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Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

UN Special Rapporteur for Iran Details Systematic Rights Violations, Impunity for Violators in New Report

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir, has published the second report of her tenure, covering the period January 1 – June 31, 2017. Despite obstacles posed by the Iranian government’s “considerably reduced rate of reply” to the Special Rapporteur’s queries (18 of 21 communications went unanswered) and an “extremely disturbing” level of fear (including of reprisals against loved ones living inside the country) among those who have tried to communicate with the Special Rapporteur, the report draws on information from a number of expert and civil society sources, including the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, to describe Iran’s “serious human rights challenges.”

Report highlights, grouped by topic and given along with article citation, include:

Persecution of Human Rights Defenders. Jahangir finds the situation facing Iran’s human rights defenders, including anti-death penalty campaigners and human rights lawyers, and those who insist on truth for loved ones summarily executed or forcibly disappeared during the 1980s “deeply concerning” (32). Their ranks include Narges Mohammadi (36) and Omid Nashenas (33), both imprisoned for their advocacy against capital punishment. The Special Rapporteur continues to receive information concerning coercive actions taken against activists’ families and lawyers, chiefly by Iran’s judiciary (37). The Special Rapporteur finally recommends that “[t]he Government should… take strict measures against the families of those who monitor or campaign against human rights violations or express views that are contrary to government policies (111).”

Crisis of the Right to Life. Jahangir notes with concern that Iran’s judicial system continues to use capital punishment “at an alarming rate” – at least 247 persons were put to death in the period covered by the report (49). The majority of executions were carried out for drug-related crimes, and many of those put to death are poor and belong to marginalized groups (50). Drug offenders particularly continue to be deprived of their rights to fair trial and due process (53). Iran has ignored the recommendations made by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which pertain to the right to life: replacing capital punishment and ensuring that persons with disabilities are not subject to arbitrary deprivation of life (54). Jahangir also notes human rights failures inherent in Iran’s system of qesas sentencing, which implies that responsibility for execution lies with the victim’s family rather than the state and prescribes different punishments for homicide depending on the religious commitments of the victim (55), as well as the fact that Iranian law continues to permit capital punishment for adultery, premarital sex, apostasy, blasphemy, and homosexuality (57). The Special Rapporteur reports “systematic” violations of the rights to due process and fair trial in Iran’s Revolutionary court system, which issues the vast majority of death sentences: these included denial of legal representation at the investigation phase, denial of access to information for lawyers, trials lasting only a few minutes, and sentences issued on the sole basis of forced confession (60). In the report’s Conclusions and Recommendations section, Jahangir reiterates her call to establish a moratorium on capital punishment, end the practice of public execution, and bring drug crime sentences in line with international standards (107).

Execution of Juvenile Offenders. The Special Rapporteur finds that the Iranian judiciary continues to sentence to death defendants found guilty of crimes committed before 18 years of age, despite human rights experts’ warnings and 2013 revisions to the Islamic Penal code meant to curtail this practice (62). Judiciary officials have ignored Jahangir’s March 2017 request for a list of juvenile offenders on death row. Iran’s juvenile offenders continue to be subjected to a system of qesas sentencing which places individuals from poor families at a disproportionate risk of execution owing to the difficulty poor families face in raising blood money sums (65). The trials of alleged juvenile offenders, as those of adults, are marred by violations of the right to due process and fair trial guarantees (66). Jahangir states that judges’ subjective assessments of juvenile defendants’ maturity levels “can result only in arbitrary decisions regarding [life or death]” (69).

1988 Massacre of Political Prisoners. Jahangir cites the massacre of Iranian political prisoners carried out in the summer of 1988 (the subject of ABF’s report, The Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran, 1988, Report Of An Inquiry,) an event which has “never officially been acknowledged” despite calls for an investigation issued by the Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, in 1989 (73). Following the August 2016 disclosure of audio tapes which recorded conversations between officials responsible for the massacre at the time, “some clerical authorities and the chief of the judiciary admitted that the executions had taken place and, in some instances, defended them,” notes Jahangir (74). Individuals seeking truth for loved ones lost to the 1988 killings, such as Maryam Akbar Monfared (72), have been met with harassment, intimidation, and prosecution (70). Jahangir affirms such victims’ rights to “an effective investigation of the facts and public disclosure of the truth,” calling on the Government “to ensure that a thorough and independent investigation into these events is carried out” (109).

Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Punishment. Jahangir terms the use of torture and ill-treatment including amputation, blinding, and flogging (sometimes carried out in public,) a “legal and regular practice” (75) while prolonged solitary confinement and denial of access to proper and necessary medical treatment continue to be widely reported.  She describes conditions in Iran’s overcrowded prison system “inhuman and degrading” (81) and notes that inmates report deaths in custody are “not extraordinary occurrence[s]” (82). Interrogators and guards often subject inmates to physical abuse, verbal abuse, interrogation for long hours, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, and toilet dunking (84).  Jahangir reports intervening in the cases of two men condemned to the cruel and unusual punishment of amputation: in their formal reply, Iranian officials insisted that this punishment is administered only where a defendant’s crimes “may have disturbed the safety or sentiments of a huge number of people.” “The Special Rapporteur urges the Government to abolish any provision that authorizes any form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” Jahangir writes in the report’s Conclusions and Recommendations section (108).

Impunity for Violators. The Special Rapporteur cites the “widespread impunity” for authorities responsible for past human rights violations, both and past and current (6). One official she names specifically is Ebrahim Raisi (11), cleric and head of the Ostan-e Qods Razavi charitable trust, whose presidential candidacy was confirmed despite his role in a committee which ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.

The Need for Judicial Reform. Jahangir describes the lack of independence of Iran’s judicial system, particularly in the revolutionary courts, as “alarming.” Those arrested owing to their political or other beliefs or for challenging authorities are denied fair trial and due process – even those nominally provided by Iranian law (110). Combating these and other violations requires reform of the judicial system, writes Jahangir: “In order to improve the human rights record in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Government will have to reform the judicial system with a view to ensuring its independence. Appropriate training for the members of the judiciary is also necessary to ensure that guarantees of a fair trial and due process are effectively respected (112).” Jahangir calls on the Iranian government “to uphold the integrity of judges, prosecutors and lawyers, notably by ensuring that appointments of judges are transparent and based on merit and by protecting them, their families and their professional associates against all forms of violence, threats, retaliation, intimidation and harassment as a result of discharging their functions.” This reform should include such measures as “appropriate training for [judges and other officials,] (112)” “ensuring that appointments of judges are transparent and based on merit, (113)” and “[strengthening] bar associations and bar councils… so that they are self-regulatory and function independently” (114). Jahangir further stresses the need for accountability in the judicial branch: “State entities that organize crackdowns on peaceful dissent should be identified and held accountable in order to prevent a recurrence of such violations (111).”

Read the full report at the ABF library:

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