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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of Iran

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights 

1 May 2013

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the second periodic report of Iran on how that country implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Mohammad Mehdi Akhondzadeh, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran for Legal and International Affairs, said Iran’s commitment to human rights remained steadfast, and was deeply rooted in its willingness to create a brighter future for its citizens.  The State party had taken a long-term approach to safeguard human rights, shown in the narrowing of the developmental gap in the country, attributed to success in health and education sectors.  This was achieved despite pressures and sanctions.  The provisions of the Covenant had been enshrined in Iran’s Constitution, and the Government worked to improve the living standards of the people.

Experts asked about the participation of academia and civil society in preparing the report, the Baha’i minority, fatwas, the Covenant in civil law and precedence, invocation of the Covenant, the difference between human rights and citizen rights, religious freedoms and discrimination, the rights of women,  the impact of the closing of the development gap, cultural diversity, the Iranian Constitution, Afghan refugees, the Council for Custody, the Covenant and Islam, rights of persons with disabilities, birth certificates, movement of foreigners, access to medical care, sanctions, Sharia law, human rights education and freedom of association and collective bargaining.

In concluding remarks, Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for the report of Iran, said one of the recurring questions had referred to discrimination.  Although the delegation had offered repeated assurances on this, further discussion was needed.  It was hoped that more information would be forthcoming on the efforts in the area of rights going forward. 

Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said the head of the delegation had spoken eloquently and that it was never the plan of the Committee to impose ideas, rather it was to promote a constructive dialogue.

The delegation of Iran included representatives of the High Council for Human Rights, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, the Ministry of Cooperation, Work and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Interior, the Office of Women and Family Empowerment, the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Office.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 2 May when it will consider the third and fourth periodic report of Jamaica (E/C.12/JAM/3-4).

The second periodic report of Iran can be read here: (E/C.12/IRN/2).

Opening Statement

MOHAMMAD MEHDI AKHONDZADEH, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran for Legal and International Affairs, said Iran upheld unwaveringly its constitutional and international obligations.  Its commitment to human rights remained steadfast, and was deeply rooted in its willingness to create a brighter future for its citizens.  Inspired by its rich historical and cultural heritage, Iran would continue promoting human rights based on interaction and cooperation.

The State party had taken a long-term approach to safeguarding human rights, evidenced in the 2013 Human Development Report which showed the developmental gap in the country had narrowed.  Between 1980 and 2012, Iran’s human development index value had witnessed an increase of 67 per cent.  This was attributed to success in the health and education sectors.  This was achieved despite pressures and sanctions with respect to the basic needs of the Iranian population, yet the people still had an active and energetic participation in shaping their political, social and cultural life.

The provisions of the Covenant had been enshrined in Iran’s Constitution, and the Government had worked to improve the living standards of the people, which included support for disadvantaged parts of society in the areas of sufficient and appropriate housing, literacy, support for the family unit, and job opportunities, which had been made a priority, particularly in the context of rural development.  The report submitted was an illustration of the country’s sincere desire to remain cooperative with the process.

Iran had cooperated with the existing human rights mechanisms in the past and had constructively interacted with the Committee.  On this occasion a second periodic report and list of replies had been submitted.  Human rights should be seen as a common heritage of humanity, and the promotion of these rights required collective commitments to listen to each other and respect diverse cultural heritages.  Iran was convinced that the best approach to promote and protect human rights across the globe was to engage in a meaningful and sincere interaction and cooperation.

Questions from Experts

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for the Report of Iran, said it was regrettable that the Committee did not get to have a dialogue with the State party on a more regular basis.  Could the Committee learn more about the participation of academia and civil society in the preparation of the report?  Did they make submissions and were they included in the report?  The follow-up on issues seen in the 1993 recommendations did not seem to be reflected in the report, and that was a shame as the issues seemed to remain. 

These issues included the case of the Baha’i minority, and the human rights obligations of the country in relation to the issuance of fatwas.  Could the Covenant provide the sole basis of a judgment if the matter was not addressed in civil law?  In the case of conflict between the Convent and national law, which had precedence?  Were there any situations where the Covenant had been invoked?  What was the interpretation in Iran between human rights and citizen rights?  Could the provisions of the Constitution be directly invoked before the court and be a basis for a decision?  Were economic, social and cultural rights interpreted for all human beings or only Iranian citizens?

Another Expert asked how Iran reconciled the obvious differences between the Constitution that recognised only four religions while the Covenant said there should not be any discrimination, regardless of religion?  Was Buddhism accepted?  Regarding the rights of women, there was fundamental discrimination in law and practice, which efforts were being taken to remove this?  Was an overall review of all policies possible in this regard?

On another point, a Committee member asked about how the closing of the development gap had improved economic, social and cultural rights?  A first step towards accepting cultural diversity was making all religions recognised by the Iranian Constitution?  The Baha’i community was clearly discriminated against, as they could not work in a variety of trades and professions.  There was a sizable number of Afghan refugees in Iran, and it was wondered if the policy towards them had changed?  On gender equality, what was Iran’s understanding of Article Three that called for both men and women to enjoy all rights equally. 

What was the status of the Convention in Iran, wondered another member.  In 1999, it was stated that all citizens would be able to apply the provisions of the Covenant in a court of law, though it seemed this issue remained open.  Were there any concrete examples of this?  In relation to the six legal experts on the Council for Custody, did this include an international expert who could offer advice on whether their actions met international legal standards?  Who decided to what extent the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was in line with the tenets of Islam?  Was there an instrument or document that set this out? 

Another Committee member asked if there had been situations where the Covenant provisions clashed with domestic law on the rights of persons with disabilities?  Did the lack of religious diversity in the Constitution go against the terms of the Covenant?  Were non-Muslim persons allowed to publicly practice their religion?  Why were some children not given birth certificates?  Why were there restrictions on movement of foreigners in some places?  Were there also restrictions on access to medical care?  It was reported that access to subjects where there were more women than men studying was being restricted, was this the case?  Although women could have jobs, they could not, for example, lead a court. Was this the case and was this not discrimination? 

To what extent did Iran consider the Covenant in policy formulation?  Did the long gap since the last presentation in this committee (20 years) suggest the Covenant was not important in the country?  To what extent had sanctions inhibited Iran’s abilities to fulfil their obligations?  How was Sharia law implemented in relation to the Covenant?  What was the current situation of human rights education in Iran?  The jurisprudence of the Committee was that Article Three of the Covenant very clearly covered gender discrimination.

Further, if the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining were universally guaranteed by the State party, could they provide information on the reported use of force to break up protests?  Was there universal coverage of social security benefits?  Were all workers covered by labour legislation?  About the minimum wage, there was a recent increase but this did not seem enough to guarantee a decent standard of living, which seemed half of the amount needed for a family of three or four persons.  Was this the case?  Why had this not been updated?  What was the current situation regarding universal and mandatory health insurance?  How successful had measures to increase employment been?  Were there concrete examples of when the right to strike had been exercised?  How often was the minimum wage reviewed?

Why had there been an increase in the unemployment rate?  Was there any statistical data on groups of persons with beliefs other than Islam employed in public service?  How were agnostics treated? 

Response from the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, a member of the delegation said it was necessary to cooperate and respect all cultures, as well as offer understanding of cultures in different parts of the world.  This would do much to bring views closer.  The Iranian Constitution had been agreed on by 98 per cent of the population.  The Human Rights Council of Iran carried out its obligations beyond that of the judiciary.  It also supervised the enforcement of law. 

If there was a conflict between national laws and the Covenant, in accordance to present regulations, the Covenant worked as national law.  Judges were free to evoke the articles of the Covenant.  The report had pointed out that the High Council for Human Rights had organized training sessions on international documents and instruments.  Time was needed for judges to become more familiar with the Covenant, and this was the reason for the low-level of use of its provisions and articles.  The law of Iran did not accept discrimination and any person could approach the court with a claim for them to investigate.  For example, when a Baha’i approached a court with a claim, after several rounds of trial the judgement was found in their favour.  

The Iranian people had voted for an Islamic Republic, it was explained, and after this vote three other religions had been recognised in the Constitution.  The definition of a religion was outside the scope of this meeting, and sects based on political concerns needed proper and further investigation.  Any persons with a piece of Iranian identification had citizen rights.  Judges had a clear definition of what a crime was, and they determined if a crime had happened or not. 

In relation to higher education, the number of students had reached 4.4 million over 30 years, a 25-fold increase.  The presence of women was over 50 per cent, and there were more female students in subjects such as humanities.  Followers of different sects were dealt with by committees that considered their educational needs.  Related to employment, women were represented in all professions, sometimes outnumbering men. 

There were bodies to monitor the work of judges, and lawyers, providing they behaved properly, were not subject to supervision.  There were a handful of lawyers whom, rather than being in the service of the client, were using cases to move out of the country and this was not acceptable.  If lawyers were in contact with terrorist organizations they would be prosecuted, and the same followed for university professors.  The Iranian Parliament had members of five minorities serving as representatives.  The Guardian Council was made up of six jurists.

Measures were taken to reduce the numbers of persons with disabilities, such as rehabilitation with devices, physiotherapy and other medical measures.  Efforts were made to help persons with disabilities find employment, and provisions were made for sheltered employment in the public sector.  The Iranian Government was not party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities although it could be ratified, subject to reservations.  A legislative process was needed. 

There was a tripartite body that reviewed the minimum wage annually, and enterprises regardless of their size needed to comply with this.  Inspections were completed in workplaces to check this was respected.  Enterprises were also subject to the labour code of the country in relation to the provision of health insurance.  There were projects to support women heads of household and micro-finance was being made available to these groups as part of the five-year development plan.  As part of this project there was also assistance in health and social security insurance. 

Iran’s population was a composition of different ethnicities, said a member of the delegation, and there was a single Constitution which covered everyone.  Monitoring showed that in one province 91 per cent of local officials were indigenous.  There were persons of an ethnic Arab background serving at the highest level.  There was no official discrimination against minorities and any person could be charged with taking care of affairs of State.  In relation to foreign persons, Iran had spent a lot of money on providing for aliens.  Legal aliens had no problem in accessing services, though there were thought to be large numbers living their unofficially.  Many were recruited by bandits and served as mercenaries to traffickers.

With regard to sanctions, it was appreciated that the Committee had raised the issue. 

Follow-up Questions

An Expert asked about gender equality in the country, about the level of the minimum wage, and also about special economic zones.  In addition, how and why were Baha’is restricted from the public sector and 25 trades and professions?  Another Expert asked again about the possibility of a policy and legislation review vis-a-vis gender discrimination, and also whether the lack of recognition of religions sat well with the Covenant? 

An Expert asked for examples of non-discriminatory practice, if there was an oath in public service, was there an alternative for those of a different faith?  Was the Government planning to address the issue of gender-based university education?  Another wondered about the minimum age for marriage in Iran?  Was this old enough to provide free consent as prescribed in the Covenant?  On domestic violence, were there provisions to prohibit and punish violence against women in any legislation?  What actions could a woman take in cases of domestic violence?  Had there been a nationwide study on the frequency of such cases?

There were a number of development plans for groups in Iran, but was there a horizontal plan to fight poverty that would link them all together?  Support was provided to street children; did the State party have an estimate of how many there were altogether?   A programme distributing contraception had reportedly been stopped, and an Expert asked to what extent were women’s rights to reproductive health protected?  Progress had been made on health indicators, but what measures were being taken to improve the urban-rural inequality in these?  Could the delegation give more information on enforced hormone treatments given to transgender persons?  What about the lack of training to surgeons providing services to this group?

What criteria did the State party use to recognise some minorities but not others, as self-identification did not seem to be a factor?  Could the State party widen the criteria to include other groups?  Did the Ministry of Education plan to extend the provision of school preparatory classes in bilingual areas?
Response from the Delegation

A member of the delegation said the Government adapted its development plans for five year periods, and once compiled these were presented to parliament.  The latest programme included 14 points with regard to women's affairs in different economic and social dimensions.

With regard to street children, services had been provided to more than 6,000 such children last year and this included the provision of shelter, clothing, food and psychological services.  These children could either approach centres themselves or be referred.  There were currently 34 centres providing assistance.  Initially parents were approached to try and keep the children off the streets, where possible.  There were no limits to the number of children that could receive services.

According to the judicial system the legal age was 18 years old, and those that reached this age could enjoy their rights of emancipation.   The age of maturity was nine years for girls and 15 years for boys.  From the Islamic point of view persons of this age had reached religious maturity and should commit themselves to religious obligations. 

About domestic violence, women had the support of their extended family to fall back on.  If this was not the case there were a number of shelters the women could approach.  There was also a hotline to call and these measures together worked to reduce incidents.  Additional mobile units which dealt with these situations were being purchased.  Places of shelter for runaways were also available.  Women suffering domestic violence were offered protection under the Civil Code, if the continuation of family life was detrimental to the woman, then she was able to file a suit for divorce.  A bill on security of women had been adopted. 

Discussing bodily injuries by a man against his wife or vice-versa, the delegation said this had been deemed actionable and a man committing this crime received a heavier punishment than a woman.  There were no exact figures on the incidence of domestic violence though it was thought this rarely happened due to moral standards in the family.  Usually the elders of the family intervened to resolve the situation in an amicable fashion.  The Resolution Courts could also be involved, and if no solution was found then a matter was referred to a higher court, and damages could be offered. 

There were health networks and houses in villages in rural areas, covering the entire country.  Hospitals were needed in some villages, and some hospitals needed their capacity to be increased.  The official statistics on this would be sent later.  Religious minorities formed part of the country of Iran, and as was the case for ethnic minorities, it went against Iranian values to impose discrimination on any group.  There were two types of religion, those ancient and those modern.  Some religious sects that tried to make reforms or changes in the Iranian structure were not recognised, and they had their own description of their beliefs.  There was a difference between faith and religious practice.

Baha’i-ism had created social unrest, based on historical documents.  It had certain ties and connections with external elements such as Israel and intelligence organizations of other countries.  Evidence backed this.  As a result the sect faced social challenges and if the Government remained indifferent to them then there would be a reaction to them, and the Government needed to prevent that from happening.  Islam was the official religion of the country and within Islam certain religions were seen as divine, such as Christianity and Judaism.  Certain groups in the country had no problem with remaining and settling in the country, however the Baha’i issues stemmed from their actions and reactions in the country.

Gender-based segregation in universities was instigated at the request of the local population, though it was not the case across the entire higher learning sector.  In these cases a specific campus was designated for one gender or the other, and was not closed off.  Measures taken in relation to empowerment of women included job counselling and skill-oriented training courses.  On another point, persons employed in special economic zones were covered by Iran’s labour and social security regulations.

There were two types of refugees in Iran, the legal and the illegal.  An increasing number of arrivals were coming from different countries and it was not possible to open the borders, due to domestic problems.  Those that were officially designated refugees would be housed and offered assistance.  Those that did not have official status would be deported should they be discovered. 

On the selection of staff in the public service, those chosen should have the best merits.  It was not the religious background or faith that was considered, more their character and skills. 

Questions from Experts

An Expert asked again about child marriage, wondering what could be done to bridge the gap between the Committee and the State party.  Was it possible to find a middle point?  Was there any law with relation to marital rape?  How well represented were Sunni Muslims in the public sector?  An Expert asked again about steps to change the violent behaviour of men accused of domestic violence?  On the lack of recognition for Baha’is, was that a violation of international human rights law? 

Response of the Delegation

A member of the delegation said that although it was the Committee's view that religions and sects were the same, this was not the belief of Iran.  In some urban areas and large provinces domestic violence was not common, but certain training programmes were conducted as a measure to prevent incidence.  This encouraged men and women to build a healthier family life.  There were also programmes for members of the armed forces, which occurred during the period of mandatory conscription.  Religions and sects recognised in the Constitution had their own shrines and holy places and there needed to be discipline in society.  Becoming a parent inferred responsibilities and duties upon a person and they were expected to meet them.  Sunni Muslims had representatives both in the Parliament and the Council of Experts. 

A member of the delegation then called on the Committee to stick to the context of the Covenant.  Those looking at a country’s practices should not be selective in discussing international laws and regulations, and the will of those that had agreed to those norms should be respected.  Future generations would look back and judge how much this generation believed in what it said by its actions.

On transgender issues, Iran believed that under the diagnosis of physicians some persons may need changes in their gender.  There had been nearly 100 cases in the last two years, and in these situations the prosecutor had to open a file - though this was not a crime, it was for support.  The costs of medical interventions were borne by the welfare state if found needed.  Why should Iran allow its society to encourage fathers in a family to deviate from their natural course?  Was this democracy?  Surely, democracy protected the rights of all members of the family?  The human community could not be led to tend to a disease. 

Concluding Remarks

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson and Country Rapporteur for the Report of Iran, thanked Iran for its participation, and that of the members of civil society who attended.  One of the recurring questions had referred to discrimination.  The delegation had offered repeated assurances on this and it was welcome.  However, further discussion was needed, for example, if the Baha’i minority would be at risk in the community, what efforts had been made on protection and education?  Some other questions received general or no answers.  It was hoped that more information would be forthcoming on the efforts in the area of rights going forward. 

CHANDRASHEKHAR DASGUPTA, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, thanked those that took part in the discussion, saying the head of the delegation had spoken eloquently and it was hoped that the comments and observations heard had given a clearer understanding of the Committee’s opinions.  It was never the plan to impose ideas, rather to promote a constructive dialogue.


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