A second noted human rights advocate outside Iran has called on the UN to “stop minimising” crimes committed by the Iranian state against the citizenry ahead of a planned visit by the Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Measures [sanctions].
Recently it emerged that the UN’s Alena Douhan will visit Iran, on the government’s own invitation, from May 7 to 18 to investigate the impact of US and international sanctions on human rights in Iran.
During the visit, Douhan will be hosted by various officials of the Islamic Republic as well as Tehran’s own so-called High Council of Human Rights – described by the UN’s Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as “the national human rights institution”.
In a letter to the OHCHR, Shiva Mahbobi, spokeswoman for the UK-based Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran (CFPPI), wrote: “I would like to draw the attention of the OHCHR and ask what they mean by ‘national human rights institution’ in Iran. Do they think human rights institutions exist in Iran?”
Activists and peaceful protesters in Iran, Mahbobi pointed out, are regularly arrested, tortured, arbitrarily jailed and even executed in their thousands for agitating for human rights inside the country.
“Implying that human rights institutions are allowed to freely speak with Ms. Alena Douhan,” she wrote, “is nothing but the legitimisation of the crimes of the Islamic regime in Iran.”
Call for Independent Prisons Inspection as Part of Any Visit
The UN’s main Special Rapporteur on the state of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, has not been allowed into the country once since his tenure began in 2018.
Earlier, in a separate letter to the OHCHR, the Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi demanded the sanctions-related visit to be postponed until Tehran allowed Rehman to visit the country and appraise the overall situation, not part of Douhan’s remit.
“The list of crimes against humanity committed by the Islamic regime in the last 43 years is endless,” Mahbobi wrote. “The regime wants to use this [visit by Douhan] as a tool to legitimise itself internationally, expand its crimes, and remove sanctions on its leaders, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
“The OHCHR would be colluding with the regime in this visit if they do not demand an independent, unsupervised visit to prisons in Iran. [A visit without this] would be a slap in the face of millions of people in Iran who have been arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for protesting or even attempting to express their views.”
If Douhan’s visit goes ahead, the CFPPI spokeswoman said, it must include an unsupervised visit to detention facilities in which she is able to speak freely with prisoners of conscience and their families. “Otherwise,” she wrote, “Ms. Douhan’s visit will only give the regime legitimacy.”
Open Letters from Venezuela
Last year Alena Douhan visited Venezuela, a country similarly subject to US and international sanctions, to appraise the situation there. The visit by this rapporteur was the only one of 44 different UN mechanisms, at least 10 of which had been committed to in summer 2019, that the Venezuelan state permitted to happen.
Before the visit a consortium of 66 separate Venezuelan rights and advocacy groups wrote to Dohan asking her to take into account how structural corruption and impunity also had a role to play in the country's humanitarian emergency.
"It is a notorious fact that this government uses the sectoral sanctions imposed by the United States of America to hide its responsibility in the complex crisis," they wrote, "which has meant crimes against the patrimony of the nation today are still unpunished."
They asked Douhan to consider the situation before sanctions, to meet the independent media and civil society groups as part of the visit, and to investigate "state agents’ responsibilities for crimes related to the management of public spending".
No mention of any of the above factors or concerns was made in Douhan's final report, and nor were non-governmental organizations she consulted with quoted as having raised them. The report focused on the "devastating" effect on human rights in the country since sanctions were imposed and a fresh call for sanctions relief.