On Monday, October 25, 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran called on the Iranian government to abolish the death penalty and take steps to overhaul its legal framework in order to honor its obligations under international law.
Javaid Rehman presented his annual report to the UN General Assembly Third Committee, stating that capital punishment had been used by Iran and other governments as a “political tool.” The special rapporteur also highlighted Iran’s violent crackdown on protesters, describing the recent targeting of protesters in Khuzestan as part of a long-standing campaign to control the population.
While Rehman’s appeals to Iran and statements to the committee are nothing new, some observers have commented that the report takes a decidedly more severe tone than in the past.
IranWire spoke to human rights activists Roya Boroumand, founder of the Boroumand Foundation, and Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Human Rights Organization of Iran, about the new report by Javaid Rehman, who initially took up his mandate in 2018.
Is There Anything New About This Year’s Report?
“Generally, when UN rapporteurs begin working on Iran and looking at the human rights situation there, they initially try to work with the Iranian government to help it improve its human rights record and when addressing specific cases,” Roya Boroumand told IranWire. She said this initial collaborative approach had in the past been driven by a degree of hope. “But the tone of Mr. Javaid Rehman's recent report is sharper than in previous years. Events such as the suppression of the protests in November 2019, the downing of the Ukrainian passenger plane, the victims' families’ failure to sue, and the increasing lack of transparency have all had an impact.
“The recent report, which focuses on the death penalty in Iran, violations against the right to life and the ongoing and systematic violation of rights, pays greater attention to the perpetrators of these violations and the importance of holding authorities to account. It appears as though he is not convinced by the responses and justifications the Islamic Republic authorities have given.
"It also addresses other important issues such as free elections, the rights of minorities, poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, the detention of human rights activists, and so on. He made a number of recommendations for Iran’s rulers."
Boroumand says it is important to note that the report focuses not only on the persistent violation of rights, but the fact that these violations are systematic, and that Iranians have almost zero opportunity to challenge this within Iran’s legal framework. "There are serious obstacles to litigation,” she says. “The report looks at the intimidation and punishment of families whose loved ones have been arbitrarily executed or killed or who have disappeared, and especially at the fact that human rights violators are immune to punishment and justice. They are promoted to key positions in the Iranian system instead of being held accountable."
Javaid Rehman's report, Boroumand points out, describes the "structural flaws in the Iranian judiciary" as "profound and in conflict with the concept of the rule of law.” He states that the system is so fractured that it can hardly be classified as a judicial system at all.
Sanctions, Excuses and the Execution of Children
One section of the report looks at sanctions and how they have put Iranians’ right to life at risk. Speaking to IranWire, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Human Rights Organization of Iran, said: "This issue is significant in Mr. Rahman’s report. He refers to vaccination as a case in point, highlighting the various excuses the Islamic Republic gave for the delay in importing coronavirus vaccines, and stresses that sanctions should never endanger citizens’ right to life. He said the “dimensions of the Iranian government’s procrastination and negligence are not clear and should be investigated."
Javaid Rehman's report outlines that executions in Iran remained a very serious issue, and that, from October 2020 to October 2021, "at least 266 people were hanged in Iran, marking a rise of about 10 percent compared to the same period the previous year.” Most of these killings were the outcome of arbitrary judicial decisions.
The Islamic Penal Code adopted in 2013 in Iran makes provisions for the death penalty to be used as punishment for a wide range of charges, in direct contravention of international human rights law.
"One point that is constantly emphasized in human rights rapporteurs’ reports is the death penalty for children," said Roya Boroumand. "In his report, Javaid Rehman explicitly expresses his concern about this issue. He once again asks the Iranian government to clarify how it can be a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and still have this provision in place, and he questions an important exemption: that the rights of children enshrined in the convention are not upheld in cases where Sharia law is violated. At the same time, officials have not made it clear what actions they regard as being in violation of Sharia. This ambiguity prevents the international community from challenging Iranian officials adequately."
The Islamic Republic of Iran sets the age of criminal punishment for boys at 15 years old and nine for girls, while international conventions set the age of criminal punishment for both sexes at 18 years.
"The issue of age is very important in Iran,” says Boroumand. “The rules cannot explicitly say that a nine-year-old girl is an adult, nor can it say that she is not. For this reason, instead of a clear response, Iranian representatives generally attack governments and journalists who question this.” The report also said charges against political and rights activists and religious minorities, and even against ordinary citizens, were "vague and general”.
Roya Boroumand highlights some of the activists who have spoken out over the last months: "The courage of the mothers who gave evidence to the Aban Tribunal, the demands of the families of the passengers who died in the Ukrainian Airlines plane crash and the efforts of citizens who demand their rights and hold the authorities accountable have all led Javaid Rehman — without mentioning Ebrahim Raisi as one of Iran’s human rights violators — to point to the recent presidential election.” Boroumand and Amiry-Moghaddam both highlight this aspect of the report. “People involved in serious human rights violations, instead of being held accountable, are given high political positions,” the report says.
Will the Report Have any Consequences for the Islamic Republic?
In his address to the UN, Javaid Rehman called for the Iranian government to introduce immediate reforms.
But the Islamic Republic did not respond well. Its representative at the UN issued a statement describing the report as "flawed" and "repetitive of malicious stereotypes." Kazem Gharibabadi, secretary of the human rights section at the Iranian judiciary, dismissed the report as "a completely political and deviant act" and grasped the opportunity to criticize Sweden, Canada, the United States and Britain.
"Such reports and reminders that domestic litigation is out of bounds for Iranians and that the international community must hold Iranian officials accountable will not be ineffective in the long run,” said Roya Boroumand. “The Islamic Republic always says our sources are political. It used to name opposition organizations abroad as the source; now almost all human rights activists outside Iran are considered to be political enemies. When it comes to the UN rapporteurs' request that the Iranian government provide information, and allow them to come to Iran to assess the situation, no action will be taken. Indeed, the report itself admits that Iran has publicly complained about the “structural deficiencies” and “misleading content” of the report. As Boroumand says, the Iranian government has yet to allow Rehman or any other rapporteur to visit the country. Many believe such a visit would at least constitute the start of change, but such a possibility appears to be a long way off.