27 July 2013 by Ranjit Bhaskar
The diaspora’s input is crucial in gathering information about
alleged human rights violations in Iran as they are free to speak
without intimidation, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the
issue at the end of his fact-finding mission to the U.S. and Canada.
Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, said in
Toronto that he interviewed 60 people in the two countries from July 14
to 28 and his findings have been consistent with the previous concerns
raised by him about the situation in the Islamic republic.
Findings from around 500 interviews globally and other interactions
with diaspora groups will be reflected in his report to the General
Assembly in October, Shaheed said. “Initiative from the diaspora is
essential to pressure Iran to change its ways by increasing awareness
The UN official said naming and shaming countries on their human
rights records is probably the only way correcting the situation as
there are no enforcement mechanisms. “Iran sees itself as a leader of
the South and is very sensitive to criticism. It cares and therein lays
hope,” said Shaheed.
Canada being innovative
He said Canada‘s attempt at direct conversations with Iranians
inside and outside Iran as part of its Global Dialogue program was
innovative and the right way of bearing witness to Iran’s growing
impunity and systematic disregard for human rights.
He said his talk with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in Ottawa was a meeting of minds with the same concerns.
On the question of current sanctions imposed on Iran, the Special
Rapporteur called on the UN system and imposing countries to monitor the
economic action to prevent potentially harmful impact on human rights.
The Special Rapporteur hoped that there will be new opportunities
for dialogue with the new administration of President-elect Hasan
Rohani. While not wildly optimistic of change as the president’s mandate
will be circumscribed by Iran’s Guardian Council and a parliament full
of conservatives, Shaheed said there is a window of opportunity.
“Skepticism borne out of previous experience should not make us blind to
He reiterated his continued interest to visit Iran and expects a
positive response this time around once Rohani takes office. Since his
appointment in August 2011, Shaheed had made several requests to Iran
for a country visit without success. No visit has been granted to any
special procedure mandate-holder since 2005.
“This reluctance to open up makes Iran unique among nations, in the
same league as North Korea,” he said. “Even the Saudi government
receives human rights rapporteurs, whose visits are not just confined to
countries in the South. The U.S. faces the most scrutiny with highest
number of visits.”
Reflecting on the last two years of his mandate, the Special
Rapporteur spoke of frequent and disconcerting reports concerning
punitive state action against various members of civil society; about
actions that undermine the human rights by women, religious and ethnic
minorities; and alarming reports of retributive state action against
individuals suspected of communicating with the UN.
He was also alarmed by the rate of executions in the country,
especially for crimes that do not meet serious crimes standards, and
especially in the face of allegations of widespread and ongoing torture
for the purposes of soliciting confessions from the accused.
“I have been able to gather a substantial amount of information
from more around 500 interviews with Iranian residents and recent
exiles. Their narratives portray a situation in which Iran continues to
execute individuals for offenses not considered to be serious crimes
under international law and in the absence of judicial safeguards,” Mr.
Last year, the Iranian government officially announced almost 300
executions. However, credible reports from family members, lawyers,
human rights defenders and organizations estimated that 497 executions
were implemented during 2012, and that 58 of these were public
executions. These figures do not include disturbing accusations that
some 500 additional secret executions.
The vast majority of these executions are related to
drug-trafficking. Iran has argued that these acts are tantamount to the
perpetration of violent crimes upon its populace and those of
Iran also regards adultery, rape, blasphemy, alcohol consumption,
and some economic crimes as capital offenses. Crimes against national
security, as defined by the Iranian Government, also carry the death
penalty. These crimes almost invariably involve a charge of Moharabeh,
which has no direct translation but implies a trespass against God,
and/or Mofsed-fil-Arz, which is loosely translated as “corruption on
earth,” Shaheed said.
The Special Rapporteur asserted that the highest standards of both
rigor and consistency are applied at all times while recording evidence
and testimonies submitted to him. Only allegations that are
cross-verified and consistently leveled by various sources are
presented, he said.
The UN official hopes Iran would address the issues raised by him
and consider an immediate moratorium on the death penalty and the
unconditional release of civil society actors and human rights defenders
prosecuted for protected activities under national and international
He also wanted Iran to address those laws that contravene its
international obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination in law
and practice. These include those laws and policies that undermine
gender equality and women’s rights, discriminate against religious and
ethnic minorities, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender community in the country.