet another example of the highly fraught relationship between Iran and the Human Rights Council.

Iran is regularly condemned by the Human Rights Council and its subsidiaries.

In 2010, Iran sought to head off this criticism by vying for a seat on the 42 member council.  At the time, under the Obama administration, the United States had recently joined the Human Rights Council for the first time. The Obama administration mounted a worldwide diplomatic campaign to help keep Iran off the council and eventually Iran realized that it could not receive the support it needed to be elected to the council so it dropped its bid. This was an early diplomatic victory for human rights defenders. And it was followed about one year later by a vote in the Council to create a new position to specifically monitor and report on human rights abuses in Iran.

Asma Jahangir, wearing a medal conferred to her by winning the “Four Freedoms Award” from the Franklin Roosevelt Foundation. Credit: Wikimedia commons

In 2011, the Human Rights Council voted to create a new “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” This makes Iran one of just 12 countries in the world to which the Human Rights Council has targeted with a special investigator. Since 2015, the special rapporteur, Asma Jahangir, was a renowned Pakistani human rights lawyer.  Last year, she issued a scathing report detailing abuses carried out by the Iranian government. She also routinely condemned Iran’s overzealous use of the death penalty, particularly for minors and used her position to highlight Iran’s systematic persecution of religious minorities, including Baha’is.

The reports she issued were quite detailed.  For example, here is one situation she described involving a minor who was sentenced to death:

Alireza Tajiki was sentenced to death in 2013 after a criminal court convicted him for the rape and murder of a friend, which he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old. Mr. Tajiki was reportedly placed in solitary confinement for 15 days, denied access to a lawyer and allegedly subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment. In 2014, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and sentence owing to lack of evidence and ordered the trial court to determine Mr. Tajiki’s maturity. In November 2014, the trial court determined that he had the requisite “mental maturity” at the time of commission of the crime. In February 2015, the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the lower court and in May 2016, Mr. Tajiki, then aged 19 years, was at risk of execution. The Government informed the Special Rapporteur that the prosecutor had issued an order to suspend the retribution verdict until further notice and that efforts were being made to obtain the consent of the family of the murdered victim. They indicated that the process of fair trial had been completely observed, including effective access to private attorneys. No information was provided in response to the allegations that Mr. Tajiki was subjected to torture and ill-treatment and, at the time of writing the present report, the situation of the young man was unknown.

Jahangir died on February 12 this year. Iran is reportedly trying to block the re-appointment of a Special Rapporteur to replace her. The Human Rights Council will hold a vote to renew the mandate next month.

The gambit of sending Avaei will almost certainly backfire — European Union representatives in the room walked out when he spoke to the Council.  And the EU holds considerable sway at the Council, even as American influence is waning under the Trump administration.

We can likely expect the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and condemn on human rights abuses in Iran for many years to come — or at least until Iran sufficiently reforms its approach to due process, and civil and human rights.