(New York) - The Iranian government's dismissal of international criticism of its human rights record underscores the need for the UN Human Rights Council to closely monitor Iran, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 15, 2010, council members in Geneva considered Iran's record during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights to which all UN members are subject.
Human Rights Watch pointed to numerous recommendations made by other states during the review, many of which addressed the Iranian government's crackdown against peaceful protesters and members of Iran's civil society following the country's disputed June 12 presidential elections. Human Rights Watch called on Iranian officials to immediately accept these recommendations to end the current human rights crisis.
"The Human Rights Council should insist that Tehran tells us what actually happened during and after the crackdown," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "How many people were killed or arrested, what are their names, and where are the detainees? The council should demand the government holds officials to account for their abuses instead of just denying everything."
During the UPR, council members raised numerous concerns regarding the Iranian authorities' violent and systematic attacks against demonstrators and opposition members during the past eight months, including the lack of accountability for abuses. In response, an Iranian government representative said that "all cases were duly addressed in competent courts openly and the defendants had access to their chosen lawyers," and claimed that the Iranian Judiciary "meticulously examined all allegations pertaining to the breach of citizenry rights and most scrupulously heard the complaints lodged with them for even the alleged minor illegal treatments against the detainees."
In fact, these statements are wholly inconsistent with evidence of thousands of arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions, torture of detainees, and mass show trials conducted by the Iranian Judiciary during the past eight months. These have resulted in little or no official investigations or accountability for the alleged abuses. The remarks were made days after security forces violently suppressed peaceful demonstrators on February 11, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Despite numerous warnings by high-ranking members of Iran's military and security forces designed to intimidate citizens and discourage them from joining street protests, thousands of Iranians participated last week in largely peaceful demonstrations in Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Ahvaz, and other urban centers. Numerous media reports indicate that demonstrators were met by anti-riot police using tear gas, clubs, and other hand-held weapons used to attack and disperse crowds. Media reports also indicate that many peaceful demonstrators have been arrested.
"Tehran's response to the UPR session contradicts the reality facing thousands of Iranians wishing to exercise their fundamental rights," said Whitson. "The government's denials show that without strong international pressure on Tehran, human rights abuses will continue."
On February 17, the Human Rights Council's UPR Working Group will submit its report to Iran, including a list of recommendations put forth by various delegations during the February 15 plenary session. The Iranian government will have an opportunity to accept or reject some or all of the recommendations submitted by the UPR Working Group, or offer to provide an answer before the council's general session in June.
Human Rights Watch, which submitted a report on Iran to the UPR process, urged the council to call on the government to conduct an impartial, transparent, and comprehensive investigation into the killings, arrests, and detentions of thousands of demonstrators and civil society advocates affected by the post-election crisis in Iran; to investigate, prosecute, and punish government officials involved in the unlawful killing, arrest, detention, and abuse of thousands of demonstrators, opposition members, and civil society advocates; and to provide due process protections, including prompt charge under the law, access to a lawyer, and a hearing before a judge, for all detained individuals.
Human Rights Watch also called on Tehran to immediately accept these recommendations instead of waiting to respond to them before the June session.
The UPR Review of Iran's human rights record during the past four years comes only days after security forces violently suppressed peaceful demonstrators on February 11, the 31st anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. According to media reports, leading opposition figures and presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi were among those attacked by pro-government forces and prevented from joining demonstrators in Tehran. Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi's wife, also sustained injuries as a result of an attack by pro-government militia, and one of Karrubi's sons was arrested and taken to an unknown location. He was released a day later, with his body showing signs of physical abuse at the hands of pro-government forces. Former President Mohamed Khatami's convoy was similarly attacked, and his brother, and sister-in-law were briefly detained by security forces before being released later in the day.
On February 14, Ali Karrubi's mother, Fatemeh Karrubi, published an open letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei requesting that he order an end to physical and psychological abuses carried out against those detained by Iran's security forces during the past eight months.
The government's February 11 crackdown follows weeks of devastating raids, many of them conducted at night, targeting journalists, human rights defenders, students, and political dissidents. This month, the Committee to Protect Journalists announced that Iran had detained 47 journalists since June 2009, more than any other country. Security forces have supplemented their campaign of arrests with cyber attacks on news and information websites, stepped up blocking of email accounts, and slowed internet access. These measures are designed to stifle the free flow of information and block the few remaining channels of communication available to the Iranian people.