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UN Human Rights Council Appoints Investigator for Iran


26 Mar 2011 00:27Comments
UNHumanRightsCouncil.jpgRapporteur assigned to scrutinize rights violations in Islamic Republic for first time since 2002.

[ dispatch ] The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on March 24 to appoint a special rapporteur on Iran for the first time in close to a decade.

The resolution cited a damning report submitted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the rights council's 16th session last week. Ban wrote that he was "deeply troubled" by a host of violations including the runaway rate of capital punishment, the execution of minors, torture, amputations, and arbitrary detentions.

The resolution, submitted by Sweden, the United States, Zambia, Moldova, Panama, and Macedonia, asks that the special rapporteur provide an interim report on human rights in Iran to the 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly this September. It also calls on the Islamic Republic to cooperate fully with the U.N.-mandated investigator.

Twenty-two countries supported the measure, while seven voted against. Fourteen members of the council abstained.

An eight-minute address prior to the vote by Iran's U.N. Ambassador Seyyed Mohammad Reza Sajjadi failed to sway the participants. "The main organizer of this campaign is the delegation from the United States," Sajjadi told the council, accusing Washington of attempting to distract attention from its own human rights violations and its benevolent treatment of Israel.

"U.S. soldiers kill civilians in Afghanistan and take memorial photos [over] their corpses," Sajjadi said. The Iranian ambassador also faulted Washington for "creating secret detention centers in various parts of the world and humiliating and torturing detainees."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has always manifested its sincere commitment to the promotion of human rights at the national and international levels," Sajjadi claimed, saying that this commitment emanated from his government's religious obligations and the provisions of the country's constitution.

Sajjadi failed, however, to address the detailed catalog of violations mentioned in Ban Ki-moon's report. (Archived webcasts of the proceedings can be viewed on the United Nations site).

Of the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members, three -- France, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- voted for the resolution. The other countries in favor were Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Senegal, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, and Zambia.

The support of Brazil and South Korea, which enjoy generally good relations and commercial links with the Islamic Republic, was noted by analysts and human rights activists.

The seven countries that voted against the resolution included the two other permanent members of the Security Council -- China and Russia -- along with Bangladesh, Cuba, Ecuador, Mauritania, and Pakistan. China and Russia have consistently voted against resolutions that target individual countries, including most recently one that addressed the grave human rights situation in North Korea.

Speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Pakistan's representative, Zamir Akram said, "On principle, the OIC does not support country mandates because they are counterproductive." He added that Pakistan believes that the work of the council would be advanced more effectively through international dialogue and cooperation.

Bahrain, whose relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran have been strained by the recent unrest of Shiites in the island kingdom, was among the council members that abstained. The other abstentions came from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Uganda, and Uruguay.

The decision to appoint a special rapporteur on Iran has been welcomed by human rights activists, but the United Nations lacks any mechanisms to compel the Islamic Republic to cooperate with the investigator or allow the rapporteur to visit the country, according to Maurice Copithorne, the last person in that post, which he held from 1995 to 2002.

He did however consider the adoption of the resolution as a "significant first step," in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Golnaz Esfandiari. "In this day and age you can do an awful lot" from outside the country, he said.

"Even though I only got in Iran once and even though the Iranian government was trying to ignore my reports, my reports were still circulated very widely within the U.N. structure and the press wrote it up every time," he told RFE/RL. He described his efforts as a form of psychological warfare on the Iranian regime, a term which will no doubt be used extensively in the Islamic Republic's press in the coming days.

But psychological warfare can also be waged by the Islamic Republic and Copithorne noted that the next rapporteur should be someone with "pretty thick skin."

"A number of things circulated about me, personally and otherwise, during my time," he said. "You have to just take these in your stride and keep writing what you believe are accurate reports on the state of human rights."

Copithorne believes that a special rapporteur must be prepared for this sort of activity and the Iranian government's attempts to justify itself.

"It just comes with the mandate," he said.

Homylafayette, a Tehran Bureau contributor, blogs here.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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