(CNSNews.com) – As scores of protestors demonstrated outside, the U.N.’s top human rights body on Tuesday gave a platform to an Iranian regime official sanctioned by the European Union for his role in “human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners’ rights and an increase in executions.”
Alireza Avaei (also Avayi), President Hasan Rouhani’s justice minister, did not address the controversy over his appearance at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where several diplomats left the chamber before he spoke.
Instead he accused “certain states” of “selectivity” and “double standards” in the promotion of human rights, offered thinly-veiled criticism of race relations in Western nations, and berated the Trump administration for its recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Certain states,” he charged, use U.N. human rights mechanisms as “an instrument to advance their political agenda,” thereby creating “an atmosphere of confrontation and polarization.”
“These self-proclaimed champions of human rights, through finger-pointing, unjustly and wildly blame others for violations of human rights, while certain part of their population – especially blacks, immigrants, foreigners and indigenous people – grievously suffer from human rights violations under their watch.”
Avaei also slammed “certain states” for “providing overwhelming and unconditional support for the Israeli regime while promoting its destructive role in the region.”
“The latest case in hand, illustrative of gross violation of human rights and humanitarian rights of Palestinians, is the provocative and unilateral decision of the United States to recognize al-Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of the Israeli regime,” Avaei declared.
He did not directly address widespread criticism of Tehran’s human rights record, although he did tell the HRC that recent reforms of its drug laws should lead to fewer executions.
After China, Iran carries out the most executions of any country, according to human rights advocacy groups – more than 500 over the 12-month period from October 2016-October 2017.
While most executions have been for drug-related offenses, the death penalty is also applied for offenses including apostasy, insulting Mohammed, moharebeh (“enmity against Allah”), mofsed-e-filarz (“spreading corruption on earth”), and adultery.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley earlier deplored the fact Avaei was to speak at the HRC, saying the council once again “discredits itself by allowing serial human rights abusers to highjack its work and make a mockery of its mandate to promote universal human rights.”
“This does nothing but reinforce the United States’ call for much needed reforms at the council for it to be viewed as a good investment of our time and money,” she warned.
In a separate statement Tuesday, the U.S. mission in Geneva said it was “appalled” that Iran was sending him, and urged U.N. member-states to condemn rights violators who attempt to use the HRC “as a platform to obfuscate their roles or distort the fundamental values this body was created to defend.”
The European Union in 2011 instituted sanctions including a travel ban and an asset freeze against Avaei in his then-capacity as head of the judiciary in Tehran province.
“As president of the Tehran judiciary he has been responsible for human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners’ rights and an increase in executions,” it said.
Avaei is also on a Swiss sanctions list, which cites the same issues. (Switzerland is not a member of the E.U.)
Concerns about his career go back a lot further however.
The exiled opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK) accuses Avaei of involvement in the extrajudicial executions of thousands of dissidents in 1988.
As a senior provincial judiciary official at the time, the NCRI alleges he was a member of one of the “death commissions” set up to carry out then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mass execution decree.
And much more recently, the NCRI says that as justice minister Avaei is “implicated in the arrest of at least 8,000 people during the protests that shook Iran in late December and January, and in the killing of some 50 protesters on the streets or under torture.”
Outside the U.N.’s Geneva headquarters, around 100 protestors rallied against his appearance.
The NCRI said they included relatives of victims of the 1988 mass killings and representatives of human rights and anti-death penalty groups. Photos of some of those killed in 1988 were exhibited.
“Avaei should stand trial before international criminal court for his role in massacre of political prisoners in Iran in 1988,” read one banner, while another said, “Avaei must be expelled from U.N. Human Rights Council for crimes against humanity.”
A coalition of 15 human rights groups, Impact Iran, called Iran’s decision to send Avaei as its representative “an insult to the memory of the victims of his expeditious and deadly trials, as well as the human rights defenders risking life and liberty to document violations of fundamental rights in the country.”
“By choosing a major violator as Iran’s voice on human rights, Iran is also making a mockery of the Human Rights Council and showing contempt for the U.N. human rights system as a whole,” it said.