Report on Item 4: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran

United Nations Human Rights Council, 46th Session

March 9, 2021

By: Nora Futtner/GICJ


Presentation of the Report

On March 9th, Mr. Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, presented his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. In particular, Mr. Rehman emphasized issues relating to Iran’s response to COVID-19, sanctions, arbitrary detainment, violations during the November 2019 protests, the death penalty, rights of minorities, and women and girls’ empowerment. He opened the discussion by thanking Iran for its engagement with the process, and its consistent replies to his communications, but also noted that his requests to conduct a country visit to Iran in line with the terms of the mandate have been repeatedly denied.

UN Web TV Screenshot: The Special Rapporteur delivers his opening statements.

The increased economic, political and social challenges in Iran that have resulted from the global COVID-19 pandemic were a focal point of Mr. Rehman’s report. He expressed concerns that the unilateral sanctions placed on Iran have hindered its ability to respond effectively to the pandemic, and that attempts to institute humanitarian exemptions have proved unsuccessful. The Special Rapporteur urgently recommended that sanctions be eased in order to protect the right to health in Iran.

At the same time, Mr. Rehman noted that the government of Iran did not conduct an adequate response to the pandemic, which resulted in an increased death toll, especially among hospital workers, who were left to battle the virus with limited protective equipment. So far, 60,000 Iranians have died from the virus. He additionally recommended that Iran immediately release all those who are arbitrarily detained, and especially dual and foreign nationals and members of minority groups, because they are at risk of contracting COVID-19 if they remain in prison.

The statement also underlined that, despite eighteen months having passed, Iran has not yet conducted a proper investigation into the human rights violations that occurred during the protests of November 2019. It has become clear that there is a lack of political will to conduct independent and transparent investigations and Mr. Rehman called upon the international community to pressure Iran to address these violations.

Mr. Rehman also brought attention to the high execution rate in Iran, including of children. Of the 267 executions that occurred in 2020, four were of individuals that were under the age of 18 when they committed the crime. Further, the death penalty is frequently applied to acts that should not be considered crimes at all, according to Mr. Rehman, and do not abide by the definition of ‘most serious crimes.’ He noted that in Iranian law, the death penalty can be applied for consensual same sex relations and urged Iran to immediately reform this law and end all forms of discrimination against minorities. Mr. Rehman also mentioned the continuous human rights violations against ethnic and religious minority groups in Iran, which included harassment and arbitrary detention.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur highlighted the lack of women and girls empowerment in Iran. He called upon Iran to take immediate action to end the practice of child marriages, which is allowed for girls as young as 13 and even younger with the consent of the child’s father and a judge. Gender discrimination in law, including those which demand women to get permission from fathers and husbands in order to divorce, and other laws that strip women of the right to make their own decisions about personal matters, was emphasized. Mr. Rehman stated that the bill before parliament which focuses on protection, dignity and security for women makes steps in the right direction but requires significant improvements. Finally, he urged Iran also to end the practice of imprisoning and harassing Iranian women’s rights activists, including those campaigning against veiling laws.


Opening Statement of Iran

Mr. Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, representing the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, began his statement with requesting one minute of silence for women health care workers who sacrificed their lives during the pandemic. In response to wording used by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Hamaneh stated that these women are not seen as “second class citizens,” in Iran, but instead as martyrs.

UN Web TV Screenshot: Mr. Hamaneh presents the opening statement of Iran.

He proceeded to say that the Special Rapporteur’s report on the human rights situation in Iran did not reflect the reality on the ground. He signaled his belief that the interactive dialogue was being used as a platform to attack Iran, which is counteractive to the mission of the council to promote human rights and stated that human rights discourses have recently been weaponized to ‘score points’ on the international stage.

Mr. Hamaneh emphasized that Iran had a ‘courageous’ and ‘efficient’ COVID-19 response and that the country has done its best to minimize suffering despite the “terrorism” of sanctions. He signaled his dismay that the United States is continuing the legacy of the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign, despite a change in leadership. To conclude, Mr. Hamaneh stated that Iran remains resolute in promoting and protecting human rights and that it plans to continue engagement with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.


Statements by Member States

Twenty-nine delegations in total chose to participate in the interactive dialogue. The majority of statements welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur, and made recommendations relating to issues such as Iran’s use of the death penalty, impunity for the violations during the 2019 protests, women’s and girls’ rights, harassment of human rights defenders and activists, and discrimination against LGBTI individuals and ethnic and religious minorities.

UN Web TV Screenshot: Representative of the Czech Republic Participates in the Session.

The European Union made the first statement and welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur. The delegation expressed concern about the application of the death penalty, especially the practice of secret executions, and urged Iran to respect the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The EU called upon Iran to repeal laws on torture and ratify the convention against torture, hold perpetrators accountable for acts of domestic violence, protect human rights defenders, journalists and dual nationals, respect minority rights, and cooperate with the facilitation of a country visit. They also mentioned that women and girls must be given the right to participate in public affairs and culture and that the freedom of expression and right to assembly, including online, must be upheld. Germany, France, The Netherlands, and Ireland aligned with the EU statement.

The delegation of Denmark spoke on behalf of the Nordic Countries, and commended Iran for progress on equal access for education, while also sharing concern about the use of the death penalty and forced confessions in the aftermath of the 2019 protests, discrimination against women and girls, continued harassment and discrimination of religious minorities and LGBTI individuals and the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders.

UN Web TV Screenshot: Representative of Switzerland participates in the discussion.

All countries who accepted the mandate of the Special Rapporteur mentioned their concerns about the death penalty in Iran, both in law and in practice, and most also expressed alarm about the execution of youths. Switzerland and Israel specifically both brought up the issue that in Iranian law, the death penalty can be applied against girls as young as nine years old and appealed for a moratorium on all executions of juveniles under the age of 18. Arbitrary detainment was mentioned in several statements, including by Belgium, the United States and Saudi Arabia, with recommendations made to immediately end this practice and reform judicial processes. The United Kingdom asked the Special Rapporteur to make recommendations to States as to how they can encourage a transparent judicial process for all detainees. Numerous delegations raised alarm over the continued impunity for violations inflicted upon protestors during demonstrations in November 2019, which included the practice of arbitrary detainment.  

On the issue of women’s and girl’s rights, examples of recommendations included The Republic of North Macedonia calling upon Iran to ratify the Convention on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and domestic violence, and Slovenia and Australia recommending that Iran take immediate steps to ameliorate the general status of women and girls in Iranian law and society, including by ending child marriage. Belgium asked that the Special Rapporteur go into further detail on the number of unreported victims of violence against women, considering the stigma against reporting.

UN Web TV Screenshot: Representative of Burundi participates in the discussion in-person.

Russia, Venezuela, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Belarus, China, the Syrian Arab Republic, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Burundi condemned the terms of the country mandate. These countries stated that, because the country mandate was not consensual, they did not accept the report of the Special Rapporteur. Most mentioned that country mandates contribute to the politicization of human rights issues and are not impartial. Additionally, several expressed dismay that the onus of blame was placed on Iran, instead of the United States, whose sanctions negatively affected the human rights of Iranian people. Cuba recommended that country-specific issues be addressed during the Universal Periodic Review, because mandates that are imposed on countries are “doomed to fail.” Belarus, DPRK, Nicaragua and Burundi commended Iran for reducing human suffering, in spite of the sanctions.

The representative from Russia in particular mentioned that protection of human rights in Iran is politicized for ‘political points scoring’ and warned that any outburst against Iran would be seen in the context of the Iran nuclear deal. The Syrian Arab Republic accused the Special Rapporteur of including non-neutral sources in the report and ignoring the human rights violations which resulted from the sanctions imposed on Iran.


Statements made by Non-Governmental Organizations