Iran’s U.N. Allies Fail in Attempt to Shut Down Human Rights Monitoring

By Patrick Goodenough | March 24, 2016 | 4:30am EDT
Ahmed Shaheed, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, has been barred from visiting the country since he was appointed five years ago. The Human Rights Council on Wednesday renewed his mandate. (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

( – An attempt by Iran’s allies at the U.N. Human Rights Council, some of the world’s more repressive regimes among them, failed Wednesday to block the renewal of the appointment of a special investigator into Tehran’s human rights record.

Support for renewing the five-year-old mandate of the independent “special rapporteur” on Iran was far from overwhelming, however. The 47-member HRC approved the resolution by a 20-15 vote, with 11 countries abstaining.

Iran therefore got significantly more support now than it did at the time the special rapporteur mandate was first established in 2011, when the measure passed by a 22-7 vote, with 14 abstentions.

Special rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed, who has angered Iran with annual reports highlighting severe violations, received the backing of mainly European and Latin American democracies, in addition to that of Iran’s regional Arab rivals, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

(The United States is not currently a member of the council, taking an enforced one-year break before standing again in elections later this year for a new three-year term.)

The effort to shut down Shaheed, led by Venezuela’s Iran-friendly government, won the support of its leftist regional allies Bolivia and Ecuador, the remaining Islamic members of the HRC (Algeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan), along with Cuba, Russia, China, Vietnam, Burundi, Kenya, India and South Africa.

Some of those countries (India, Indonesia and South Africa) are free democracies, but in line with Non-Aligned Movement policy they oppose country-specific mandates on principle. The one exception is the case of Israel, which is the target of a special rapporteur mandate, now in its 24th year, on “human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Iranian and international human rights advocacy organizations say Tehran’s human rights record has worsened in recent years, notwithstanding the election in 2013 of the ostensibly “moderate” President Hasan Rouhani, and despite the diplomacy that led to the nuclear agreement last year.

The attempt to vote down the Iran human rights mandate alarmed these groups. Previous such efforts succeeded in getting special rapporteur mandates for human rights in Cuba and Belarus halted in 2007.

Earlier during the four-week HRC session in Geneva, which ends on Thursday, Shaheed submitted his annual report, recording abuses in Iran including mistreatment of religious minorities, a “widening crackdown on freedom of expression and opinion,” and  a 20-year high in executions.

The Iranian government dismissed the charges contained in the report as “imaginary.”

“The report on the Islamic Republic of Iran is politically-motivated, discriminatory and biased,” foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansar said last week. “It has been written on unwarranted information and not existing realities.”

Iran for the past five years has refused permission for Shaheed, a former Maldivian foreign minister, to visit the country in the exercise of his mandate.

Last week more than 30 human rights groups around the world urged HRC members to renew Shaheed’s mandate, arguing that doing so would send a powerful signal to Iran that the violations, which the groups said were “continuing at full force,” will remain a matter of global concern – “until meaningful, tangible improvements are made.”

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