By Tzvi Kahn
29 March 2018
The UN Human Rights Council last week passed a resolution extending the mandate of the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran by one year. The measure, which cleared the global body by a vote of 21 to 7 with 19 countries abstaining, reflects a recognition that Tehran’s domestic repression constitutes an ongoing problem. At the same time, the large number of abstentions and opposing votes suggests that a significant percentage of the international community remains willing to overlook or deny the reality of Iran’s abysmal record on human rights.
The resolution, which follows the February 11 death of special rapporteur Asma Jahangir, expressed “serious concern at the developments” documented in Jahangir’s last report, which the council released posthumously on March 5. Improvements in Iran’s human rights record, Jahangir wrote, “are either not forthcoming or are being implemented very slowly and in piecemeal.”
Jahangir, whose post remains vacant, also noted that Iran’s actions “contrast starkly” with its rhetoric. Although President Hassan Rouhani issued a Charter on Citizens’ Rights in late 2016 and has frequently pledged to repair Tehran’s human rights record, Jahangir stated, Iran has continued to impose arbitrary arrests and detentions, large numbers of executions, restrictions on speech and assembly, torture in prison, and discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities.
Tehran’s enduring defiance of the UN Human Rights Council mirrors a larger failing of the global body’s members. Countries voting in favor of resolutions extending the special rapporteur’s mandate have often failed to buttress their decisions with meaningful action. These lapses have likely strengthened Tehran’s belief that it can flout the council with relative impunity.
Thus, on Sunday, an Iranian spokesman dismissed the latest resolution as the product of a biased minority. “Although most members of the UN Human Rights Council refrained from supporting the resolution,” said Bahram Qassemi, “it was simply adopted through positive votes of a specific political bloc and certain regional countries, which are known to be main violators of basic human rights across the world and region.”
In fact, while the measure’s 21 supporters included the repressive governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the remaining votes came from democracies like Australia, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. By contrast, most of the opposing votes stemmed from authoritarian regimes, including Burundi, China, Cuba, Pakistan, and Venezuela. The 19 abstentions included eight countries ranked by Freedom House as “not free,” including Afghanistan, Egypt, and Qatar, as well as seven countries ranked as “partly free,” including Ecuador, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Moving forward, Washington and other capitals concerned about human rights in Iran should back up the findings of the UN Human Rights Council by further isolating Tehran politically and economically. Simultaneously, it should work to reduce the number of dissenting votes through more rigorous diplomacy at Turtle Bay and by opposing the election of dictatorships to the council’s ranks in the first place. More than anything else, U.S. policy must seek to forcefully highlight Iran’s human rights record as woefully deficient.
Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.