Denying the Universality of Human Rights
Statement Issued by the Director of the Human Rights Office of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
The Human Rights Project of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Mohammad Javad Ardeshir Larijani, director of the Human Rights Office of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran, mindful of the recent discussions of the human rights issues in international forums and certain incompatibilities between Western and Islamic concepts of human rights, has elaborated on the explicit and implicit dimensions of these discussions. According to Larijani, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s human rights project recognizes the right ofthe United Nations Organization and its relevant organs to devise a series of behavioral norms to be implemented by each member state. It also recognizes the competence of the United Nations Organization to oversee and follow through the process of the implementation of these norms and even to sanction those member states that have reneged on their commitments.
He further stated that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s project contains a tripled layered strategy. The first layer reaffirms Iran’s continued commitment to the content of the quadruple human rights treaties Iran had previously adhered to, even though we entertain serious objections to some of their provisions. Larijani reiterated, however, that Islamic Republic of Iran’s commitment to such treaties does not, by any means, entail its acceptance of the western interpretation of their provisions: “Some of these provisions are subject to various interpretations and as such we shall only adopt the interpretations that we deem compatible with the legal norms and cultural values of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Furthermore, we have never committed ourselves to accept the Western or European interpretations of these provisions.” Characterizing the second layer of the Islamic republic’s project relevant to the future development of international documents on human rights, Larijani stated: “Unfortunately, prior to the Islamic revolution, countries like Iran or other Islamic society did not have the opportunity to be active in the international arena. Today, however, we are more sensitive to and active in the field of human rights and will surely play a key role in the shaping of human rights instruments.” The director further stated that “We shall resist the pressures for imposing on these instruments the values ingrained in Western life style, since the strategy of the Islamic republic of Iran is based on cultural diversity and Islamic values.”
He also emphasized that the third project pertains to the issue of human rights in the context of Iran’s internal politics. It is clear, he claimed, that some political groups in Iran have raised the banner of defense of human rights in Iran with irrelevant and thinly covered political motives.
According to Larijani, in the view of the Islamic republic of Iran, the principles of human rights specified in this project and the path to their realization in Iran which are based on Islamic rationality are not only not regressive but are most conducive to further development of civil society. The approach of the Islamic republic of Iran to the issue of human rights must, therefore, be considered as genuine, positive and progressive.
The status of Islamic human rights in the United Nations
Referring to the history of Islamic human rights in the United Nations Organization, Mohammad Javad Larijani stated: “The Cairo Conference, that took place nearly ten years ago, discussed and approved a draft resolution offered by the Islamic countries that encouraged their active participation in the development of the standards of human rights which are compatible with the prevailing cultural diversity in the international community. The resolution, which included excellent provisions on matters such as women’s rights, education, family, reproduction rights and child custody, was also supported by many non-aligned countries but has been stymied by the adamant opposition of the western governments.” He further added: “Nevertheless, the resolution has had its positive effect since it has confirmed the fact that the west does not merely insist on the exclusive validity of its own version of human rights, but is also determined to impose it on the rest of the world which in itself is a patently grievous blow to human rights. For, even in a secular ideology there should be room for the presence and survival of a variety of life styles so that individuals have access to more options than merely western liberal democratic systems. Only then can a significant variety of social norms and values in the international community flourish. Elimination of diversity in life styles, therefore, would strike a serious blow to man’s civil and cultural heritage.”
With regard to the new strategy of the Islamic republic of Iran, Larijani stated that: “Mindful of its previous experiences, the Islamic republic of Iran is currently pursuing a new strategy which consists in upholding the Islamic approach to human rights and promotion of the idea of cultural diversity through legal and judicial cooperation with other states in a political and diplomatic framework. As an example, one can point to the 2007 conference organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran, which had invited all non-aligned countries for consultation on human rights and cultural diversity. Within a short period of time, the heads of the judiciary of Islamic countries gathered in Tehran in order to prepare the groundwork for the creation of a union concerned with these issues. The final communiqué of this historic conference explicitly referred to the cooperation of the participants in the area of human rights with an Islamic point of view.”
Larijani expressed his hope that these activities will in due time lead to the creation of a strong international movement in support of cultural diversity and continued resistance against the current one-sided attempts to impose western cultural values on non-western societies.
Asserting that in the opinion of the Islamic republic of Iran the human rights issue can be viewed and assessed from several different perspectives, the Director of the Human Rights Office continued: “The first perspective is Iran’s legal commitment to international human rights instruments. In other words, it is a fact that the Islamic republic of Iran has signed a number of important human rights treaties and conventions. It is also a fact that the United Nations Organization, and particularly its Council on Human Rights, who are obligated to ensure the implementation of these documents, have tried diligently to see whether Iran has in good faith fulfilled its commitments in this field.” He further added: “The Islamic republic of Iran has tried, and continues to try, to do its best not to contravene the spirit of these documents. But the Western powers are not quite satisfied with the result and claim that other countries must implement these commitments on the basis of Western interpretations. The international instruments of human rights, however, do not require us to do so.”
As to the issue of homosexuality, Larijani stated that: “As an example, Western governments believe that the right to homosexuality is part of the right to form a family and that each individual should be able to choose his or her spouse freely and without any outside pressure. We do accept the right to form a family, but homosexuality has no relevance to this right. Marriage, spouse and family have distinct meanings in every culture. Even in the West, homosexuality is not rooted in the traditional concept of family. There is no reason for us, therefore, to accept the Western liberal interpretation of this issue. In the Iranian legal system homosexuality is considered a moral deviation unrelated to the right to choose a spouse, and is deleterious to the health and wellbeing of the individual as well as the society.”
With regard to the compatibility of these instruments with Iranian laws, Larijani asserted that the spirit of international human rights documents should be compatible with Iran’s domestic legal norms, particularly those explicitly based on Islamic tenets. The Islamic republic of Iran, he stressed, represents an Islamic society. No law or act of an individual can contravene, or appear to contravene Islam. In fact, the international human instruments that Iran has adhered to, prior and after the revolution, do not contradict the explicit tenets of Islamic legal norms.
Larijani further emphasized: “The human rights’ documents and instruments that have already come into force are not apparently compatible with the laws of the Islamic republic of Iran. If the Western governments do not insist on their own specific interpretations of these instruments, we do not have to be concerned with the incompatibility of international human instruments with our own laws. But all such instruments are still undergoing the process of adjustment and development. Our concern should be focused on the forthcoming international documents on such areas as family protection law, children and women’s rights and freedom of expression. The Islamic republic of Iran and other Islamic countries should first, therefore, adopt and follow a common and active approach in order to block the one-sided Western cultural intrusions and, at the same time, prepare the ground for the inclusion of Islamic cultural values in future international human rights documents.”
The other perspective for the evaluation of human rights in Iran, he explained, is the quality of civil society in the country. Accordingly, he added, irrespective of Western propaganda onslaught against Iran, one should look at the basic components of human rights, which are compatible with Islam, as the criteria for assessing the development of civil society. These include freedom of expression, family rights, right to housing and education, right to privacy and personal security.
He further asserted that: “We should expand and promote human rights on the basis of Islamic rationality and not necessarily liberal imperatives. In fact, rational standards are applied in many parts of civil society, where, fortunately, the righteous religion of Islam has truly been a vanguard in the field.” The Director of the Human Rights Office continued: “As an example, in Islamic jurisprudence and in all phases of a just trial, there exists a finely detailed and interesting criminal procedure which is at the core of human rights and is of utmost importance to Islamic legal system.” In terms of criminal acts and their punishment in Islam, he stated that: “The purpose of punishment in Islam is not retribution but deterrence. The judge has, therefore, been given the discretion to impose the punishment that best deters the recurrence of the crime. Alternative penalties, especially in the case of juvenile crimes, are also designed for deterrence.”
Women are not Equal to Men: “In the righteous religion of Islam men and women do not have equal rights since there is no equality in nature and biologically they are not the same. It was traditional feminism that initially espoused the idea of gender equality. In the twentieth century, dismissal of biological differences between men and women led to the concept of equal justice and social status for both genders. It gradually became clear, however, that women are endowed with the great capacity inherent in motherhood; a capacity with tremendous strategic value. For women alone could ensure the survival of human race. Why, then, should this capacity be ignored? It is Islam that values this unique capacity.” He further pointed out that: “If we considered both men and women of equal status before the law, we would have deprived women of this natural endowment. The strategy of the Islamic republic of Iran is, therefore, correct, since it views human rights in Islamic terms and thus encourages the development of civil society in different dimensions. Such strategy, however, requires that the whole issue be clarified in theoretical terms which, entails informing and educating the public through mass media and enacting appropriate laws and sensitizing judges and law enforcement to it.
Death Penalty: “None of these punishments contravenes the text of the provisions of the international instruments of which the Islamic republic of Iran has become a signatory. In fact, many Western countries still allow execution of convicted criminals. Opposition to execution is based on the assumption that if the judge’s verdict has been rendered in error, there is no possibility of reversal and redress. The same problem, however, may arise in cases that lead to the imprisonment of a convict. As an example, if someone spends fifty years of his life in prison as a result of a judge’s erroneous verdict, there is no way to recover the lost years to the victim. Thus, it is not rational to oppose capital punishment on this ground.”
Stoning: “As to stoning, the Westerners claim that it not a punishment but a form of torture and that there is no proportionality between the crime and its punishment. It is interesting that in their view marriage is a contract and if one or both parties to the contract commit adultery the contract will be null and void and no punishment is imposed on the adulterous party. This, too, bespeaks of the imposition of western cultural interpretations on the international instruments of human rights. Thus, the claim that stoning is not a punishment but a form of torture is inaccurate and stems from a specific and farfetched interpretation of these instruments. In Islam, too, it is difficult to prove the crime of adultery. In fact, the cases of adulterous behavior may be many in society but only a few of them can be legally proved in a court of law. Islam has designed the punishment of stoning only as a deterrence to adultery. It is, therefore, utilized quite rarely, since in the absence of ironclad proof, it may not be imposed. In an Islamic society, the family is considered an important and vital institution and consequently its integrity and survival must be guarded. We believe that the prevalence of the crime of adultery is a serious threat to the survival of this institution.”
Human Rights and Western Double Standards
With respect to western application of double standards in the field of human rights, the Director of the Office of Human Rights asserted that: “In current state of affairs, it is interesting to note that neither the United States nor other Western governments have a legitimate claim to carry the flag of human rights or accuse others of their breach. The barbaric behavior of these governments, following the explosions of September 11th in New York, has completely divested them of the right to make such claims.”
He further added: “Prior to the Second World War, the West was the arena of violent and savage conflicts. In Europe a war broke out every six months. It was only after the Second World War that these quarrelsome, violent and racist governments, as if purified in a sudden rite of baptism, rapped themselves in the flag of human rights and began to accuse and admonish others for violating them. However, the events in New York city demonstrated that the mask may easily be removed revealing the true nature of liberal West as a completely racist and violent society; A society that in its treatment of the accused knows and respects no limits. In fact, the president of the United States himself has explicitly justified the torture of prisoners and the American congress has endorsed his justification on the pretext that without resort to torture one cannot fight terrorism.”