The United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966), the second international human rights treaty to be signed by Iran, on 4 April 1968, was ratified on 24 June 1975. In the preamble to the ICCPR, the international community reaffirmed that ‘recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’
According to the Covenant’s terms, signatory states are bound to protect the rights of all peoples, to take affirmative steps to incorporate the relevant privileges in domestic law, and to ensure that citizens enjoy their rights freely without any prejudice.
The Covenant covers various civil and political rights, including the right of all peoples to self-determination; the rights to life and freedom from torture, the rights to liberty and security of the person; procedural fairness in law; freedom of movement, thought, conscience and religion, speech, association and assembly, as well as non-discrimination, and minority rights. The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) is responsible for reporting and monitoring the implementation of the Covenant in each member state.
In theory, the Iranian state integrated most of these inherent rights in its criminal and civil law; in practice, however, the previous and current regimes have continued to oversee systematic violations perpetrated by the security forces and the judicial system. The victims of these abuses, including Ahwazis, are denied the right to initiate criminal proceedings against the officials responsible in domestic courts, with offenders associated with state bodies effectively enjoying impunity from any prosecution or punishment.
UNHRC’s Concluding observation on Iran
According to the concluding observations in the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s 2010 report on Iran, the state’s violations of the right to life throughout the period analysed were extremely alarming. The report stated that this was reflected in the high rates of state execution in ethnic minority regions, including Ahwaz, which were carried out using a wide-ranging variety of often vaguely defined pretexts, including ‘enmity against God’ and ‘corruption on earth’ (HRC, 2011, para 12).
The UNHRC also expressed grave concern about the routine use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in Iran’s detention centres, mainly against those arrested on charges nominally related to national security or those tried in Revolutionary Courts. There are a number of cases in which detainees died as a result of such cruel treatment. Torture is routinely used to extract false confessions from accused detainees, with these confessions then used in court as evidence of crimes, despite evidence obtained under torture having no legal validity (HRC, 2011, para 14 & 16).
Ahwazi activists, political prisoners and other individuals tried in the regime’s Revolutionary Courts have long complained about these illegally forced confessions that have routinely led to lengthy prison sentences, exile and often execution of innocent people in the regime’s infamous prison network. According to the ICCPR and to international law, the Iranian state is obliged to provide real reparations and adequate compensation to the victims of these inhuman abuses.
The Human Rights Committee has often condemned Iran’s leadership for its use of widespread and generalised arrest warrants which lack any official order based on a court’s consideration of evidence and are issued blank, without the names of accused individuals, meaning that they’re employed indiscriminately as a tool of persecution (HRC, 2011, para 17). The sweeping arrests of individuals in their homes and at night, particularly in recent times of those participating in demonstrations or protests at the lack of essential amenities such as clean water and sanitation and other similar violations in Ahwaz, also support the UNHRC’s previous findings.
In its reports, the Committee focused particularly on Evin Prison, one of the regime’s most infamous jails, stressing its concerns about the poor conditions there, as well as the regime’s ‘use of solitary confinement, unreasonable limits on family visits, and the reported denial of medical treatment to many prisoners’ (HRC, 2011, para 19).
These conditions are also the norm in the vast majority of Ahwazi detention centres, notably the notorious Karun Prison in Ahwaz city. Overcrowding is rife in this detention centre, where the number of inmates dramatically exceeds the numbers for which the jail was intended, with some of the cellblocks so overcrowded that prisoners are unable to lie down to sleep due to the lack of space. Ahwazi political prisoners are also incarcerated alongside other dangerous criminal offenders, and routinely face intimidation, physical harassment and mental torture in the detention facilities. There are apparent violations of the ICCPR’s provisions regarding torture under Article 7 and the need for prisoners to be treated with humanity and respect under Article 10. In addition, there is no conformity whatsoever in Iran with the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (UNGA, 2016), particularly in Ahwazi prisons.
Violations of the ICCPR’s provisions concerning fair trials for detainees are widespread in Iran’s tribunals, particularly in trials held in the Revolutionary Courts (UNHRC, 2011, para 21). Ahwazi political and cultural detainees, who are charged falsely with national security-related offences, are denied any equal rights before the courts. Detainees are tried without adequate time to prepare any defence case with a lawyer and are deprived of essential assistance from an interpreter in cases where they have difficulty speaking or understanding Farsi, the only officially recognised language in the courts, leaving many unable to even understand the proceedings, let alone to answer the charges against them. The prosecution in these courts is primarily based on self-incriminating testimony from the defendants obtained under duress through physical and mental torture. These examples show how the trials violate the ICCPR’s provisions under Articles 6 and 14 of the ICCPR.
The Iranian regime has effectively ignored the UNHRC’s request that it should respect the freedom of speech and assembly and put an end to ‘harassment or intimidation, prohibition and forceful breaking up of demonstrations, and arrests, and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders’ (HRC, 2011, para 26).
Another example of the regime’s disregard for the UNHRC and the provisions of the ICCPR can be seen in the brutal response to protests which broke out at the end of June and in early July 2018 in Ahwaz, when thousands of people in the cities of Mohammarah and Abadan demonstrated against the lack of drinking water and the severe increase in the salinity levels of the waters of the Karun River; both are the result of a massive dam-building and river-diversion program by successive governments, which has seen tens of millions of gallons of water diverted to central provinces in Iran for agricultural and industrial use, leaving the people of Ahwaz facing severe water shortages and a growing environmental crisis.
Rather than listening or responding sympathetically to the people’s legitimate grievances, the regime deployed massive numbers of heavily armed security personnel and Revolutionary Guard officers to crush the peaceful protests, using excessive force including tear gas, plastic bullets and live ammunition against the demonstrators. Many protesters were injured or arrested in this crackdown, with the security forces also arresting many demonstrators in their homes following what’s become known as the ‘Uprising of Thirst’. Iran’s judicial system labelled those who took part in these peaceful protests for water ‘terrorists’, claiming falsely that they were taking orders from the regional and the Western governments to destabilise the region (Hetteh, 2018). These arrests are clear examples of the regime’s violation of Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the ICCPR.
On the subject of sexual equality, the UNHRC criticised the minimum age for marriage for girls (UNHRC, 2011, para 28). In Iran, girls including Ahwazi girls, are routinely forced to marry at a young age, demonstrating clear discrimination against girls that prevents them from accessing education and enjoying their childhood. Under Iranian family law, girls can marry from the age of 13 (Civil Code 1928, Article 1041). According to the terms of the ICCPR, children under 18 years old require special support and protection under the law since they are minors in their family, society and the state. The lack of any protective measures by the government against early marriage is in violation of Articles 23 and 24 of the ICCPR.
The UN’s Human Rights Committee concluded that Iran’s leadership has infringed most of the ICCPR’s provisions, particularly Article 27, the only article specifically dedicated to protecting ethnic minorities and other minority groups in the member states. The Iranian state has continued to impose severe limitations on the Ahwazi people’s and other minorities’ cultural, linguistic and religious freedoms. These rights should be respected and realized by Iranian authorities through the provision of the necessary conditions for Ahwazi people to use their language in schools, to publish Arabic journals and newspapers without restriction, to take part in public life, and to obtain effective redress in the events of human rights abuses (HRC, 2011, para 30).
Access to Remedy
Article 171 of Iran’s constitution provides citizens with the right to access to court only in circumstances when a judge is deemed to have failed or issued an erroneous verdict or erred in the application of the verdict in a specific case; there is no right to any reparations for those whose human rights are violated.
Article 171 states: ‘In the event that one suffers ﬁnancial or spiritual damage as a consequence of a failure or mistake by the judge in a case, in the verdict, or in the application of the verdict in a speciﬁc case, in case of guilt, the one who is guilty is liable in accordance with Islamic criteria; otherwise, the damage is compensated by the government. In all cases, the reputation of the accused will be cleared and restored’ (Iran’s Constitution, 1979).
For instance, if a judge orders an investigation which causes the torture or death of a person in custody, the victim or his/her family could theoretically bring a case against the judge and be entitled to compensation or reparation if they have any evidence. However, the victims of torture and ill-treatment by the Intelligence Service are highly unlikely to be able or allowed to prove that they were exposed to such cruelty and therefore, the current judicial system falls short of offering realistic remedies for claimants.
In addition, victims of human rights abuses cannot realistically expect access to any of the compensation or reparations which are theoretically available under the existing criminal law for several reasons, including ‘fear of intimidation and harassment, the difficulty of obtaining evidence due to lack of timely access to medical examinations, lack of evidence furnished through criminal investigations, and the lack of independence of the judiciary’ (Redress Org, 2003, pp. 15 & 18).
Moreover, while Article 34 of Iran’s Constitution nominally guarantees the right of access to courts to every citizen, this guarantee is viewed as existing solely in the abstract, with most questioning whether the concerned article offers any basis for belief that the state itself could be held accountable for the acts of the judiciary or wrongdoings by any of the entities working on behalf of the government (Hashemi, 1993, pp. 546-47).
To a significant degree, the theocratic foundation of the current ruling system in Iran has rendered the Islamic Republic’s legal system, practices, and customs entirely insufficient for compensate for rights violations through legal remedies, and ‘whatever legal rights do exist as legal entitlements remain largely unenforceable by ordinary legal or political means’ (Afshari, 1996, p. 567).
Concerning remedies under international law for sufferers of civil and political rights abuse in Iran, Iranian citizens, including Ahwazis, face severe limitations in their ability to submit any legal action to the UNHRC against the Iranian state. This is due to the Iranian state imposing reservations on the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides for individual complaints against member states that violate the human rights of their people (UNGA, 1966).
In conclusion, the state of Iran has continued with systematic violation of the human rights supposedly guaranteed under the ICCPR despite having ratified this treaty for more than four decades. One of the problems in implementing the rights guaranteed by the Covenant is the reservation imposed by Iran on the First Optional Protocol that allows individuals to submit claims to the UNHRC concerning violations of their rights by the state. As a result, victims of human rights violations, including Ahwazis, are left helpless, with no access to any international body to address their grievances. Secondly, although civil and political rights are theoretically incorporated to some degree in domestic law, in practice the authorities show no respect for or commitment to protecting these rights, and it is tough for victims to initiate any proceedings concerning the violation of rights by the state.
Written By: Abdulrahman Hetteh
Afshari, R. (1996). An Essay on Scholarship, Human Rights, and State Legitimacy: The Case of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Human Rights Quarterly, 18 (3), 544-593.
Hashemi, S. (1993). The Iranian Constitutional Law, Vol.2. Tehran, Shaheed Beheshti University Press.
Hetteh, A. (2018). The ‘Uprising of Thirst’ in Mohammarah and Abadan: the causes, facts and consequences. 15 July. Accessed 2 August 2018. <http://aodhr.org/the-uprising-of-thirst-in-mohammarah-and-abadan-the-causes-facts-and-consequences/#.W2MSxPZFzIU>.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). (1966). GA Res 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966.
Iran (Islamic Republic of)’s Civil Code. (1928). Enacted 1928-36 and amended in 1969 and 1982-83.
Iran (Islamic Republic of)’s Constitution. (1979). With Amendments through 1989.
Redress Organization. (2003). Reparation for Torture: Iran. Accessed 30 July 2017. <http://www.redress.org/downloads/country-reports/Iran.pdf>.
UN Human Rights Committee (HRC). (2011). Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 40 of the Covenant: Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee – Islamic Republic of Iran, CCPR/C/IRN/CO/3, 29 November 2011.
UNGA. (1966). Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), 19 December 1966.
UNGA. (2016). United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’): A/RES/70/175, 8 January 2016.