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Statement By Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council – Item 4

GENEVA - 9 March 2020

Madame President,
Distinguished Delegates, Participants,

I am honoured to address the Human Rights Council to present my report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I thank the Government of Iran for their engagement, which included an open and frank discussion this morning with His Excellency Ambassador Baghaei Hamaneh. I am also grateful for the Government’s comments on my reports and responses to communications sent in 2019. I again respectfully request access to Iran as an extension of this cooperation. I also wish to thank the victims of violations and their families, as well as civil society partners, for the testimonies and the information they have provided to me.

Iran is currently facing significant economic challenges, worsened by sanctions, which are seriously impacting economic and social rights. I am concerned that the effect of sanctions has resulted in serious shortages of medications and medical equipment, including for rare and life-threatening conditions. Sanctions are also increasing medical prices, with associated risks of corruption, as well as causing significant food price rises. While the Government of Iran remains the principal duty-bearer, I urge the countries imposing sanctions and the international community as a whole to take all measures to mitigate the negative impact of sanctions on human rights, especially the right to health.

Individuals who have called for the alleviation of economic hardship and those who peacefully exercised their civil and political rights in defence of human rights have faced a harsh response. 

In particular, I remain deeply concerned at the arrest and imprisonment of human rights defenders and lawyers. I received reports that imprisoned human rights defender Arash Sadeghi has been denied treatment for bone cancer and a serious arm infection. Prominent human rights lawyers Nasrin Sotoudeh and Amir Salar Davoudi remain imprisoned for convictions connected to their representation of marginalized communities. Mr Davoudi started a hunger strike last month. Labour rights activists and journalists reporting on industrial relations have been imprisoned for peaceful expression and assembly.

Madame President,

Yesterday we celebrated International Women’s Day, the day one year ago when Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz peacefully protested on the Tehran metro against compulsory veiling laws. This led to their conviction and imprisonment on national security and morality charges. While their prison terms were reduced, I am deeply concerned an Iranian appeals court recently upheld prison sentences against them. Iran has, however, achieved some progress on women’s rights. I commend Iran for passing a new nationality law, which in most cases allows Iranian mothers to pass their citizenship to their children.

Madame President,

I am dismayed that 12 months on from my report focussing on child offender executions, children can still be sentenced to death. International law is clear: applying the death penalty against child offenders is strictly prohibited. Yet two Iranian boys aged 17 were executed in Iran in April 2019, and over 100 child offenders are estimated to be on death row. I note the Government’s efforts to intervene to convince families not to implement qisas or retribution. I also acknowledge the total number of executions remains significantly fewer since the 2017 drug trafficking law amendments. Nevertheless, I urge Iran to immediately commute the sentences of child offenders on death row and to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty against child offenders.

I continue to receive concerning reports about the arbitrary detention of dual and foreign nationals, cultural workers and conservationists. I welcome the release of some dual and foreign nationals. However, promoting prisoner exchanges as a solution for their release raises serious questions about the reasons for their detention. Conservationist Morad Tahbaz, who holds Iranian, American and British nationalities, had a 10 year prison sentence upheld in February 2020 despite several high ranking government officials finding no evidence he and fellow imprisoned conservationists were involved in espionage. I am also concerned about the arrest and imprisonment of Iranians involved in the arts, including Aras Amiri, who received a 10 year prison sentence on charges related to her work promoting Iranian culture in the United Kingdom.

The situation of ethnic and religious minorities remains a deep concern, especially proposed legislation that could criminalize membership in certain religious and ethnic groups. I am also disturbed by the reported arrest and imprisonment of individuals who manifest their religious faith or promote their culture, as well as the reported deaths against border couriers from Kurdish and Balochi communities.

Madame President,

In addition to presenting overall developments in the human rights situation in Iran, I chose to focus my report on conditions in detention and related fair trial rights in Iran. These issues are all the more significant in the aftermath of the security forces’ severe crackdown against nationwide protests in November 2019. During these protests, authorities used excessive force against individuals protesting fuel price rises and economic hardship, including aiming live ammunition at the head and organs. At least 300 people were killed, including over 20 children, a horrific violation of the right to life that I condemn in the strongest terms. At least 7,000 were reportedly detained. I reiterate my call for an independent investigation into these disturbing events and for perpetrators to be held accountable. 

I am deeply concerned that the serious deficiencies in law and practice I have found in relation to detention conditions and fair trial rights will impact the November protestors who have been detained.

Individuals charged with national security offences, which often includes peaceful human rights defenders, journalists and labour rights activists, are denied their due process right to choose their own lawyer, instead being required to choose from a list pre-approved by the judiciary. Proposed amendments will further deny the right to any legal representation for at least the first 20 days after arrest for individuals charged with such offences. I also express concern that in-person appeal hearings are now not required.

Another serious concern raised in this report is the use of forced confessions. While using confessions extracted through torture as evidence is prohibited under Iranian law, in practice forced confessions are frequently used as the sole basis for convictions. They are also frequently recorded and broadcasted on state television, sometimes before a trial.

General conditions in detention are of serious concern. Solitary confinement is frequently used in a manner outside the restrictive use permitted by the Nelson Mandela Rules. Overcrowding, poor nutrition and a lack of hygiene are also serious concerns. These issues indicate a high risk to prisoners’ health from malnutrition and disease. Recent reports indicate that the COVID-19 virus has spread inside Iranian prisons.

I am gravely concerned by reports that detained November protestors experienced torture and ill-treatment to extract forced confessions, that detainees are living in overcrowded centres without basic facilities, and that they are being denied fair trial rights. Harsh sentences, including the death penalty, have reportedly been ordered against protestors, including individuals who claim they were forced to confess due to torture.

I urge Iran to uphold its human rights obligations and to bring detention conditions and practices in line with international standards.

While concerned by these issues, I note that the Government of Iran is engaging with international human rights mechanisms, such as their recent universal periodic review and enhanced cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I encourage Iran’s continued engagement with these mechanisms and to submit its outstanding periodic reports in line with its obligations to the treaty bodies.

Thank you.