March 6, 2019 | Policy Brief

New UN Report Documents Iran’s Continued Human Rights Abuses

March 6, 2019 | Policy Brief

New UN Report Documents Iran’s Continued Human Rights Abuses

Iran’s domestic repression, particularly its executions of child offenders, continues largely unabated, the United Nations indicated in a new report released publicly last week. The biannual publication, authored by Javaid Rehman, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, paints a bleak portrait of a nation in crisis, chafing under the Islamist regime’s authoritarianism and economic mismanagement.

The report, Rehman’s second since his appointment last July, documents Iran’s imprisonment or execution of political dissidents, human rights activists, women, journalists, and ethnic and religious minorities. The report also highlights Tehran’s ongoing detention of foreign and dual nationals, including several U.S. citizens, and stresses the “urgent need” for Tehran “to address the situation.”

Rehman does note a decrease in the number of executions due to the Iranian parliament’s late 2017 move to eliminate the death sentence for many drug-related crimes. Between January and October 2018, the report states, Tehran executed 207 people, compared to 437 during the same period in 2017.

Still, the report observes, the “extensive use of the death penalty is alarming given the numerous reported cases of violations of the right to a fair trial.” In particular, the judiciary has denied defendants the right to a lawyer of their own choosing, and routinely relies on forced confessions as the basis for sentences.

In this context, the report devotes substantial attention to the regime’s execution of child offenders, which occurs in Iran more frequently than in any other country. Tehran applies the death sentence to girls as young as nine and to boys as young as 15, though it typically waits until they reach the age of 18 before executing them. According to the report, the regime executed at least six child offenders in 2018, and has executed a total of at least 61 since 2008. At least 85 others remain on death row.

Rehman also stresses that Tehran’s continued suppression of public criticism must end, noting that he “is disturbed by indications of an increasingly severe response to the protests, amidst patterns of violations of the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to a fair trial.”

Troublingly, the UN report expresses concern that Washington’s reimposition of sanctions may exacerbate the human rights situation by restricting access to needed medical supplies. This claim, however, is misleading.

In fact, while the sanctions include humanitarian exceptions, Tehran has abused humanitarian exemptions in previous U.S. sanctions to conceal illicit transactions. As Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, noted in November, Tehran “uses fake companies disguised as humanitarian organizations to divert purchases that should go to food, medicine, and medical devices, and they use that to enrich the regime and support revolutionary activities overseas.”

As a result, European companies may decide not to sell any humanitarian goods to Iran lest they inadvertently violate U.S. sanctions on companies controlled by the regime. Ultimately, though, the responsibility for this problem lies with Iran, not the United States. Rather than criticize Washington, Rehman should urge Tehran to refrain from abusing the humanitarian channel – and, more pertinently, to cease the range of malign conduct that necessitated the sanctions in the first place.

Predictably, the Iranian judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights issued a statement calling Rehman’s allegations against the regime “baseless.” But Tehran made no effort to refute the specific allegations in the report. Tellingly, it also ignored the report’s request to allow the special rapporteur to visit Iran – an opportunity Iran has repeatedly denied UN human rights monitors since 2005.

The Trump administration should echo Rehman’s call for UN access to the country – and reiterate both to the UN and to Iran that economic pressure will continue unless and until Tehran takes meaningful steps to reform.

Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahnFollow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Sanctions Sanctions and Illicit Finance