Presentation of the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Members of the Human Rights Council,
Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 76/178, the Council has been presented with the report of the Secretary-General concerning the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Since the previous report of Secretary General to the General Assembly in 2021, Iran has continued to engage with our Office and with international human rights mechanisms, including through the submission of its outstanding reports under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. It also presented its mid-term voluntary report for the Universal Periodic Review. In addition, in May 2022, the Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures undertook a country visit to Iran.
In the reporting period - from 18 June 2021 to 20 March 2022- Iran faced significant social, economic, environmental, and political challenges, fueling protests among a population increasingly pushed below the poverty line. Despite ongoing sectoral sanctions, the country returned to some growth. However, high inflation and widespread unemployment have compounded widening income and economic disparities.
The report analyses a series of legislative measures with potential serious implications for human rights that were either adopted or are pending adoption. Among these are the Youthful Population and Protection of the Family Law, approved by the Guardian Council on 1 November 2021, with detrimental consequences on the rights of men, women and girls to sexual and reproductive health. The law prohibits the free distribution of contraceptives in the public health care system, imposes a ban on voluntary sterilization for men and women, enacts a policy of restricting access to information on family planning, and imposes additional restrictions on abortion.
Regrettably, there was no progress observed towards the adoption of the bill on violence against women, presented to Parliament in January 2021. While requiring further amendments for it to be compliant with international standards, the bill would have and can still have introduced some positive changes, notably criminalizing violence against women in Iran.
In February 2022, the Parliament ratified the general section of the User Protection Bill, further restricting the information environment and isolating Iran from the global internet. Among other concerns, the Bill delegates control over international gateways to the security forces and the army and requires social media platforms to cooperate with the latter in surveillance and censorship.
Members of minority communities continued to be targeted, including for their advocacy of minority rights such as mother tongue education. The reporting period saw an increased use of article 49 of the Constitution to confiscate the property of minorities, particularly the Baha’i religious minority.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the increase of executions, including for drug-related offenses. The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to “most serious crimes” and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards. While 260 individuals were executed in 2020, at least 310 individuals were executed in 2021, including at least 14 women. This trend continued: between 1 January and 20 March 2022, at least 105 people were executed, many of whom belonging to minority groups. In March, 52 individuals convicted to death on drug-related charges were transferred for execution to Shiraz Central Prison.
Between August 2021 and March 2022, at least two child offenders were executed, and over 85 child offenders remain on death row. In February 2022, in a positive development, the Supreme Court decided to revoke the death sentence against a child offender who had been on death row for 18 years. Let me emphasize the call by the Secretary-General to introduce a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty on individuals who were below the age of 18 at the time of the offence, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Patterns of arbitrary deprivation of life due to excessive force used by the authorities against border couriers, peaceful protesters and those in detention, continued with impunity. The scale of deaths in detention, both as a result of violence and ill-treatment by officials and due to the lack of timely access to medical care is of serious concern. On 10 January, poet and human rights defender, Baktash Abtin died in hospital after failing to receive timely medical care after he contracted COVID-19 in prison.
Excessive use of force constitutes the default response by the authorities to managing assemblies. Protests in Khuzestan in July 2021 and in Isfahan in November 2021 related to the water crisis were met with lethal force, with a number of individuals injured and at least five killed, including a minor. In May of this year, excessive force was used against protesters including in Khuzestan and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Provinces, following cuts in food subsidies. At least five people were confirmed killed as a result of direct firing by security forces. State responses to protests is often accompanied by State imposed internet disruptions, making access to information challenging. I reiterate the responsibility of the State to use force in line with international standards, investigate these events, ensure accountability and urgently address the underlying reasons for the protests.
Civic and democratic space continued to be restricted with human rights defenders and civil society actors operating within a coercive environment where violations are committed with impunity.
In April and May of 2022, at least 55 individuals - teachers, lawyers, labour rights defenders, artists and academics were arrested during protests, many of whom are facing national security charges. Finally, on 23 May, an Appeals Court upheld last year’s ruling to dissolve Imam Ali Popular Relief Society (IAPSRS) following a case brought by the Ministry of Intelligence. Working on poverty alleviation, IAPSRS was the country’s largest independent non-governmental organization. In his previous report to the Human Rights Council, the Secretary-General had urged the authorities to reverse the decision to dissolve the organisation and allow it to operate without interference.
Furthermore, to date, no steps have been taken to establish accountability for violations committed during the nationwide protests in November 2019. People calling for accountability, including families of victims, are subject to acts of violence, imprisonment and threats by the authorities. In his report, the Secretary-General calls on the authorities to investigate recent events and to take tangible measures towards achieving accountability for past human rights violations, in addition to enabling space for the respect of the basic rights of those who call for change.
Our Office remains ready to support the Iranian authorities to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Iran.