Iranian Minister Sanctioned by EU For Rights Violations Due to Speak at UN Human Rights Council

Patrick Goodenough | February 23, 2018 | 4:50am EST
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President Hasan Rouhani’s second-term justice minister, Alireza Avayi. (Photo: Iranian Students’ News Agency)

(Update: Adds comment from HRC spokesman)

( – The Iranian regime’s justice minister is scheduled to address the United Nations’ top human rights body in Geneva next week, despite being subject to European Union sanctions for “human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners’ rights and an increase in executions.”

The E.U. measures, instituted against Alireza Avayi (Avaei) in 2011 – in his then-capacity as president of the judiciary in Tehran province – include a travel ban and an asset freeze.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is based in Switzerland, however, which is not a member of the E.U.

It is not unusual for diplomats representing abusive regimes to address the HRC: Fourteen of the council’s 47 members this year are graded “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House – the largest group of repressive states in its 13-year history.

(The 14 are Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.)

Still, the prospect that the HRC will give a platform to someone directly accused of rights abuses, rather than merely representing such a regime, has angered critics of Tehran.

According to the exiled Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), moreover, Avayi has been linked to the regime’s mass executions of dissidents, including NCRI members, 30 years ago.

“The Iranian resistance is calling for the cancellation of the speech and for Avayi to face arrest and prosecution for crimes against humanity,” said Shahin Gobadi, a member of the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee.

The movement, which the regime considers a terrorist organization, says that some 30,000 people were killed during the bloody purge. Other sources have put forward lower estimates.  

A spokesperson for the office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights referred queries to the HRC secretariat.

HRC spokesman Rolando Gomez on Friday confirmed that Iran’s justice minister is scheduled to address the council on Tuesday, but said it was member-states, not the HRC itself, that decides on speakers..

“I would like to emphasize that the Human Rights Council does not seek out speakers to participate in the high-level segment.  It is solely the responsibility of states to determine who they wish to designate to speak at the council,” Gomez said.

“ However, the Council encourages wide participation in all of its meetings in order to hear and allow for a wide array of views to be expressed, which in turn informs states before they take action aimed at benefiting those the council serves – the countless human rights victims around the globe,” he added.

“Moreover, the wider the participation from states and civil society thus strengthens its credibility in that it bolsters its legitimacy when speaking out on human rights violations around the globe. “

‘Death commissions’

The NCRI alleges that both Avayi and his predecessor, President Hasan Rouhani’s first-term justice minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, were members of notorious “death commissions” tasked with carrying out then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mass execution decree.

While Pourmohammadi served on the “death commission” in Tehran, Avayi held an equivalent position in Khuzestan province in the country’s south-west, it says.

In a statement the NCRI secretariat says that in that position, Avayi “was responsible for the execution of many prisoners” in a jail in the city of Dezful, where according to eyewitnesses “prisoners who were minors were hanged in groups of two or three in a secluded area” on his orders.

“An address by Avayi to the Human Rights Council would make a mockery of the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms and would tell the mullahs’ regime that the international community is willing to turn a blind eye to the gravest of human rights abuses,” the secretariat said.

“In addition to four decades of crimes against humanity, Avayi today as the regime’s Justice Minister bears responsibility for the brutal suppression of popular protests and the arrest of at least 8,000 people, and the torture to death of detainees.”

The only platform he should have in Europe, it said, was a defendant’s stand at an international criminal tribunal.

The HRC’s 37th session begins on Monday and runs for four weeks. Avayi is due to speak on Tuesday, and the NCRI plans a protest in front of the U.N. complex when he does.

The NCRI and others have long been pushing for the release of information about the mass executions, including the names and burial places of the victims, and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

According to published accounts, over the summer of 1988 prisoners were questioned about their political affiliation, religious views and piety, and willingness to recant and to inform on other dissidents. Executions took place mostly by hanging, and bodies were buried in unmarked graves.

Amnesty International says 5,000 political prisoners were killed between August 1988 and February 1989.  The late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was once in line to succeed Khomeini but fell out of favor after challenging the regime, put the number at almost 4,000.

“In 1988, the Iranian government summarily and extrajudicially executed thousands of political prisoners held in Iranian jails,” Human Rights Watch said in a 2005 report, when some of the alleged perpetrators including Pourmohammadi were appointed to cabinet posts by then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“The majority of those executed were serving prison sentences for their political activities after unfair trials in revolutionary courts,” the report said. “Those who had been sentenced, however, had not been sentenced to death. The deliberate and systematic manner in which these extrajudicial executions took place constitutes a crime against humanity under international law.”

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