MESOP Iran: Shaheed’s UN fact-finding mission versus repeating bygone flaws

By Jamal Ekhtiar: Kurdistan Tribune – 21-8-2014 – Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special RapporteurThe human rights situation in Iran will be considered by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council during a series of meetings in September, but the UN’s old fashioned human rights rhetoric on Iran has not been fruitful so far. The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, is expected to present a report to the General Assembly during its 69th meeting. In late May 2014, Shaheed was assigned a new fact-finding mission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to probe human rights in Iran.

The special rapporteur undertook his latest fact-finding mission in Sweden, Austria, and Italy, hosting meetings with the Iranian diaspora. The mission probed the human rights situation in Iran via the diaspora because the Iranian government does not permit the special rapporteur to visit Iran.

Although the mission was referred to as a fact-finding probe, the long history of UN human rights policy on Iran tells the opposite; otherwise the facts are already on the table and UN rights system seems to be repeating bygone flaws.

Shaheed’s report has not been released, but his approach to the probe, as reflected in his statements in press releases, displays no progress in the Special Rapporteur’s viewing and handling of rights issues in Iran. Without any prejudgment, like the record of former special rapporteurs, the probe tends towards the old UN rights policy on Iran, leaning to pretexting repeated condemnation of the Iranian government for human rights violations. United Nations rights body such as the Human Rights Council and General Assembly issue non-binding resolutions on human rights and the Iranian government receives almost annual condemnation over its poor human rights record.

Parallel to the old UN rights policy on Iran, Shaheed take a step forward and two steps back. Shaheed is encouraged by statements and overtures from Iranian officials, while he is worried about a lack of improvements on the ground or translation of pledges into results. This has been the traditional dominant tone for Special Rapporteurs on the human rights situation in Iran. The purpose of criticism of their kind is to bring rights issues in Iran to human rights bodies, which do not necessarily aim to promote and protect human rights in Iran, but mainly subject them to maneuver, instrumental use and politicization.

Shaheed’s arrangement of rights problems in Iran, his prioritization and his phrasing, reflects a focusing on excuses and specific areas, meanwhile ignoring critical rights problems in Iran. This is reflected in the previous reports he occasionally presents to United Nations rights bodies. Shaheed’s criticism tends towards politicized condemnation of the Iranian government, hugely bypassing the serious causes in the country.The Iranian government sees condemnations as political measures driven by its differences with the west. Shaheed is factual in his reports, but they do not meet the requirements for rights promotion and protection in Iran, and so they contribute to the reproduction and regenerating of violations in Iran.

Ahmed Shaheed’s reports reflect a small portion of violations in Iran, hugely connected to existing power conflicts in the country and internal conflicts within the cleric system. His reports count pennies and deduct sums.

During recent decades, the Iranian government has received almost annual condemnation for its poor human rights record. This may show its lack of compliance with internationally-accepted codes of rights but, on the other hand, it also reflects flaws and mishandling by the International Community, including by UN special rapporteurs whose reports fail to truly address rights issues in Iran or to constructively and interactively improve the situation in the country. Special rapporteurs have not been successful as focal points for these issues. The fragmented international human rights system, indifferences within the system, and selective handling unmasks this fact.

The flaws do not stop with special rapporteurs and rights bodies, as representatives of member states play the essential part within the United Nations, hugely influenced by hypocrisy and political interests.

The United Nations has been divided into two camps. One camp claims to protect human rights worldwide, but undeniably this camp mostly focuses on rights violations in the countries that are not in line with the West. The best example is the focus on Iran, while Saudi Arabia, with a worse record than the Iranian cleric system, is completely overlooked by the international community. The other camp comprises countries with poor human rights records, which are resisting the international monitoring system, accusing it of lacking balance and having a politicized agenda. Both camps are reasonable to some extent in their claims, suggesting the 2006 reforms of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights are yet to be fulfilled. There is also a third group using abstention as a negative silence.

It is undeniably a fact; there are serious rights issues in Iran to be addressed. Beyond symbolic – sometimes politicized – steps, the United Nations rights system needs to lead a true dialogue involving genuine independent civil society in Iran, different peoples in Iran, government and all stakeholders, in an interactive, constructive dialogue for the addressing and betterment of human rights, social, civil and political development with coexistence. The UN has the capacity for betterment but it is not playing its role and consequently it is a part of the Iranian dilemma regarding human rights issues. Efforts for human rights should be purely dedicated to rights promotion and protection. Member states within UN rights bodies should deal with rights issues separately from their interests and politics.

Rights causes need more than non-binding resolutions and hypocritical efforts within the UN. The United Nations needs to have a workable plan and recommendations for all areas of concern, including Iran.

The results show that, in his last three-year term as a special rapporteur for Iran, Shaheed was bound to the old, traditional approach, but he has to go deeper and address critical issues. With his background as an anti-corruption diplomat, politician and a human rights expert, committed to bringing facts about the situation in Iran to the General Assembly, will Shaheed present a new approach? Will Shaheed rise beyond limits, beyond rhetoric and address the facts?

Jamal Ekhtiar is a journalist from eastern Kurdistan. He has been a writer and contributor to various English and Kurdish media over the past ten years. He also works with civil society organisations.

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