By Ewelina U. Ochab
On Nov. 24, 2022, the U.N. Human Rights Council held a special session to address the deteriorating human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The special follows an official request by Germany and Iceland, which has been supported by at least 44 member countries.
The special session focuses on the deadly crackdown on widespread protests in Iran that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, 22. Amini was arrested by the Iran’s morality police in September 2022. According to reports, she was severely beaten during her arrest and transfer to the Vozara Detention Centre. Amini later died in the hospital, and her death sparked mass protests across Iran. Protesters have been calling for accountability for Mahsa Amini’s death, an end to violence and discrimination against women in Iran, and an end to their compulsory veiling.
The peaceful protests have been met with excessive use of force, which has resulted in several fatalities. According to Human Rights Watch, as of Nov. 22, 434 people have died including 60 children. The last two months have seen a litany of atrocities perpetrated against peaceful protesters, with a dramatic escalation of crackdowns in mid-November.
Among new concerns are reports of sexual violence against women and girl protesters. Among others, on Oct. 14, 2022, the BBC reported on a video that is to show anti-riot forces in Iran sexually assaulting a female protester while trying to arrest her. The footage has been verified by the BBC's Persian service.
On Oct. 26, 2022, U.N. human rights experts condemned the crackdown by security forces in Iran on protesters including alleged “arbitrary arrests and detentions, gender-based and sexual violence, excessive use of force, torture, and enforced disappearances.” They added that “reports of physical and sexual violence against women and girls during protests and in public spaces, and the denial of other women’s and girl’s rights while in detention, or when active in public, were frightening.”
On Nov. 21, 2022, CNN reported that it corroborated several reports of sexual violence against protesters and heard accounts of many more. “At least one of these caused severe injury, and another involved the rape of an underage boy. In some of the cases CNN uncovered, the sexual assault was filmed and used to blackmail the protesters into silence, according to sources who spoke to the victims.” Human Rights Watch obtained testimonies of two women arrested during the first week of protests in Sanandaj who said that the authorities “brutally beat them, sexually harassed them, and threatened them during their arrests and later while they were detained at a police station. One of these women said she had several severe injuries, including internal bleeding and fractures.” Such reports are growing.
Within the two months of protests, more than 2,000 people have been charged. The trials of protesters fall shortly of international human rights standards. According to Human Rights Council, “detainees are kept in overcrowded settings and are subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual harassment.” Lawyers defending protesters are threatened and face arrests for simply doing their job.
In November 2022, U.N. experts raised the issue of Iranian authorities indicting people with charges punishable by death for participation, or alleged participation, in peaceful demonstrations. According to the statement, “eight people were charged on Oct. 29 by the Islamic Revolution Court, in Tehran province, with crimes carrying the death penalty, namely ‘waging war against God’ or ‘moharebeh’ and ‘corruption on earth.’ Two days later, the Tehran prosecutor announced that some 1,000 indictments had been issued in connection with recent ‘riots’ in Tehran province alone and that trials were scheduled in the Islamic Revolutionary Court for cases against a number of individuals.” Islamic Revolutionary courts have been used and abused to sentence political activists, journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders through grossly unfair summary trials.
Among the calls for action, States have been calling for the establishment of an independent fact-finding mission to investigate the crackdown on widespread protests in Iran. Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council voted on a resolution establishing such a mechanism and the resolution was adopted by 25 votes in support, six votes against and 16 abstentions.
According to the resolution, the independent international fact-finding mission will have the mandate to:
“(a) Thoroughly and independently investigate alleged human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran related to the protests that began on 16 September 2022, especially with respect to women and children; (b) Establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged violations; (c) Collect, consolidate and analyze evidence of such violations and preserve evidence, including in view of cooperation, in any legal proceedings; (d) Engage with all relevant stakeholders, including the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, relevant United Nations entities, human rights organizations and civil society.”
It is crucial that the new mechanism is established as soon as possible. Iran underestimated the outrage over the killing of Mahsa Amini, both in Iran and globally.
Ewelina U. Ochab is a legal researcher and human rights advocate, Ph.D. candidate and author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East” and more than 30 UN reports. She works on the topic of persecution of minorities around the world. This piece was republished from Forbes with permission.