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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Iran update on human rights

21 June 2023


Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX

53rd session of the Human Rights Council

Presentation of the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (A/HRC/53/23)

Statement by Nada Al-Nashif
United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Distinguished Vice-President,
Your Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,

Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 77/228, the Council has been presented with the report of the Secretary General on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, covering the period from 1 August 2022 to 15 April 2023.

During this period, Iran continued to engage with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Nations human rights mechanisms, including on the issue of the death penalty. However, substantive engagement on the State’s obligations under international law remained limited as was the implementation of recommendations from international human rights mechanisms.

The overall human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran has markedly deteriorated against the backdrop of continuously worsening socio-economic conditions, aggravated by sanctions and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report focuses on developments since the onset of nation-wide protests following the death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022, three days after she fell into a coma and died in police custody. The protests, which occurred at various scale across the country’s 31 provinces, brought to the fore longstanding underlying grievances, including discrimination in law and practice against women and girls as well as minorities.

Civic and democratic space continued to be restricted in the country. Security forces used disproportionate force in some instances in the context of demonstrations as well as large-scale security operations leading to death and injury of protestors, raising concerns of unlawful killings. Arbitrary detention of protestors, activists, human rights defenders, and lawyers significantly increased during the reporting period.

The Secretary-General expressed his alarm at large-scale arrests and detentions since the onset of the protests. According to the information received, between 17 September 2022 and 8 February of this year, it is estimated that 20,000 individuals have been arrested and detained for supporting or participating in the protests.

Thousands of children are estimated to have been among those arrested. During the reporting period, at least 44 children, including 10 girls, were reportedly killed by security forces using lethal force, with the highest number reported in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province, where at least 10 children were killed.

There have been numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment of individuals by security forces during arrest and interrogation to extract forced confessions as well as allegations of sexual and gender-based violence committed against women, men and children, especially in detention. As previously reported, prison conditions including denial of medical care, dire sanitary conditions, contaminated drinking water and overcrowding, remain of concern.

Also since the onset of protests, respect for the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and access to information has markedly deteriorated. The authorities retain broad control over the digital space and have intensified online censorship. Since 21 September of last year, access to some social media and messaging platforms remains banned.

State policy has become more stringent in enforcing mandatory veiling, imposing harsher penalties, with a significant impact on the daily lives of women and girls. On 15 August 2022, the President signed a decree which includes the introduction of face-recognition technology to track and punish unveiled women or those who actively question compulsory veiling. At the legislative level, new draft provisions to the Penal Code are being considered in parliament to expand the scope of offenses for non-compliance, allowing imprisonment, flogging, and other punishments.

The report also notes with grave concern that as of 2 March of this year, more than 1,000 students, the majority of whom are girls, had reportedly been affected by suspected poisoning in 91 schools in 20 provinces. The authorities provided conflicting accounts of these incidents. The State’s failure to protect the physical and mental well-being of female students and to prevent further attacks has affected their right to education. The report also refers to the intimidation of the families of the students who were seeking information on the alleged poisonings.

Your Excellencies,

The report notes with serious concern the high number of death penalty sentences and executions during the reporting period. In 2022, 582 people were executed, that is a 75 per cent increase compared to 2021 during which 333 people were reportedly executed. There were three children among those executed in 2022. Of the total number of executions, 256 were for drug-related offences. The numbers of those executed from minority communities remain disproportionately high, particularly for alleged drug-related or security-related crimes.

During the reporting period, four people were executed for their involvement in the nationwide protests, with serious concerns over due process and fair trial rights. Many of the trials relied on confessions, allegedly obtained under duress, including torture. Since the execution of the four individuals, an additional 19 people were sentenced to death in the context of the protests and are considered at imminent risk of execution.

I note with regret that after the reporting period, three more individuals have been executed in Iran on 19 May.

Domestic avenues for accountability remain weak and ineffective, particularly in addressing violations in the context of recent protests. While there have been some investigations into several incidents, most resulted in inconclusive outcomes with very few leading to accountability of alleged perpetrators. The lack of thorough, impartial, effective, independent, and transparent investigations into all incidents including into the death of Jina Mahsa Amini, further undermine trust in the judicial system.

Overall, the report shows a worsening human rights landscape in Iran coupled with the chronic lack of meaningful and effective avenues for the population to voice grievances or indeed to seek remedies.

In this context, I call on the Government to cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission established by this Council, and, for our part, our own Office stands ready to continue its engagement with the Iranian authorities on the range of issues of concern to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights for all in Iran.