Should The UNHRC Exist?

Published March 15th, 2021 - 11:08 GMT
Blue UN helmets waiting for their deployment.
Blue UN helmets waiting for their deployment. (Shutterstock)
Highlights
A key reason for the UN’s failure to protect human rights is politicization according to many human rights activists.

Whether the UNHRC should, or should not exist depends on who you ask! It’s doubtful it would make any difference to the children of Yemen or Palestine who have heard no whisper of human rights as they waste away from hunger and malnutrition as a result of an endless and pernicious war.

A key reason for the UN’s failure to protect human rights is politicization according to many human rights activists. Iran was itself a victim of this, during the imposed 8-year war of the 1980s with Baathist Iraq.

And today the country is singly afflicted by harshest ever US sanctions, whilst sharing in the global fight with the coronavirus. Regardless, the United Nations Human Rights Council is currently holding its forty-sixth regular session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva and it will go on until March 23rd, 2021.

And for Tuesday March 9th, the General Debate was set to be held with an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

Human rights and Iran make for a controversial combination, in the eyes of the many. But those accusing Iran of human rights abuses, often have dark records themselves. However, Iran seems happy to answer for itself.

And we're here to say how far it has evolved in regard to human rights, and where it is headed.

Esmaeil Baghaei Hamaneh, Iran’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, at the event last year said: "Human rights are a common good that contribute to human solidarity, without which it would be impossible to nurture empathy, to shield human rights from infringements and transgressions".

Well, if we want to consider human rights in the general sense, they are examples that every human being must have by nature to be able to live a free and more prosperous life. Its examples are also different. The first generation deals with civil and political rights, the second generation is about economic, social, and cultural rights, the third generation concerns rights such as the right to development, self-determination, and having a healthy environment. In fact, it is a whole unit, but at the same time, it is divided into different components.

Keivan Eghbali, Iran Judiciary Research Centre

Given how the Islamic Republic of Iran and international law seem to find themselves at odds with one another, it is easy to assume that could stem from a difference between a Western understanding of human rights, and an Islamic one.

In the West, human rights are based on humanism, the originality of human beings, which became very prominent after the French Revolution. Afterward, man replaced God. Because of the conflicts that the intellectuals had with the church at that time, they replaced God with man and said that it’s the man who can give power to others. Therefore, the philosophy of humanism took shape, which gave birth to liberal democracy. According to principles of liberal democracy, human beings are free to do whatever they want, with no conditions whatsoever. In the divine religions, including Islam, people enjoy there are many rights. But there are limitations that are innate and are related to the specific nature of human beings and their inner characteristics.

Mohsen Pakayeen. Former Iranian Ambassador to Baku

The United Nations formation was primarily supposed to be able to prevent wars and to protect human rights. But instead, big powers, particularly the US, use it to serve their own narrow interests. Example: America has exercised its power of veto countless times in protecting the Israeli oppression of Palestine; its illegally continued settlement building…

As Hamaneh put it: "The current international climate is obsessively hostile to nurturing genuine human solidarity to protect and promote that common good.  Human rights are the main casualty of today’s international relations.”

While the international community is pointing the finger of accusation at Iran, what IS Iran doing to improve the human rights situation? What happened to issues such as political / non-political prisoners? Well, Iran has been successful in some respects. But, when there is a warlike domestic environment, among different political factions, partisanship interprets anything as a security matter.

Iranian law amended to fit international expectations

Especially now, one of the positive moves made with regard to the constitution was the addition of political crime to it. In a recently enacted political crime (law), we allow a political offender to have a (trial by) jury. We let the political offender if convicted have the right to have family visitors on a daily basis. Solitary confinement has no place anymore. We don’t have solitary confinement for a political criminal. There are great achievements that most countries in the world are yet to enjoy.

Abolfazl  Aboutorabi, Parliamentary Human Rights Committee

In such murky waters, anyone can easily use accusations and false labels, such as spying for instance, to gain personal advantages. In the face of foreign threats the Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has urged a unified voice among officials and people alike.

Iranian authorities do not claim that Iran has been perfect in terms of human rights. That is a claim no country can make. And in an effort between the three branches of power, laws are being amended or considered for amendment, such as laws on citizenship rights.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the issue of individual freedom is well seen in Article 27 of the Constitution. Freedom of expression and the press within the framework of the law is well enacted, and now we see how much criticism is directed at everyone, even our country’s top officials, including the Leader of the Islamic Revolution. As we have seen in video clips, people who visit him easily express their opinions. The same goes for the president and government officials and members of the parliament.

Keivan Eqbali, Iran Judiciary Research Centre

Over the years Iran has tried to improve a variety of issues, including prisoners' rights, the right to prohibit torture, the right to prohibit arbitrary detention, the right to health, the right to education, women's rights, children's rights, the right to freedom of expression and access to information, the right to freedom of political association, trade unions and community organizations, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to self-determination, the rights of people with disabilities, the right to adequate housing, the rights of asylum seekers and immigrants, the rights of religious minorities and freedom of belief and religion.

I’m saying this with great confidence that you can’t find any country in the world where all minorities are required to be represented in the Parliament. In Iran, we must have one Jewish lawmaker, two Christians, and one Zoroastrian parliament member according to their population.

You do not have such a thing in France right now. Most European Muslims are in France, but they do not have laws that require one or two representatives to be Muslim. Of course, if the Muslims vote and participate, they can be elected.

But Iran’s law requires some lawmakers to be representing the Jewish, Christians, and Zoroastrians.

Mohsen  Pakayeen. Former Iranian Ambassador to Baku

How successful have these efforts been? Regardless of the outcome, it can be confidently said that there is an ongoing and rigorous debate among the Iranian authorities and people about how the ideals of the revolution have not been reached yet and it is understood as a fact that more work, sacrifice and effort lies ahead to attain the exemplary standards of social justice based on the teachings of Islam and great Iranian traditions.

The right to education is also among these rights. It means that governments are obliged to provide the necessary facilities for citizens to have access to an appropriate education. In the same context, the right to education has been considered in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. For example, we can refer to Article 30 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which emphasizes free and public education. In this regard, we now see that in our development program, the issue of education has always been emphasized. For example, in the twelfth part of the Sixth Development Plan, there is again a section dedicated to public and higher education.

Keivan Eqbali, Iran Judiciary Research Centre

The Human Rights efforts and achievements of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been mostly commended by the international community in recent years. Last year the UN Human Rights Council itself complimented Iran in a periodic review of its human rights record.

The preliminary debate on the report featured lengthy praise for the Islamic Republic, 95 out of 111 countries that took the floor lauded Iran for its human rights record according to UN Watch, a Geneva-based nonprofit organization.

For example, I would like to say that now, in the discussion related to the judiciary; one of the issues that should be considered is facilitating the possibility for people with disabilities to use judicial facilities. Now, whether the courtroom space is such that they can use it effectively, both in court and in the courtroom, facilities should be provided so that they are more accessible. In general, many measures have been taken. For example, if you look at the buildings of the judiciary, you will see that they’re designed so that a person with a disability can move around easily. As for court appearances, there have been many cases where a person who had speech impediments or other problems was granted assistance to speak more easily and be able to defend themselves.

Keivan Eqbali, Iran Judiciary Research Centre

The High Council for Human Rights of Iran said that the amendment of the law on the punishment of drug traffickers in 2017 had reduced the death penalty by 90 per cent and steps had been taken to strengthen the independence of judges, access to lawyers and fair trial.

With a suffering economy and mismanagement, making ends meet has become backbreaking to Iranians. Albeit, China said it “commends Iran’s efforts to eradicate poverty, enhance social security, protect the rights of vulnerable groups and hopes Iran will continue to drive economic and social development to provide a solid basis for the enjoyment of all human rights.”

Also, Iran’s efforts to provide for refugees despite the challenges it faced and the measures to empower women, promote school enrolment and reduce infant mortality were acknowledged.

Forty percent of employees in Iran are women while more than 50% of those admitted to the university are females. More than 50% of the medical staff are women. Women in Iran are employed in all jobs. We have several women in the cabinet, we had a minister, we had a vice president. We may have laws to protect families and women, but we have difficulty enforcing them. One argument says the authorities should try to implement this, but the authorities might not always have the jurisdiction. In some cases, the implementation of the laws depends on the family members.

Mohsen  Pakayeen. Former Iranian Ambassador to Baku

Syria said at the debate: “We commend Iran’s active efforts to increase healthcare services by building medical care in rural and urban areas.”

Several speakers noted that unilateral sanctions were harmful to the promotion of human rights, especially given the ongoing need to combat COVID-19; others recognized the difficulties in this fight and pledged their assistance to Iran.

Russia praised Iran’s “cooperation with human rights treaty bodies and openness for dialogue.”

We are a party to many human rights conventions, the most important of which are the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. These are two conventions in which membership brings an obligation for each country. Well, in this context, the judiciary, as one of the three branches of the country, has a duty to fulfill the obligations related to these covenants as much as possible. Our country’s courts are also obliged to respect these obligations.

Keivan Eqbali, Iran Judiciary Research Centre

Developing countries are traditionally used as scapegoats for human rights violations. Yet, Iran became a major supporter of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Hamaneh said in last year's UNHRC review session that "Iran had always examined all recommendations with an open mind and a spirit of cooperation. However, certain recommendations could not be noted as they amounted to repeated allegations and biased propositions."

From 1986, up to the present day, the UN Human Rights Council has consistently appointed a special rapporteur for Iran; the appointment of a Special Rapporteur for Iran is not based on purely legal objectives, according to Iranian officials, and is based on the political objectives of a limited number of countries in the Human Rights Council.

Because international law is the product of the opinions given by all countries, it’s relatively fair. But hegemonic Western countries use human rights as political tools. That is, if they have good relations with a country, if their interests are served by that country, they will not raise the issue of human rights at all. But if they want to put pressure on another country that opposes them, they will use human rights.

Mohsen  Pakayeen. Former Iranian Ambassador to Baku

The Iranian Bar Association has consulted various individuals and assessed reports by the Special Rapporteur, Javid Rehman. It found that  some cases had been prepared based on incorrect information and reliance on unofficial sources, and that almost all of his report was a repetition of his previous claims; which are also available on the websites of well-known opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran who are associated with certain intelligence services. This has undermined the credibility of his report in the eyes of Iran’s official circle.

Today, human rights have become a political tool in the hands of world powers to pressure the Islamic Republic.

Today, there is no such thing as democracy and the ballot box in countries like Saudi Arabia. But look how they are supporting Saudi Arabia.

Look how Saudi Arabia slaughtered Khashoggi with a hacksaw, but they didn’t target Saudis with any punishment for it.

Saudi Arabia is bombing Yemeni schools and hospitals every day in violation of all international law, they don’t condemn Saudi Arabia for killing children in Yemen.

That is why we say that’s a double standard and that human rights have become politicized and become the political tools for the world powers.

Abolfazl  Abotorabi, Parliamentary Human Rights Committee

On this matter, Ali Bagheri-Kani, head of the Iranian Judiciary's High Council for Human Rights, stressed that there is no expert view on the issue of human rights in the mentioned report, “In every part of the report, the views of Western powers that are in conflict with the policies and approaches of the Islamic Republic of Iran …. We protest the political and discriminatory abuse of human rights mechanisms, “he said.

In the past, overt interference in internal affairs of other countries has been used by the US to maintain hegemonic status. Whatever the situation in Iran, perhaps, Iran's human rights issue is really once again about to be used by the Biden Administration, as a “bargaining chip” to adapt rather than revive a troubled nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken claims that his government is committed to safeguarding the human rights of all people because they are universal values. But Donald Trump was also a US president till very recently, and it was he who withdrew the US from the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, claiming that the Council wasn't acting favorably enough towards Israel.

The administration of President Joe Biden has yet to return to the Human Rights Council.

Consider those who sponsor human rights resolutions, such as Canada. Canada treats its natives the worst. Australia has a group called the aboriginal people. These are indigenous people, as you probably know. In order for people to come to watch them as if they’re in a museum, they still keep the aboriginals in a state of barbarism to earn some money. They claim to be defenders of human rights. The United States is committing crimes against people of color. Look how they burned the Davidic sect and Europe’s NATO that committed so many crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Europe supports the crimes of the Zionist regime against the Palestinians. They back the child-killing regime of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Mohsen Pakayeen. Former Iranian Ambassador to Baku

The United States faced its first review in five years at the UN’s main human rights body, with the detention of migrant children and the killings of unarmed Black people during the Trump administration’s tenure among issues high on most people’s minds, AP reported in Nov. 2020. 

Friendlier countries called for the US to ratify various treaties aimed at guaranteeing human rights, and expressed concerns at racial inequalities and discrimination, gun violence, and the use of the death penalty in the US

Look how much human rights were violated in the case of people of color due to Trump’s racist actions and support for racism.

This was a heavy blow to the Western culture’s identity. The same goes for Europe. This is what is happening in France. And the crimes committed by NATO as the flag-bearer of peace in Afghanistan and Iraq. These all have raised questions about human rights in the West.

Now Europe and the United States have lost their identities in that regard. The basic principles of the French Revolution have now been violated.

Mohsen Pakayeen. Former Iranian Ambassador to Baku

The American Civil Liberties Union has called the government’s report “one of the worst attempts to cover up US  human rights violations since the civil rights movement” in the mid-20th century.

And the Chinese representative, Jiang Duan, cited systemic racism, politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proliferation of guns, and military interventions abroad as the main reasons for civilian deaths. “Stop interfering for political reasons in other countries’ internal affairs under the pretext of human rights,” he said."

Iran is one of the countries that have taken the best steps with regard to freedom. It has made good progress. Look at the United States recently, or even the countries that claim to be the cradle of democracy, I cite France as an example. Look how the French police treat people. They even have discussed a law that prohibits journalists from publishing interviews with people protesting in the streets. This is while our law permits these. People are free in these matters in Iran.

Abolfazl  Abotorabi, Parliamentary Human Rights Committee

Earlier in February, Ayatollah Khamenei said: "The domineering order has always looked for excuses against the Islamic Revolution. One day it’s human rights, once vilifying theocracy, once the nuclear issue and once regional issues. They're all excuses. The key concern is that Iran won't give in to their domination."

This article has been adapted from its original source.     


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