(CNSNews.com) – As the U.N. Human Rights Council scrutinized Iran’s domestic rights record on Monday, Western nations raised concerns about abuses including executions, torture and mass arrests, while Tehran’s Islamic and leftist allies lined up to defend and praise the regime.
The events once again highlighted the deep divisions in the Geneva-based U.N. body, which the Obama administration joined last year, citing hopes of improving it from within.
After Iran presented the HRC with a 31-page report on its human rights record, the council on Monday held a three-hour “interactive dialogue,” with almost 60 states making statements and Iranian delegates periodically responding. The exercise is known as the “universal periodic review” (UPR), which examines every U.N. member state once every four years.
The U.S. led the criticism of Iran, with Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner voicing concern about suppression of post-election protests, restrictions on freedom of expression, violations of religious freedom, “show” trials, and reports of torture of detainees.
Several Western delegates called for an international inquiry into the post-election violence, while some implied that Iran was not an appropriate candidate to join the HRC. Iran hopes to win a seat on the council in elections scheduled for May.
For Iran’s allies, however – many of them countries whose own human rights records draw criticism – Iran’s UPR was an opportunity to shield Tehran and scold the West.
The Nicaraguan envoy painted Iran as the victim of Western imperialism.
“Nicaragua, as is the case for Latin America as a whole, has been a victim of the same oppressors and this is why my country recognizes this spirit of fighting and hope in the Iranian people,” he said.
The international community should not try to impose its principles and cultural values on others, the Nicaraguan added.
“We cannot but take into account the cultural environment in this fraternal country which, like other Islamic countries, believes that it is obliged to respect the norms of the Islamic shari’a.”
Venezuela’s representative praised Iran’s achievements, which he said came despite the country being “subjected to unjust economic sanctions and an ongoing defaming media campaign.”
Cuba’s envoy similarly said Iranian progress had been achieved despite restrictions imposed from outside.
Pakistan’s delegate encouraged Iran to ensure the protection of citizens’ rights, then added, “Pakistan firmly believes that human rights are better served when these are pursued through a non-politicized and cooperative approach. We should acknowledge that no country in the world can claim a blemish-free human rights record.”
The representative of Algeria noted that the UPR process was meant to be conducted in an “objective, non-selective, constructive, non-confrontational and non-politicized manner … unfortunately this does not seem to be the case today with Iran.”
‘Some sentences may seem unpleasant’
Iran’s large delegation was led by Mohammed Larijani, the head of the country’s High Council for Human Rights, who said no Iranians were in custody for their political views; those being held faced charges of terrorism or espionage.
Another delegation member, a judge, defended court rulings, saying, “Although the implementation of certain sentences may seem unpleasant on first sight, social conditions at times require their implementation.”
An Interior Ministry director-general called last year’s widely disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “an exemplary exhibition of democracy and freedom” and accused outside countries of interfering in Iran’s domestic affairs.
Iran’s UPR process will now involve a troika of countries – Pakistan, Senegal and Mexico – compiling a document containing recommendations arising from Monday’s proceedings, which the HRC will “adopt” on Wednesday. In four years’ time, Iran will go through the exercise again.
The UPR was touted as one of the most important reforms built into the HRC when it was established in 2006 to replace its discredited predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Non-governmental organizations critical of Iran said Monday’s meeting showed the need for the council to take further steps, including holding a “special session” on Iran and mandating a U.N. rights monitor, known as a “special rapporteur,” to investigate.
“There are recognized and significant ways for the U.N. Human Rights Council to place a country on its watchlist of abusers, but this week’s procedure, which all states undergo automatically every four years, is not one of them,” said Hillel Neuer, director of the Geneva-based NGO, U.N. Watch.
The HRC is empowered to convene a special session when faced with a particularly egregious situation, as long as one-third of its 47 members support the move.
Since 2006 it has held 13 special sessions, six of them dealing with the Middle East and ending with resolutions condemning Israel (the others related to Burma, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, the world food crisis, the global economic crisis, and the Haiti earthquake.)
Neuer said if the HRC was serious about tackling Iranian rights abuses – “and this is an open question” – then it should use available tools, including calling a special session, and adopting a resolution condemning the violations and setting up an inquiry into the post-election clampdown.
It should also reinstate a permanent special rapporteur on Iran, he said, noting that the Commission on Human Rights had abolished the position in 2002.
‘Trashing’ the Declaration
Another NGO, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, also called on Monday for the council to hold a special session.
“Iran has played the blameless victim while it brutally victimizes its people,” said the campaign’s spokesman, Hadi Ghaemi.
“The UPR shows that Iran’s practices trash the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Iran’s legal obligations, and that more needs to be done – beyond the UPR – to help it understand and implement them.”
Ghaemi disputed claims by Iran’s delegation about the situation, especially the denial that any Iranians are imprisoned solely because of their human rights work.
He named 11 people in that category, including prominent activist Emad Baghi and Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand.