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Press briefing notes on Iran and Human Rights Day

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 4 December 2012
Subjects: 1) Iran
2) Human Rights Day

1) Iran

The High Commissioner for Human Rights is extremely concerned about Nasrin Sotoudeh, an internationally recognised lawyer and human rights activist, whose health is reportedly deteriorating. Ms. Sotoudeh has been on hunger strike since 17 October as a protest against her prison conditions as well as a travel ban imposed on members of her family. She spent almost three weeks in solitary confinement and was deprived of family visits for several weeks after she began her hunger strike.

Ms. Sotoudeh, the winner of this year’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, was arrested on 4 September 2010, and is currently serving a six-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison. She has also been banned from her profession for 10 years on charges that are believed to be linked to her work as a human rights defender. Since her arrest, her husband and 12-year-old daughter have been subjected to restrictions including the travel ban.

The Iranian authorities claim that Ms. Sotoudeh is in a good health. However her husband, who was recently allowed to visit her, says her health has reached a critical stage. The High Commissioner urges the Government of Iran to urgently address Ms. Sotoudeh’s situation by lifting the travel ban and other sanctions on her family, which cannot be justified under international law.

The UN human rights mechanisms view the imprisonment of Ms. Sotoudeh as arbitrary, and in violation of various provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a State party.

The High Commissioner is concerned that family members of human rights activists and lawyers are often targeted by the Iranian authorities. On 20 November 2012, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Ms. Massumeh Dehghan, the wife of jailed lawyer and human rights defender Mr. Abdolfattah Soltani, to one year in prison, suspended for five years, coupled with a five-year travel ban. She was charged with propaganda against the system for travelling abroad and receiving the Nuremberg human rights prize given to her husband.

The prosecution and imposition of sanctions and other limitations on human rights activists and their family members reflect a disturbing trend apparently aimed at curbing the freedoms of expression, opinion and association.

The High Commissioner has urged the Government of Iran to promptly release Ms. Sotoudeh along with all those activists who have been arrested and detained for peacefully promoting the observance of human rights in the country. The rights to freedom of expression and opinion, and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights which must be protected and respected.

On another note, the execution rate has accelerated to an alarming pace in recent weeks. There are credible reports, in many cases corroborated by the government itself that the number of executions carried out between 7-20 November is at least 32, with some sources indicating the figure as high as 81. We are concerned about the increase and the High Commissioner in her opening statement to the 21 session of the Human Rights Council raised her concerns about an increase in drug-related executions and executions in public in Iran.

2) Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day, which takes place on December 10 every year, is this year dedicated to ‘Inclusion and the right to participate in public life.’ This is based on article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, …without unreasonable restrictions (a) to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage … (c) to have access on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.”

For article 25 to be realized, of course, many other rights also have to be operative including all the rights related to non-discrimination and the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of assembly and association.

Over the past few years, all these related rights have come very much into focus – not just the people’s right to participate in free elections and to have a real say in the governance of their countries, but also to have more of a say in how the economy is managed, given the catastrophic effect a badly functioning national or global economy can have on the lives of millions of individuals, or on particular groups. So the idea of inclusion and participation is not confined to the democratic process, but also runs through the entire gamut of rights contained in the ICCPR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As you may recall, these two Covenants are the binding international treaties which take the entire range rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and turned them into binding international law.

This year in Geneva Human Rights Day will be celebrated by a special event which is taking place in the Palais des Nations, starting at 10:00 a.m next Monday, 10 December. In addition to the President of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the event will feature a video statement by former President of the United States, Mr Jimmy Carter and a live keynote address by satellite link from Myanmar by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. These will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, as well as a musical performance and the launch of OHCHR’s new Arabic language website. More details are available in the programme at the back of the room and on www.ohchr.org.

As usual, people all over the world will use Human Rights Day to remind us of our rights and to launch specific initiatives. One unusual initiative this year is being carried out by a Spanish hotel chain -- Room Mate Hotels -- whose President and owner, Kike Sarasola, came up with the idea of placing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the bedside-table drawers in Room Mate hotels across the world, starting on 10 December.

A Human Rights Day Statement by the High Commissioner in the six UN languages will be issued tomorrow.

ENDS

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 9310 /cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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