FILE PHOTO: European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

By Natasha Phillips


Leading human rights organizations have called on the United Nations to address alleged human rights violations in Iran. The appeal was made in a March 24 letter addressed to member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“In the past year, human rights defenders, including labor rights defenders, bereaved relatives of those killed by security forces seeking justice, as well as lawyers and journalists have continued to be judicially harassed and arbitrarily detained,” the human-rights organizations wrote.

The letter was signed by more than 30 non-governmental organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Article 19, and the Child Rights International Network (CRIN).

The NGOs also asked the countries to make a formal statement on Iran during the Council’s 49th session. The session — which began on Feb. 28 and ends April 2 —  included a meeting held on March 17 to consider the state of human rights in Iran.

In addition, the signatories invited member states to support the renewal of the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and fulfil his request for “accountability with respect to long-standing emblematic events that have been met with persistent impunity.”

“The renewal of this mandate is essential in light of the persistence of a pattern of serious human rights violations and international crimes committed by Iranian authorities, as extensively documented by civil society monitors and by the special rapporteur,” the signatories wrote in their letter to the UN.

The UN’s current Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, has become increasingly vocal about human rights violations documented by civil society watchdogs.

Rehman’s latest report on Jan. 13 set out several serious human rights concerns including: the use of arbitrary detentions in Iran; the execution of child offenders; excessive use of force during peaceful protests; poor prison conditions; the increasing numbers of Iranians living below the poverty line; gender inequality; and discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.

The report concluded that failures to hold Iran’s government to account over decades had been “a major contributing factor in the recurrence and continued violation of rights.”

“The sacrifice of rights has been particularly high for individuals who challenge or are perceived to challenge the system of governance,” Rehman wrote.

During the UN Council’s March 17 meeting, after Rehman presented his findings, Iran called the document biased and said it was “full of one-sided and incorrect information and conclusions.”

The UN has remained largely silent about Iran’s human rights record, and drew global criticism last April when it selected Iran to join the UN’s top women’s rights body, the Commission on the Status of Women. Iran took up its four-year term on that commission on March 25 alongside other countries with poor gender equality records such as China, Egypt and Pakistan.

Gender equality campaigners in Iran are routinely arrested and detained for their peaceful activism. Rights advocate Narges Mohammadi was arrested on Nov. 16 after attending a memorial service for Ebrahim Ketabdar, a man killed during the November 2019 protests by Iran’s security forces. The former vice president of the now banned Tehran-based Defenders of Human Rights Center was then given an additional 8 years and 2 months in prison and 74 lashes, on charges which remain unclear.

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Meanwhile, waves of anti-government protests in the country in 2021 were met with violent crackdowns by security officials and police. The use of lethal force against peaceful protesters in a series of demonstrations across 20 cities which erupted in July 2021 in Khuzestan Province largely targeted Iran’s minority Arab community. At least eight people, including two children, were killed. Reports confirmed that more than 360 people were arrested, including at least nine children aged between 12 and 18.

Thousands of farmers held non-violent protests in Isfahan in November 2021 over chronic water shortages in the region. A large number of security forces responded to the demonstrations by attacking the protest area and setting its tents on fire. Forces used tear gas and pellet guns on protestors, leading to several people suffering with head and eye injuries. Officials arrested more than 200 individuals taking part in the demonstration.

Iran’s security forces continued to use live ammunition against border couriers in the last year, killing and wounding more than 200 people between 1 January and 1 December 2021.

The detention of foreign and dual nationals continued in 2021, despite the release of British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori. The two dual nationals were released on the same day that Britain paid a longstanding debt of 400 million pounds ($522 million) which it owed Iran. British-Iranian nationals Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof remain in detention in Iran.

Iran Human Rights Violations in 2021
Individuals/ Groups affected Alleged state-sanctioned abuse/s Number of people affected
Gender equality campaigners Arbitrary detentions

Use of force

Forced confessions

Unfair trials

Restricted or no access to legal representation

Excessive punishments

Torture in prison, including solitary confinement

As of 2021, more than 500 women rights defenders are in prison in Iran.

Women affected include: Narges Mohammadi, Nasrin Sotoudeh (who has been released temporarily), Soheila Hejab, Hoda Amid, and Najmeh Vahedi.

 

Women and girls New law imposing extensive restrictions and bans on abortion, voluntary sterilization and access to modern contraceptive goods, services and information. Women made up 42 million of the 85 million population in Iran in 2021.
Anti-government protestors Inappropriate or lethal force

Forced confessions

Arbitrary detentions

Torture in prison, including solitary confinement

Several thousand people in 2021 protested against alleged government corruption, water shortages, and poor pay and living standards including: farmers, teachers, oil workers and laborers.

Thousands of protestors were detained, and at least 11 people were killed by security officials including one child.

Human rights defenders and lawyers Arbitrary detentions

Forced confessions

Unclear charges

Harassment

Unfair trials

Long prison sentences

Torture in prison, including solitary confinement

More than 200 civil society activists were arrested in January and between July and August in 2021.
Child prisoners Unfair trials

Forced confessions

Torture in prison, including solitary confinement

As of 2021, more than 85 children are on death row in Iran’s prisons.

An estimated 100 children are executed every year.

Political prisoners Arbitrary detentions

Forced confessions

Unclear charges

Harassment

Unfair trials

Long prison sentences

Torture in prison, including solitary confinement

There were 605 political prisoners detained across 22 prisons in Iran in 2021.

Several prisoners are foreign or dual nationals including UK citizens: Morad Tahbaz and Mehran Raoof.

General prison population Arbitrary detentions

Forced confessions

Unclear charges

Harassment

Unfair trials

Long prison sentences

Torture in prison, including solitary confinement

Excessive use of the death penalty

There was a total of 189,000 prisoners in Iran in 2021. The exact number of prisoners who have been subjected to potential human rights violations is not known.

However, more than 280 individuals, including at least 10 women, were executed.

General Iranian population Restricted access to Covid vaccines and medical care

Environmental mismanagement

Iran government data held that more than 141,000 people died of Covid in 2021, though the figure is likely to be much higher, according to medical experts in the country.

An estimated 28 million of the country’s 83 million people live in areas with water shortages.

Workers, labor activists and unions Arbitrary detentions Employees across more than 70 oil and petrochemical companies took part in strikes in 2021 asking for higher wages and better contracts.

Large demonstrations in Tehran, Shush, Mahshahr,Asaluyeh and Bushehr brought the country to a standstill in June.

Ethnic minorities including: Azeris, Baluchis and Kurds. Arbitrary detentions

Discrimination

Restricted or no access to education, employment and political office

Torture

In 2021, ethnic minorities were disproportionately affected by death sentences imposed for unclear charges such as “enmity against God.”

At least 20 Kurdish men were on death row after being convicted of similar charges.

Religious minorities including: Baha’is, Christians, Sunni Muslims, Arbitrary detentions

Discrimination

Restricted or no access to education, employment and political office

Torture for practicing their faith

Security forces tore down 50 homes of Baha’is in June in Mazandaran province as part of a long-standing campaign to remove them from the region.
Past political prisoners Arbitrary detentions

Forced confessions

Unclear charges

Harassment

Unfair trials

Long prison sentences

Torture in prison, including solitary confinement

Death penalty

It is estimated that more than 30,000 political prisoners were executed in 1988, following an Islamic Republic decree that all prisoners affiliated to opposition group MEK would be charged with “waging war against God” and executed unless they renounced their affiliation to the organization.
The table includes data collected from: the UN Special Rapporteur’s Jan. 22 report; Amnesty International’s 2021-2022 annual report; the Human Rights Activists of Iran; Iran Prison Atlas (IPA); International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI); Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre; Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI); Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights (ABC) in Iran and; PEN America.