By 86 votes to 32, with 59 abstentions, the committee on Monday approved a text that “expresses deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The text also cites a wide range of violations.
The 32 countries voting against the resolution were Arab, Islamic, communist and autocratic states, along with Tehran’s left-wing Latin American allies, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua (full list below).
Of the ten countries that received the most U.S. foreign aid in fiscal year 2011, only one – Israel – voted for the resolution critical of Iran’s human rights record.
Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two biggest aid recipients in FY2011, voted against the resolution. Six of the other seven biggest beneficiaries of U.S. aid – Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa – abstained.
The remaining country among the top ten U.S. aid recipients, Iraq, did not vote (although Iraq’s representative did take part in other votes during Monday’s session.) The Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad balances its relationship with the United States with close ties to neighboring Iran.
Egypt’s decision to abstain marked a shift from a year ago, when then President Hosni Mubarak’s government led opposition to a similar resolution, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Also of note was the fact that Libya and Tunisia, both with new administrations following uprisings this year, voted in favor of the resolution. They were joined in doing so by three other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the 56-country Islamic bloc – Albania, the Maldives and Senegal.
In total 17 OIC members voted “no,” 25 abstained, and nine – including Iraq, Turkey and Yemen – did not vote.
During Monday’s session, a number of countries tied voting intention to their opposition to country-specific” resolutions at the U.N. – critical resolutions focusing on a single country. They included Kazakhstan, speaking on behalf of the OIC, as well as Cuba, and Malaysia (which abstained).
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group U.N. Watch, accused countries claiming to object to “country-specific” resolutions of double standards.
“These countries are being completely hypocritical because they are the same ones who annually sponsor or support 20 one-sided resolutions against Israel in the U.N. General Assembly, having made a virtual cottage industry of passing ‘country specific’ resolutions against the Jewish state,” he said.
Neuer also singled out Afghanistan for its decision to vote in support of Iran.
“People in many Western countries with troops in Afghanistan may be alarmed to note that, after all the blood and treasure expended there to help that country build a democracy, it continues to vote with Iran in opposing the Western-led effort to denounce the Islamic Republic for – in the words of one of the resolution’s sponsors – a ‘continued deterioration’ in Iran’s human rights record,” he said.
‘Unwarranted, unfounded and malicious’
Monday’s vote took place in the UNGA’s Third Committee, which deals with social, cultural, and humanitarian issues and includes representatives from all 193 U.N. member-states. The full UNGA vote in December is expected to yield a very similar outcome, as governments seldom change their positions between the committee and plenary votes.
For Tehran and its supporters, the result of the vote was worse than last year’s, when the resolution passed by 78 votes to 45 (with 59 abstentions); and 2009, when it passed by 74 votes to 49 (with 59 abstentions).
The draft resolution, introduced by Canada, condemned Iran for abuses including torture, the excessive use of the death penalty – including public execution and the executions of minors – violent suppression of political opposition activity.
It also cited discrimination against women and religious minorities, with particular concern drawn to the plight of Baha’i – some 300,000 adherents in Iran are vulnerable to accusations of apostasy – and a reference to “reports of harsh sentences against Christian pastors.”
Speaking at a press briefing Monday on expanding sanctions against Iran (relating not to human rights but to Tehran’s nuclear activities) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned the UNGA committee vote.
“Earlier today, the U.N. General Assembly again strongly reprimanded Iran for continuing human rights abuses, persecution of minorities, and forcible restrictions on political freedom,” she said. “The message is clear: If Iran’s intransigence continues, it will face increasing pressure and isolation.”
Clinton did not comment on the large number of countries that abstained or voted against the resolution.
In a lengthy rebuttal statement, an Iranian representative at the committee session, Mohammad Javad Larijani, said the resolution was “procedurally unwarranted, substantially unfounded and intentionally malicious.”
He turned the spotlight onto Iran’s accusers, condemning Canada and the U.S. in particular, referring to reports about “discrimination against immigrants, Muslims and other people of foreign origin,” about conditions at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and accusing the Canadian government of being “racist in behavior” towards indigenous and minority groups.
Larijani, the head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights and a foreign affairs advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also stated that the resolution sponsors were mostly “those who have repeatedly ignored and even supported the gross violation of the most basic human rights of the Palestinian people by the Israeli regime.”
Among many denials as he worked through the resolution paragraph-by-paragraph, he declared that “no Christian individual has been arrested because of his/her belief.”
The Third Committee on Monday also passed draft resolutions on the human rights situations in North Korea and Burma.
The North Korea text was adopted by a 112-16 vote, with 55 abstentions; the Burma resolution passed by a 98-25 vote, with 68 countries abstaining. In both cases, mostly from countries abstaining were in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The 32 countries that voted against the draft resolution on Iran’s human rights situation were: Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brunei, Burma, China, Comoros, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Niger, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The 16 countries that voted against the draft resolution on North Korea’s human rights situation were: Algeria, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Oman, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
The 25 countries that voted against the draft resolution on Burma’s human rights situation were: Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Laos, Nicaragua, North Korea, Oman, Russia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.