Iran Must Stop Violence against Peaceful Protesters, Release All those Arrested, and Impose Moratorium on Death Penalty

OHCHR

Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at a special session of the Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, especially women and children, called on Iranian authorities to stop using violence and harassment against peaceful protesters, release all those arrested for peacefully protesting, and impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

Mr. Türk said he had deep admiration for the people of Iran and it pained him to see what was happening in the country. The current protests, sparked on 16 September following the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, had expanded throughout Iran. Since the protests began, security forces had reportedly responded by using lethal force against unarmed demonstrators and bystanders who posed no threat to life, in blatant disregard of international rules. A conservative estimate of the death toll so far stood at over 300, including at least 40 children. Around 14,000 people, including children, had so far been arrested in the context of the protests.

The High Commissioner said his Office had received multiple communications from the Government on the events, including domestic investigations into Ms. Amini’s death, and remained concerned that the investigations failed to meet international standards.

Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking also on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said on 16 September 2022, for a few locks of her hair reportedly appearing under her hijab, Jina Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish 22-year-old woman, died in the custody of the so-called morality police. This tragic event was not isolated, but the latest in a long series of extreme violence committed by Iranian authorities against women. It had sparked nationwide and global outrage. In the past seven days alone, the crackdown on protests had intensified with at least 60 to 70 persons killed, including five children, most of them from Kurdish areas.

The Special Rapporteur reiterated the call issued by Special Procedure mandate holders on the Human Rights Council to fulfil its duty, hear the prolonged cries of victims for accountability, and establish an international independent investigative mechanism in the events leading up and since the death of Jina Mahsa Amini.

Khadijeh Karimi, Deputy of the Vice President for Women and Family Affairs of Iran, speaking as the representative of the country concerned, regretted that the Human Rights Council was being abused once again by some arrogant States to antagonise a sovereign United Nations Member State that was fully committed to its obligation to promote and protect human rights. The rights of Iranian people had been violated by the so-called champions of human rights due to the imposition of unilateral sanctions by the United States’ regime, and the implementation of these sanctions by the European countries, specifically Germany, the United Kingdom and France, and the provision of support to and hosting of terrorist groups. After the unfortunate demise of Ms. Mahsa Amini, necessary measures were undertaken, including the prompt formation of an independent parliamentary investigation commission as well as the forensic medical team. However, before the formal announcement of the probe analysis, the biased and hasty reaction of Western authorities and their interventions in the internal affairs of Iran turned the peaceful assemblies into riots and violence, setting the ground for terrorist attacks in several cities.

In the discussion, some speakers condemned the brutal crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations and the disproportionate use of force by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters, especially women and children, for more than two months. Some speakers said that the threat of the death penalty against those exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in Iran was unacceptable. The death in custody of Mahsa Amini needed to be duly investigated and those responsible held accountable. Some speakers supported the establishment of an independent fact-finding mission to hold those who had violated human rights accountable, to address the ongoing crisis of impunity, and to deter future bloodshed.

Some speakers did not support the convening of the special session, which they said made no sense. They rejected the proposed imposition of a new monitoring mechanism against Iran, which did not have the country’s consent and was doomed to failure. They also opposed the unilateral sanctions opposed against Iran. Iran’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights was commended, as well as its cooperation with the Council, the Office of the High Commissioner, and other United Nations mechanisms. The Universal Periodic Review was the fitting mechanism for analysing the human rights situation of all countries on an equal footing. The Council should seek more constructive engagement with Iran and work to assist the State to comply with its obligations.

Speaking this morning were Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Lithuania, Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union, Finland on behalf of a group of countries, France, Japan, Venezuela, Mexico, United Kingdom, Brazil, Republic of Korea, Czech Republic, Paraguay, Argentina, Montenegro, China, Ukraine, Pakistan, United States, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Belgium, Iceland, Slovenia, Ecuador, Canada, Slovakia, Syria, Liechtenstein, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Portugal, Austria, Uruguay, Spain, Belarus, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Peru, Republic of Moldova, Australia, Albania, Timor Leste, Switzerland, Israel, Sri Lanka, Russia, Malta, New Zealand, Philippines and Egypt.

Also speaking were Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship, International Commission of Jurists, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Institute for NGO Research, Charitable Institute for Protecting Social Victims, Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort, Equality Now, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Baha’i International Community, Institute for Protection of Women’s Rights, International Federation of Journalists, Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Front Line, International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defender, Amnesty International, Advocates for Human Rights, International Lesbian and Gay Association, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and United Nations Watch.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s thirty-fifth special session can be found here.

The Council will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m. to take action on a draft resolution before closing the special session.

Keynote Statements

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he had deep admiration for the people of Iran and it pained him to see what was happening in the country. There had been waves of protests over the past years, met with violence and repression, and the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force needed to come to an end. The country was now in a full-fledged human rights crisis. The current protests, sparked on 16 September following the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, had expanded throughout the country, taking place in over 150 cities and 140 universities in all 31 provinces of Iran. Minority regions continued to be disproportionately affected, especially in terms of casualties. Women, young people and men, from across society, students and workers from various sectors, and athletes and artists were clamouring for change, and Mr. Türk urged the Government to listen.

Since the protests began, security forces had reportedly responded by using lethal force against unarmed demonstrators and bystanders who posed no threat to life, in blatant disregard of international rules. A conservative estimate of the death toll so far stood at over 300, including at least 40 children. Around 14,000 people, including children, had so far been arrested in the context of the protests. Alarming reports had been received of children involved in the protests who were being arrested at school. Hundreds of university students had been summoned for questioning, threatened, or suspended from campus, and civil society actors had been targeted and arrested. Arrested protestors continued to be denied access to a lawyer and reports had been received of torture and ill-treatment of protesters to elicit forced confessions. According to sources, at least 21 people arrested in the context of the protests currently faced the death penalty, of which at least six had been sentenced to death.

Mr. Türk said the Office had received multiple communications from the Government on the events, including domestic investigations into Ms. Amini’s death, and remained concerned that the investigations failed to meet international standards. Persistent impunity for human rights violations remained one of the major challenges in Iran. The High Commissioner called for independent and transparent investigative processes into alleged violations of human rights, consistent with international standards. As of September 2022, the overall number of executions in Iran had reportedly passed 400 for the year, for the first time in five years, a substantial increase from 2020 and 2021. At least 85 individuals who were children at the time of committing the alleged offence were currently on death row and two were executed this year. The Government was urged to implement recommendations made by the Council on guaranteeing the right to a free trial.

Mr. Türk called on Iranian authorities to stop using violence and harassment against peaceful protesters, release all those arrested for peacefully protesting, and impose a moratorium on the death penalty. Those holding power in Iran should fully respect the freedoms of expression, association and assembly and engage with the people of Iran about their vision for the future of their country. The way forward was meaningful reforms.

JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking also on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said on 16 September 2022, for a few locks of her hair reportedly appearing under her hijab, Jina Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish 22-year-old woman, died in the custody of the so-called morality police. This tragic event was not isolated, but the latest in a long series of extreme violence committed by Iranian authorities against women. It had sparked nationwide and global outrage. Women and girls took to the streets, demanding accountability for the death of Jina Mahsa and seeking an end to decades of systemic and systematic gender discriminatory laws, policies, and practices.

Since the first days of the protests, top State officials had instructed security forces to violently repress people at any cost to human life. At no point did the Iranian authorities show any genuine willingness to engage in any discussion with demonstrators. Anyone taking part in the protests was quickly labelled as an “enemy to confront”, or a “terrorist” and both the head of the judiciary and the President emphasised the need to act “without leniency” against protesters.

The figures provided by the High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke for themselves and were evidence of how these deadly instructions were followed, especially in Kurdish areas, with oppressed religious and ethnic minorities paying the heaviest price. In the past seven days alone, the crackdown on protests had intensified with at least 60 to 70 persons killed, including five children, most of them from Kurdish areas. The situation in the Kurdish cities of Piranshahr, Javanrood and Mahabad were alarming. Last week, three young boys were shot dead during a demonstration in the city of Izeh. At least four girls aged 16 and 17 were beaten to death. Security and plainclothes forces raided universities and student gatherings and unlawfully fired tear gas, metal pellets, and live ammunition at students. With over 15,000 persons arrested since the protests started, prisons were now bursting with all those who had dreamed of and worked for a better future for Iran.

Since 13 November, at least six persons had been sentenced to death. On 11 November, 227 parliamentarians in blatant violation of the separation of powers, called on the judiciary to act decisively and pronounce severe punishment, including sentences carrying the death penalty. The Special Procedures urged the Iranian authorities to stop using the death penalty and to immediately release all peaceful protesters.

Those who defended human rights endangered their lives inside and outside Iran. Reporting human rights violations led to smear campaigns, threats, surveillance, arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and ill-treatment in detention, including sexual abuse. Concern had been expressed over families being pressured to declare that their children had died as a result of suicide and making false confessions, and were threatened that their other children would be killed if they did not make such false public statements on State television. Intimidation extended beyond Iranian borders, with staff of major media outlets receiving death threats. On 22 September, together with seven Special Procedure mandate holders, Mr. Rehman said he had denounced the deadly crackdown on protests and urged the Iranian authorities to undertake an impartial and prompt investigation into Ms. Amini’s death, to make the findings of the investigation public, and to hold all perpetrators accountable. However, the Iranian Government had consistently presented unsubstantiated reports and reiterated assertions claiming that Jina Mahsa did not die as a result of any violence or beatings. In other reports, the Government refuted the killings of children by security forces, claiming that they committed suicide. These so-called investigations failed to meet the basic standards of international law, and constituted further evidence of the fabrication of untruthful scenarios aimed at covering up crimes and ensuring the impunity of perpetrators.

Mr. Rehman said that in his March 2022 report to the Council, it was concluded that there was a complete absence of accountability for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran. Structural impunity had fuelled widespread patterns of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other serious human rights violations in Iran. The Special Rapporteur reiterated the call issued by Special Procedure mandate holders on the Human Rights Council to fulfil its duty, hear the prolonged cries of victims for accountability, and establish an international independent investigative mechanism in the events leading up and since the death of Jina Mahsa Amini.

Statement by Country Concerned

KHADIJEH KARIMI, Deputy of the Vice President for Women and Family Affairs of Iran, speaking as the representative of the country concerned, regretted that the Human Rights Council was being abused once again by some arrogant States to antagonise a sovereign United Nations Member State that was fully committed to its obligation to promote and protect human rights. Using human rights as a tool for political purposes by a group of Western countries was appalling and disgraceful. The politically motivated move of Germany was an orchestrated ploy with ulterior motives to derive the Human Rights Council from its genuine mandate. The rights of Iranian people had been violated by the so-called champions of human rights due to the imposition of unilateral sanctions by the United States’ regime, and the implementation of these sanctions by the European countries, specifically Germany, the United Kingdom and France, and the provision of support to and hosting of terrorist groups. In this light, expressing concern about the situation of human rights in Iran and holding a special session was deceptive and fraudulent. The above-mentioned countries lacked the moral credibility to preach others on human rights.

After the unfortunate demise of Ms. Mahsa Amini, necessary measures were undertaken, including the prompt formation of an independent parliamentary investigation commission as well as the forensic medical team. However, before the formal announcement of the probe analysis, the biased and hasty reaction of Western authorities and their interventions in the internal affairs of Iran turned the peaceful assemblies into riots and violence, setting the ground for terrorist attacks in several cities. A number of government-affiliated anti-Iran television stations based in the United Kingdom and the United States incited violence and terrorism during the riots. The role of Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, including through creating bogus accounts, was undeniable in inciting hate speech and violence during the riots. Foreign interventions, violence, terrorist activities as well as media provocation resulted in the deaths of tens of law enforcement officers, the injury of thousands of them, and the destruction of public and private property. Despite all the foreign attempts to destabilise Iran, millions of people had marched in support of the Government on 4 November 2022.

Those who claimed to champion human rights targeted the lives of Iranian women and children through imposing inhumane unilateral sanctions and supporting terrorist activities against them. The assassination of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu-Aqilah and unmarked graves of indigenous children in Canada were just a few examples which discredited their alleged claims for human rights. Iran had made great strides in promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls in the past decades, in personal and public life. These women were educated and qualified to decide their rights on their own without need to interference from external forces.

Discussion

In the discussion, some speakers welcomed the convening of the special session, expressing concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran following the murder of Jina Mahsa Amini. They condemned the brutal crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations and the disproportionate use of force by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters, especially women and children, for more than two months. Iran’s security forces had brazenly opened fire on protestors and bystanders, unlawfully killing hundreds of children, women and men, and injuring thousands across the country. The oppressed Baluchi and Kurdish minorities had borne the brunt of this deadly crackdown. Perpetrators of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence, needed to be held accountable. Speakers called on the Iranian authorities to stop arbitrary arrests and charges against peaceful protesters, journalists, and human rights defenders, release all non-violent protestors, and provide due process to all detainees. People in Iran had the right to peacefully protest. Speakers were also concerned by the information black out and lack of access to the Internet. A first step to restoring the right to freedom of expression would be to stop Internet shutdowns and the blocking of social networks.

Some speakers did not support the convening of the special session, which they said made no sense. They rejected the proposed imposition of a new monitoring mechanism against Iran, which did not have the country’s consent and was doomed to failure. They condemned the continued interference in Iran’s internal affairs and reiterated their firm opposition to the hostile and politicised initiatives that needed to be eradicated from the work of the Council. The death of Mahsa Amini was followed with terrorist extremism and an intense campaign of fake news in the international media, which fed disinformation and incitement to violence. This was a political and media war promoted by hegemonic countries to destabilise the Iranian Government. Speakers called on members of the Council to reject the draft resolution. Some speakers also opposed the unilateral sanctions against Iran. For decades, Iran had faced the siege of countries that imposed bloody unilateral coercive measures which undermined Iranians’ most essential rights and constituted crimes against humanity.

Some speakers said that the threat of the death penalty against those exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association in Iran was unacceptable. One speaker vehemently opposed the death penalty and called for a worldwide moratorium of the death penalty in all circumstances. Some speakers urged Iran to abolish the death penalty and impose an immediate moratorium on its use. Iranian authorities should refrain from imposing the death penalty against individuals for their participation in peaceful demonstrations and overturn death sentences already handed down. Iran also needed to clarify the number of deaths and arrests; cease all executions, including those of juvenile offenders; and start pursuing a consistent policy towards the abolition of capital punishment.

A number of speakers commended the courage of the demonstrators and paid tribute to all those who were victims. Brave Iranian women and men, girls and boys had taken to the streets to exercise their right to freedom of expression and to speak up against systemic discrimination. Women and girls, in particular, had emerged as a major driver of a nationwide movement. The authorities needed to uphold the human rights of all Iranians. Women’s participation needed to be prioritised and fundamental freedoms needed to be respected. Some speakers said they were inspired by the brave Iranians, and stood with the people of Iran as they continued their fight to live in dignity and freedom. These people were an inspiration to the world. The world needed to take a stand for women, life, and freedom.

Some speakers called on the Government of Iran to engage with the Iranian people in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue on improving human rights, including gender equality, and to engage relevant United Nations mechanisms in that process. Iran should uphold its international obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. Some speakers said they would continue to react firmly against violations of human rights in Iran and stood ready to engage with Iranian authorities to promote and protect human rights in the country. The death in custody of Mahsa Amini needed to be duly investigated and those responsible held accountable. Some speakers urged the Iranian Government to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, by allowing him to visit the country in accordance with his mandate. Iran should also cooperate fully with the thematic Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations treaty bodies.

A number of speakers supported the proposed establishment of an independent fact-finding mission to hold those who had violated human rights accountable, to address the ongoing crisis of impunity, and to deter future bloodshed. They said it was indispensable to identify those responsible for human rights violations and hold them accountable. All Member States were encouraged to support the establishment of the fact-finding mission, without any reservations.

Some speakers said it was crucial to de-escalate the violence, and urged the Council to support initiatives to maintain open dialogue with Iran. Others said that the Council had a responsibility to take concrete actions to support the people of Iran and to respond to the grave human rights violations by the Iranian authorities. Sovereignty should not be used as a shield to justify ongoing human rights violations.

A number of speakers commended Iran’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as its cooperation with the Council, the Office of the High Commissioner, and other United Nations mechanisms. Iran had maintained fruitful interaction with these bodies, based on mutual respect and constructive effort. Over the past couple of months, Iranian colleagues had disseminated around 20 reports in the area of human rights, but this was of little concern to the instigators of the special session. Some speakers were confident that Iran would be able to respond to the challenges posed on the basis of its solid democratic system and the will and strength of its people. They called for an end into the interference in Iran, saying that the interfering countries should work on solving their own human rights issues.

Some speakers said that the Council needed to act with impartiality and should not allow human rights to be used as a mechanism to interfere in the internal affairs of States. They rejected the internal interference in the affairs of States and the blatant manipulation of human rights for political purposes. Each country’s own choices should be respected. In recent years, the Council had seen an increasing level of politicisation and confrontation. The Council’s work should observe impartiality, objectivity, multilateralism and non-interference in the internal affairs of States, and the right to self-determination of peoples, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Speakers invited Council members to reflect on the lessons from previous sessions and to implement initiatives which improved human rights instead of aggravating them.

Some speakers said that the Universal Periodic Review was the fitting mechanism for analysing the human rights situation of all countries on an equal footing. The loaded language of the resolution would be counter-productive and produce little results. The Council should instead seek more constructive engagement with Iran and work to assist the State to comply with its obligations.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/11/selon-une-estimation-prudente-le-nombre-de-morts-seleve-ce-jour

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