Special Rapporteur renews request for access to Iran


On October 24, 2012 the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Mr Ahmed Shaheed, appeared before the Third committee of the General Assembly to present his second report since he took up the mandate in August 2011. Overall, Mr Shaheed painted a disturbing picture of the human rights situation in Iran.


On October 24, 2012 the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Mr Ahmed Shaheed, appeared before the Third committee of the General Assembly to present his second report since he took up the mandate in August 2011. Overall, Mr Shaheed painted a disturbing picture of the human rights situation in Iran. The main areas of concern were the imprisonment of journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders, high frequency of executions, restrictions on freedom of expression and information, in particular as regards the internet, and the new Islamic Penal Code. The majority of the States that engaged in the dialogue echoed these concerns.

In his presentation, Mr Shaheed stated that Iran has one of the highest number of imprisoned journalists, with over 40 journalists serving sentences from six months to more than 19 years. The infamous ‘Cyber-crimes’ and ‘cybercafe laws’ allow the government to persecute and imprison those who use the media to criticize the government. Mr Shaheed also expressed concern over the situation of human rights defenders in Iran, stating that thirty two lawyers and human rights defenders are currently detained, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Abdolfattah Soltani, Narges Mohammadi and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.

On the subject of Iran's adoption of a new Islamic Penal Code, Mr Shaheed pointed out that it compelled judges to defer to either fatwas or Sharia where the law is silent on criminal matters and could serve as a loophole for the use of stoning and prosecution for apostasy. The Code also broadens the scope of national security crimes under the vague heading of “corruption of earth” and undermines gender equality. The Special Rapporteur expressed concern at the lack of due process revealed through recent interviews conducted with ex-detainees, including solitary confinement, beatings during interrogation and insufficient access to lawyers.

Furthermore, Iran accused the Special Rapporteur of violating articles 8 and 13 of the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-Holders ,[1] by not adequately considering the comments and observations forwarded by the Iranian government to his assessment and allegations, nor annexing a copy or summary of the government’s comments to his final report. Iran pointed to the 57 pages of comments it submitted on the draft report of the Special Rapporteur, regretting that these were not reflected in the final version. In response, Mr Shaheed stated that the 10,000 word limit precluded him from taking on the lengthy comments but that he had endeavoured to summarize these in a few paragraphs at the outset of the report.

All of the countries that spoke, with the exception of China and the Maldives, expressed regret over the fact that the Special Rapporteur has been denied access to Iran and called once again on the Iranian government to allow the Special Rapporteur into the country. China supported the statements made by Iran, stating that the Iranian people had the right to determine their own path to protect human rights. In its intervention, Brazil acknowledged the positive achievements in the realm of economic and social rights.

Several States including Norway, the EU, the UK, Brazil and the Czech Republic voiced their concerns about the situation of human rights defenders in Iran, alarmed by their frequent detention without charges, torture, executions in absence of fair trials, and reports of subjecting family members and friends to interrogations. The US deplored the continued blocking of domestic and foreign news sources, attempts to filter media and online content, bans on personal email accounts, as well as torture and executions of 'netizens'.

Several States, including Canada, the US and the Czech Republic also expressed concern about the upcoming presidential elections in 2013, and whether these could be free and fair under the circumstances. Mr Shaheed said that there were a number of serious concerns, including limiting women from running for office and the prosecution of journalists. It was difficult to speak about free and fair elections when there is no free press in the country, seriously limiting the space for political activity. He stressed that transparency, rule of law and some systemic indicators would be the mark of free and fair elections.

Canada emphasised the lack of freedom of religion, highlighting Iran's discriminatory laws against its religious minorities (Christians, Zoroastrians, Baha’i and Jewish), and expressing particular concern that members of the Bahai faith were imprisoned based on their faith and prevented from pursuing education.

In response to a question from the Maldives, the Special Rapporteur expressed deep concern about the impact of sanctions on human rights in Iran, noting that this would be considered in his future work. However, he mentioned that he could not accurately assess the situation due to the lack of access to the country. While he relies on witness testimonies for information, corroborated by various sources, he noted that it was more difficult to rely purely on witness testimony when examining the effects of sanctions.

[1] Art. 8(d) of the Code of Conduct states that, in their information-gathering activities, mandate holders shall give representatives of the concerned State the opportunity of commenting on mandate-holders’ assessment and of responding to the allegations made against this States, and annex the State’s written summary responses to their reports.

Art 13(a) states that mandate-holders shall while expressing their considered views, particularly in their public statements concerning allegations of human rights violations, also indicate fairly what responses were given by the concerned State.



  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Human rights defenders
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN General Assembly
  • Third Committee of the UN General Assembly
  • Iran