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United Nations

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran to the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights
March 11, 2019
Appeal/Urgent Action

Mr. President,
distinguished delegates, participants,

I am honoured to address the Human Rights Council to present my report on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Today, the people of Iran face a myriad of challenges. Many have voiced their concern through protests, demonstrations, and strikes. Many of their concerns relate to rising inflation, working conditions, late or unpaid wages, living standards, and access to work, food, health care, and water. People from diverse sections of society - from truck drivers to teachers to factory workers - across the country have protested. The re-imposition of secondary sanctions by the United States of America has further increased such concerns and is likely to significantly impact economic and social rights, in particular the right to health.

It is in this context of increased challenges that concerns are mounting about human rights, including the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and to association in Iran. Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers, and labour rights activists signal an increasingly severe State response. Last week, the prominent women human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was reportedly convicted of charges relating to her work and could face a lengthy prison sentence.

The situation of arrested protesting workers of the Haft Tapeh sugar mill illustrates the breadth of concern. Labour rights defender Esmail Bakshi and journalist Sepideh Gholian were amongst those who were detained amidst alarm expressed about their ill-treatment in detention. I urge the Government to release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.

Mr. President,

The evolving situation also reflects positive developments. In late 2017, an amendment to the drug-trafficking law amended punishments for certain drug offences from the death penalty to a maximum term of 30 years. The change led to a significant reduction in the number of persons executed in 2018, and numerous individuals on death row have had their sentences reportedly commuted. Another welcome development is the adoption by the Parliament of a bill allowing children of Iranian mothers and foreign fathers to apply for Iranian citizenship when they reach 18 years old.

Notwithstanding these steps, longstanding concerns persist.

Concerns for example related to freedom of opinion and expression have been illustrated by the arrests of journalists inside the country and the targeting of others outside.

The ongoing arrests of lawyers and advocates are worrying given concerns related to the right to a fair trial. If individuals are accused of offences punishable by death or life imprisonment, or accused of political or press crimes, their choice of legal representation is limited during the investigative stage to lawyers on a list approved by the Head of the Judiciary. This is disturbing given reports of ill-treatment to compel confessions during the investigative stage.

Violations of the right to a fair trial underpin concerns articulated by members of many groups. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention identified a pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual and foreign nationals in the country. Discrimination of ethnic and religious minority groups, including the Baha’i, Azerbaijani Turkish, Kurdish and Baloch communities, is reflected by the disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of members of such groups.

Mr. President,

Three days ago, the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Such celebrations also brought to mind the situation of women’s rights advocates in Iran, including those who protested against the compulsory veil. A number of the women have been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment, sometimes suspended. Some individuals who publically supported their efforts have been imprisoned, such as Farhad Meysami whose health situation remains worrying. 

The health situation of a number of other imprisoned individuals identified in my report amidst reports of insufficient access to medical care, such as human rights defender Arash Sadeghi, is also of alarm. I have further received numerous reports about the denial of access to medical care and poor conditions in certain prisons, including Gohardasht Prison, Greater Tehran Central Prison and Shahr e-Rey women’s prison.

More broadly, I am increasingly concerned about the enjoyment of the right to health in Iran as a result of the re-imposition of secondary sanctions in November 2018 and restrictions placed on financial transactions which have impacted the availability and cost of medicines, medical services, supplies and equipment. I call upon all States to take all possible steps to ensure that humanitarian and procedural safeguards and exemptions prevent a harmful impact on the enjoyment of human rights in Iran in policy and practice.

Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,

I have raised numerous concerns in my report, all deserving of attention.

However, there is one critical issue addressed in detail in my report that I would highlight today:

Iranian law today allows girls as young as nine years, and boys as young as fifteen years to be sentenced to death for certain crimes.

As a result, individuals aged below the age of eighteen years when they allegedly committed certain crimes have been executed in breach of the obligations that Iran itself committed to through ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Before elaborating, I would note that some children convicted of qisas crimes such as intentional murder have avoided the death penalty because of the Government’s support for mediation efforts to obtain forgiveness from the families of the murder victims. Other child offenders have avoided the death penalty because of the enactment of article 91 of the Penal Code in 2013. This article allows judges to pronounce alternative sentences for child offenders if there was any uncertainty about their mental development at the time of the crime, or if they had not realized the nature of the crime committed.

Notwithstanding such efforts and despite this article, at least 21 children have been sentenced to death, and at least 33 child offenders had been executed since the enactment of article 91 in 2013. According to information received, at least 85 child offenders currently languish on death row, and six child offenders were executed last year.

In my view, such numbers convey a clear message - the content of article 91 of the Penal Code is not sufficient and its implementation has not been fully effective.

The sentencing of children to death gives further cause for alarm given the documented patterns of violations related to the lack of access to a lawyer and the reliance on confessions obtained through alleged coercion or ill-treatment during the initial stages of judicial proceedings in many cases reviewed.

The treatment of child offenders on death row is no less alarming.

The practice, illustrated in numerous cases reviewed, of waiting until the child offender reaches the age of eighteen before execution, repeated postponements, and the inherent vulnerability of the child given his or her age, amounts to a pattern of torture and other ill-treatment.

Information reviewed also indicates that many children sentenced to death have lower levels of economic and social standing, education, and support networks, and in some cases have faced extreme situations including forced marriage and alleged domestic violence. However, the Iranian law does not allow the court to take into account these mitigating factors.

Mr. President,

In raising this issue, I follow in the footsteps of every relevant international human rights mechanism, as well as numerous States during the previous Universal Periodic Review. I also follow the debate within the country on this issue, within the administration, the legislature, and within civil society in Iran, and I am aware that the Government has already demonstrated its intention to further consider this issue.

Accordingly I reiterate the appeal to the Government to abolish the ongoing execution of child offenders and to commute the death sentences of all child offenders on death row.

Pending the urgently needed implementation of such measures, I hope the detailed and targeted recommendations in my report will be considered in the spirit of constructive engagement that they are made.

Mr. President,

Before I conclude, I pay tribute to the victims of alleged violations, relatives, human rights defenders, lawyers, and representatives of civil society organisations who have engaged with my mandate. I also express my appreciation for all information submitted to my mandate which I have reviewed, along with Government statements, reports and comments, legislation, and relevant reports of international human rights mechanisms.

In the course of my mandate, I have sought to reach out to the Government to seek its cooperation and to reiterate my request for an invitation to visit Iran. I value the meetings held with Government representatives, including a substantive meeting with a high-level delegation last week. The Government also provided comments on the report before you and has submitted replies to a number of communications sent in 2018, including four received after the finalisation of my report. Such engagement generates hope for further engagement.

I will conclude with a respectful invitation of my own to the Government that we engage together on the substance and content of my report and issues of concern in line with our collective commitment to work towards the improvement of the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Thank you.