The UN Human Rights Council on Friday appointed Javaid Rehman, a British-Pakistani lawyer and academic, as the new special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. Rehman assumes the role as the Islamic Republic continues to endure widespread protests stemming in part from the brutal repression that Rehman’s predecessors have punctiliously documented.
A professor of law at Brunel University London, where he also previously headed the law school, Rehman has published extensively on international, Islamic, and human rights law. He has advised multiple UN bodies on human rights and lectured around the world on legal issues. In 2010, he received an audience with Pope Benedict VXI in honor of his work on Islamic law and interfaith dialogue.
Rehman – the successor to special rapporteur Asma Jahangir, who passed away in February – will have his work cut out for him. In early January, Jahangir issued a joint statement with other UN officials that voiced “extreme concern” with Tehran’s violent response to the wave of demonstrations that began last December. “Demands by protesters in Iran for freedom and adequate living standards must be addressed and their rights respected,” Jahangir and her colleagues declared.
In her final report, released posthumously in March, Jahangir stated that improvements in Iran’s human rights record “are either not forthcoming or are being implemented very slowly and in piecemeal.” She also noted that Iran’s actions “contrast starkly” with its rhetoric, particularly President Hassan Rouhani’s pledge to implement a Charter on Citizens’ Rights that would prevent future human rights violations.
In fact, since the UN established the Iran human rights post in 1984, Tehran has refused to cooperate fully with its occupants. Since 2005, the clerical regime has rejected the requests of UN human rights monitors to visit the country even as it has strenuously challenged the accuracy of their allegations. In 2015, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif infamously claimed that Iran does “not jail people for their opinions,” contradicting robust evidence to the contrary documented by then-special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed.
In 2017, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Jahangir’s reports “lack credibility and legitimacy.” Iran’s envoy to the UN Human Rights Council contended that the “only determining power for support of human rights in Iran is the Iranians themselves and there is no room for outsiders.” Tehran has attempted to deflect attention from its human rights record by publishing a lengthy report on alleged U.S. human rights violations dating back to the 18th century.
In this context, Rehman will face challenges – and opportunities – unlike any that confronted his forerunners. The ongoing nationwide demonstrations have pushed Iran’s poor human rights record to the forefront of international attention, making Tehran’s denials even more risible than its previous distortions. In fact, the regime itself lacks credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of its own people.
The unrest should spur Rehman to highlight not only Iran’s longstanding domestic repression but also the ongoing protests and the regime’s bloody response to them. In so doing, the new special rapporteur can demonstrate that the world is watching – and that international pressure will not cease until Tehran addresses its people’s rightful demands.
Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.
Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.