October 20, 2020 | Policy Brief

UN Secretary-General Condemns Iran for Human Rights Abuses

October 20, 2020 | Policy Brief

UN Secretary-General Condemns Iran for Human Rights Abuses

The “overall situation of human rights” in Iran “remains of serious concern, owing to persistent and gross human rights violations,” the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, stated in a report released publicly earlier this month. The report provides a grim portrait of a nation chafing under the radical Islamist ideology of its authoritarian regime, which systematically represses dissidents and minorities.

The report, which covers the period from October 1, 2019, to June 10, 2020, expresses concern about Tehran’s use of the death penalty, “including in some instances for the legitimate exercise of human rights,” and about “the high rate of executions.” In 2019, says the report, the regime executed at least 280 people; between January 1 and April 23, 2020, Tehran executed at least 84. The executions frequently came in the wake of trials devoid of due process.

The UN document voices particular concern about the execution of child offenders, defined as those under 18 years of age. As of June 10, 2020, at least 90 of them were on death row. Authorities executed four juvenile offenders in 2019.

The report condemns Iran for detaining dual and foreign nationals on trumped-up security-related charges, including Austrian-Iranian Massud Mossaheb, British-American-Iranian Morad Tahbaz, and Iranian-American Siamak Namazi. As a matter of policy, Tehran refuses to recognize the concept of dual citizenship, often viewing dual nationals as potential Iranian spies.

The report devotes considerable attention to the regime’s suppression of peaceful protesters, particularly in late 2019. Guterres is “deeply alarmed” by the regime’s “excessive” use of force against demonstrators and bystanders, which includes “aiming live ammunition” at their heads and vital organs. The report says Tehran killed at least 304 people, including 23 children and 10 women, between November 15 and 19 of last year in 37 cities across Iran. This estimate is conservative; Reuters estimated a death toll of approximately 1,500.

The regime also arrested thousands of protesters. “While no official figures have been released as to the number of prosecutions related to the November 2019 protests,” the report states, “information received indicates at least 75 verdicts against protesters by the end of April 2020. Forced confessions have reportedly been the basis for convictions in trials of protestors, leading to sentences of imprisonment and even the death penalty.”

Tehran further attempted to suppress dissent by blocking the Internet. “The authorities shut down the Internet at least three times in 2019 and twice in 2020,” the report says. Guterres noted “the incompatibility of the constitutional and legal framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the exercise of the right to hold an opinion and to freedom of expression.”

The UN report also expresses concern that U.S. sanctions may be exacerbating the Iranian people’s plight – particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has afflicted Iran more than any other country in the region – by restricting access to necessary medical supplies. This claim, however, reflects a selective examination of the evidence.

The report recognizes that U.S. law provides exemptions for humanitarian supplies, including food and medicine, but claims the exemptions process is too cumbersome. An FDD examination of EU trade data shows this was not the case at least through late 2019. The UN report also relies heavily on Iranian state media while ignoring extensive evidence that systemic corruption is the leading cause of medical shortages. Health Minister Saeed Namaki has said that corrupt networks are selling drugs on the black market, “hoarding medicines in warehouses, and distributing counterfeit drugs.”

More broadly, the Financial Action Task Force has called Iran a “high-risk jurisdiction” for corruption, money laundering, and terror financing. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has ranked Iran 146th out of 180 countries.

This reality reflects the nature of a regime that continues to prioritize, as the UN report so vividly illustrates, its own grip on power over the welfare of the people it leads.

Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Iran Program. For more analysis from Tzvi and the Iran Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Tzvi on Twitter @TzviKahn. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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