This article is intended to provide an understanding of the Iranian state’s international human rights obligations towards individuals and groups living under Iranian jurisdiction. It also attempts to shed light on the current United Nations human rights monitoring and implementation mechanism, which not only individuals but several ethnic groups in Iran with collective rights should theoretically be able to utilise and benefit from.
It is notable that there is currently no international human rights court similar to, for example, the European Court of Human Rights due to the nature of international law; this can be seen in the principles of consensual arrangements between states, which place state reciprocity, sovereignty and territorial integrity above human rights considerations. The International Criminal Court in the Hague is of severely limited usefulness in this regard.
This means that state parties have the primary responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of international human rights legislation. UN member states which agree to fulfil their obligations listed in each of the UN’s nine core human rights treaties must guarantee and ensure that people within their territory can fully exercise their rights and freedoms. One of the terms of these agreements is that signatory states must provide swift and immediate legal remedies for individuals claiming that their human rights have been violated (Smith, 2016, pp.153).
Domestic Enforcement of Human Rights
If Iranian human rights institutions, such as the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), were to take their responsibilities in a proper and professional, impartial independent manner, they would play a significant role in the process of implementing the relevant human rights legislation (UNHRC, 2009, para 66). The UN General Assembly’s 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action imposes a duty on all member states to ensure that adequate mechanisms and legal instruments are available as remedies to citizens alleging human rights violations (UNGA, June 1993, para 27). These national human rights institutions are vested with immense authority and responsibility specifically to promote and protect international human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national level. In theory at least, they are committed to facilitating impartial investigation of national-level complaints; to reporting to the government in relation to any legislative and administrative measures concerning violations of human rights; and mainly to encourage ratification of human rights instruments and their implementation. They are also responsible for disseminating human rights materials and exerting efforts to combat all forms of discrimination, in particular, racial discrimination through information and education (UNGA, December 1993).
Unfortunately, however, as the UN has acknowledged, several issues have been raised which call into question the credibility of such institutions in Iran. “Some citizens have no confidence in the Islamic Human Rights Commission”, noted the UNCHR report for 2003. “This is due to the fact that in Iran there are no independent organs for the protection of human rights; they thus doubt that the Commission is independent and believe that it is a government body” (UNCHR, 2003, para 36). Moreover, the UN has noted that in a report issued by the Global Alliance for National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) in January 2017, Iran’s IHRC was included among the groups listed in Category C as having failed to comply with the Paris Principles in their accreditation status (OHCHR, September 2018).
Iran’s Ratification Status
Nine key international human rights treaties were created and adopted by the international community after the establishment of the United Nations in 1948. The Iranian state has ratified five of these nine instruments and is under international obligation to take effective measures for the implementation of the provisions envisaged in each treaty.
These five treaties are:
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, 1965), ratified by Iran on 29 August 1968.
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966), ratified by Iran on 24 June 1975.
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966), ratified by Iran on 24 June 1975.
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989), ratified by Iran on 13 July 1994.
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD, 2007), ratified by Iran on 23 October 2009.
The other four remaining human rights treaties that Iran has not yet ratified are as follows:
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979).
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT, 1984).
- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW, 2003).
- International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED, 2006).
International System for Monitoring Human Rights
There is a special committee for each treaty tasked with ensuring the monitoring, implementation and enforcement of human rights within each signatory state. The methods for preserving and promoting international human rights include:
1) inter-State complaints
2) mechanisms for receiving individual complaints, and
3) state reports.
Examples of inter-state grievances can be seen in a complaint made by Georgia against the Russian Federation in 2011. Georgia initiated proceedings at the International Court of Justice for alleged violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by the Russian Federation concerning Georgian citizens living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (Georgia, 2011). Another, more recent case an inter-state complaint was the one raised by Qatar against the United Arab Emirates for alleged racial discrimination against Qatari citizens by the State of UAE (Qatar, 2018).
Concerning the prerequisites for raising individual complaints, certain conditions and circumstances must be met before the relevant committee could hear allegations of individual violations. Those living under the jurisdiction of each state party can initiate proceeding concerning alleged violations of their human rights committed by their government. To do so, however, the state party or government in question is required to give its consent allowing the treaty-based committees to receive communications from individuals living in the state concerned. For the five treaties that Iran is party to, the state consent can be obtained as follows:
- When Iran issues a declaration under Article 14 of ICERD recognising the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to receive individual petitions (ICERD, 1965).
- When Iran adopts the First Optional Protocol to ICCPR (UNGA, 1966).
- When Iran agrees to the Optional Protocol to ICESCR (UNGA, 2009).
- When Iran accepts the Optional Protocol to Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNGA, 2006).
- When Iran consents to the Third Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNHRC, 2011).
The UN treaty-based Committees, which have quasi-judicial status and operate under their own procedural rules, receive testimonies, evidence and replies from both parties concerning the specific allegations of human rights abuses before delivering opinions which are not legally binding on the state parties. Having said that, the Iranian state has not yet issued any declaration or ratified the optional protocols allowing the treaty-based Committees to receive individual petitions from the victims in Iran.
Therefore, the only method left for the treaty-based committees is to utilise a reporting system for the purpose of monitoring, implementing and enforcing human rights in Iran. This reporting mechanism is used to encourage Iran to comply with its commitments towards its human rights obligations under each treaty. Since Iran is party to five human rights conventions, it is obliged to submit a state report explaining the steps that have been taken for the enforcement of the provisions of the concerned treaties.
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is responsible for monitoring each state’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. All state parties, including Iran, must submit reports every two years to this committee outlining the ways in which they have implemented the provisions of the Convention and how instances of racial discrimination are addressed in law and practice (ICERD, 1965, Art 9). The committee studies each state’s reports, along with information from UN specialist agencies and civil society organisations, as well as consulting different actors with an interest in monitoring racial discrimination-related issues in the state in question before issuing a report detailing its reactions and concerns about any violations and providing recommendations to the state in question in the form of concluding observations. The last report issued by Iran was received by CERD on 26 September 2008; since then no report has been provided on the measures undertaken to combat racial discrimination in the country (OHCHR, September 2018).
Meanwhile, Iran is also obliged to submit reports every four years to the Human Rights Committee about its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee studies each state’s report and all communications received from relevant groups such as United Nations specialist agencies and non-governmental organisations to establish its concluding observations about the situation of civil and political rights in Iran. It is worth noting that, as the OHCHR noted in September 2018, Iran is four years late in submitting its latest report to the Human Rights Committee which was due for submission on November 2, 2014 (OHCHR, September 2018).
Each signatory state is also expected to submit reports every five years to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), summarising the legislative, judicial, policy and other procedures undertaken towards the implementation of the rights envisaged in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR, 2009, para 3 and 54). Iran has not yet submitted its latest report that was due on 31 May 2018 (OHCHR, September 2018).
Similarly, Iran is obliged to submit reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) every five years, explaining the measures adopted and the progress made towards ensuring the protection of the rights of the child (CRC, 1989, Art 44). The latest concluding observation of the Committee concerning the human rights situation of children in Iran was published on 14 March 2016 (OHCHR, September 2018).
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, meanwhile, receives reports from Iran every four years regarding the implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD, 2007, Art 35). The latest concluding observations on Iran’s report was published on May 10, 2017 (OHCHR, September 2018).
In addition to these treaties, there are also other official UN procedures and instruments intended to promote and protect human rights around the world. One of these instruments is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Under this mechanism, all aspects of human rights in all United Nations member states are examined every five years, even those nations that are not party to the human rights conventions.
Another similar instrument created to monitor human rights is that of Special Procedures, which empowers Special Rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups to report on specific human rights issues. There are currently 46 Special Procedures mandated with different aspects of human rights issues such as the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, and the Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice.
Various ethnic minorities in Iran, including Ahwazis could utilise the treaty-based reporting mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review and the Special Procedures by producing accurate reports, documenting the violations of their human rights and communicating with these experts.
By Abdulrahman Hetteh
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