Submitted by Human Rights Watch to the UN Human Rights Committee on the occasion of its Pre-Sessional Review of Iran
This memorandum provides an overview of Human Rights Watch’s main concerns with respect to the human rights crisis in Iran, submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (“the Committee”) in advance of its pre-sessional review of Iran in 2011. We hope it will inform the Committee’s preparation for its review of the Iranian government’s compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“the Covenant”).
It has been 17 years since Iran last submitted its State Report to the Committee. During this time, the government has engaged in systematic violations of the Covenant, including extensive restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and the widespread use torture, ill-treatment, and unfair trials of political detainees. The number of executions, including those of juvenile offenders, has steadily risen in recent years. The government intensified its targeting of human rights defenders following the disputed presidential election of June 2009. Pressures on civil society groups have increased sharply during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, and Iran continues to discriminate against religious, ethnic, and other minorities both in law and practice.
Iransubmitted its latest report to the Committee a few months after the June 2009 presidential election and the ensuing violent crackdown against largely peaceful demonstrators and opposition activists. Violence initiated by security forces, including the basij militia affiliated with official security forces, led to the killings of dozens of demonstrators. Authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained thousands of demonstrators and opposition figures in the months after the election. Several detainees died at Kahrizak detention facility in Tehran after being subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Public street protests all but ceased by early 2010 as a consequence of the government’s crackdown, but resumed in February and March 2011 when thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to show their support for pro-democracy protests in neighboring countries and protest the arrest and detention of opposition leaders. The authorities’ violent response led to at least three deaths and hundreds of arrests. The Ministry of Interior continues to refuse to issue permits for peaceful rallies and demonstrations.
As in years past, the government, including the judiciary, has failed to hold accountable officials responsible for committing serious human rights violations. There have been no comprehensive or transparent investigations into government repression, including the killings of demonstrators and custodial deaths of detainees. Although several security personnel were tried in closed military courts for the deaths of detainees at Kahrizak, no high-level authority has yet been charged, let alone convicted, for these crimes. At the same time, the judiciary prosecuted hundreds of demonstrators, civil society activists, and members of opposition parties, some of whom were paraded on national television during several show trials on vague national security-related charges (including “propaganda against the regime”), and sentenced many to lengthy prison terms and, in some cases, to death.
Notwithstanding the numerous and serious abuses committed by state officials, Iran’s State Report does not begin to adequately address allegations concerning violation of core civil and political rights under the Covenant. There are frequently references to legal provisions in Iran’s Constitution and criminal and civil codes but no discussion of how the authorities are implementing or complying with these provisions. Rulings that may or may not address the specific issue in question are simply listed. And the portions of the report that address specific articles of the Covenant contain glaring omissions and inaccuracies, such as providing no information on Iran’s abusive revolutionary courts, which seriously distorts the current situation of human rights in the country.
Among the most serious problems with Iran’s 2009 State Report are the following:
- The report devotes little attention to the death penalty under Article 6 (right to life), even though Iran is believed to have executed 388 people in 2008, and is second only to China in the number of executions carried out annually;
- The section on torture and ill-treatment (Article 7) recounts provisions in Iranian law that prohibit the use of torture and references several cases where government officials were apparently convicted of torture, but nowhere addressing credible reports regarding the authorities’ systematic use of torture in Iran’s detention facilities;
- The section on Iran’s compliance with the prohibition on arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9) provides some references to rulings presumably related to convictions of government officials who violated these rights, but it contains no discussion of arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention carried out by Iran’s security and intelligence forces;
- There is significant discussion on the treatment of detainees and prisoners (Article 10), but it largely describes the systems and programs that ostensibly have been put into place. The report does not address serious problems incurred by detainees and prisoners, particularly those accused of national security-related crimes or convicted by revolutionary courts;
- The section on due process and fair trials (Article 14) fails to provide any relevant information regarding the workings of the revolutionary courts, where the state prosecutes most political dissidents and commits systematic and gross violations of the right to a fair trial;
- The report’s discussion of the right to freedom of expression (Article 19) does not address the government’s severe restrictions on peaceful dissent by using both criminal law and repressive practices;
- Regarding the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association (Articles 21 and 22), the report fails to acknowledge the ways in which the government systematically prevents civil society organizations – including student, women’s, labor, journalist, legal, and human rights groups – from meeting or conducting their activities.
In short, the Committee’s concluding observations with regard to Iran’s report 17 years ago unfortunately remain equally applicable today: Iran’s report provides “virtually no information about factors and difficulties impeding the application of the Covenant.”