Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran

20 October 2011

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran

20 October 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran


A pattern of violations had emerged regarding Iran’s treatment of civil society actors — including political dissidents – that spoke to unfair trials and the targeting of human rights defenders, and the best strategy for substantially improving those conditions was not to penalize the Government, but rather engage it in dialogue that would evolve over time, said the United Nations special investigator on that country.

Speaking at a Headquarters press briefing, Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, said his priority was to identify how that common dialogue could advance.  “My conviction is that Iran cares, especially about what is said by the outside world,” he explained in response to questions.   Iran wanted to be embraced in outside bodies and viewed in a better light.

Mr. Shaheed, who assumed his duties on 1 August, had presented his first interim report yesterday to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian Cultural).  (See Press Release GA/SHC/4015.)  Noting that he had not yet visited Iran, he nonetheless had had a “constructive” dialogue withmembers of the Iranian delegation to the United Nations, who had indicated their willingness to exchange views.  “It’s indeed very encouraging,” he said, expressing hope that such efforts would eventually lead to a full-access country visit, which he had requested.

In the meantime, he would not be deterred in his efforts to gather information, he said, underlining his desire to speak with reputable non-governmental organizations and a wide range of national actors.  “And there’s quite a lot of information available,” he said, underscoring his intention to maintain visibility for his work, as a focus on the human rights situation in Iran was “helpful to the cause”.  For the press, he would be a key partner.

Fielding questions, Mr. Shaheed said he had had a very short lead time to prepare his interim report, adding that his main goal had been to respond to the Iranian authorities.  Limited time and space had led him to exclude a wide range of names, but that issue would be further “pressed upon” in his next report.  More generally, he said that, while he did not have the perspective on Iran that a country visit would afford, he had been able to gather “tons” of reliable information, much of it produced by Iranian authorities.

Further, he had communicated by phone, fax and e-mail with the large diaspora of Iranians in, among others, Europe and North America, who had close family ties in Iran.  The large range of openly available sources included people who had approached him and reputable rights bodies.  He had requested Iranian authorities to respond to his report but had not received any feedback nor seen a refutation of the matters he had raised.  Thus, he was fully confident his sources were reliable and useful.

Asked if he had received letters from families who claimed that the Iranian Government had done nothing to find the killers of their loved ones, he said he had indeed received “a very large volume” of letters.  He would read them and determine what to do in a systematic manner.  Some cases would be imminently addressed, while others required dialogue with the Government.  He would not respond in a piecemeal manner.  He would follow-up on every case raised.

To criticism that his report had been influenced by Western countries, he said:  “I wish they would substantiate what they mean”, underscoring that he was independent, had his own means to do his work and made his own judgements about what was to be included in his reports.  Countries speaking out against Iran in yesterday’s debate were mainly Western countries, but beyond that, there had been no claims to influence his work.  He had gone to great lengths to reflect a balanced, “uninfluenced” picture, having even visited countries that did not support his mandate.

“I’m fully confident everything is 100 per cent accurate,” he said.  He was awaiting a response from Iranian authorities to the matters raised.  To criticism his report did not reflect positive aspects of the human rights situation, he said the goal was to raise “pressing issues of concern”.  He had met with non-governmental organizations outside Iran who had been recognized by Iranian authorities.  Those groups had given passages of his report to the Government.

Asked about a timetable for making specific recommendations, Mr. Shaheed said he was focusing on outcomes that could be implemented by Iran to improve its human rights record.  He was distancing himself from other matters.  The structure of his recommendations would cover the short, medium, and longer term.  In the immediate term, he urged Iran to take up its commitments under the Universal Periodic Review, accede to treaty bodies such as the Convention against Torture or adhere to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  He would develop other key recommendations after he had visited the country.

More generally, he said his mandate would end next March, at which point the Human Rights Council would decide on next steps.  Regardless of how Iran responded, there was much work to do beyond that time frame.  While there was frustration among groups inside and outside Iran, work must proceed methodically.  He reported to United Nations Member States and it was important to maintain broad support.  “I shall not jump to conclusions,” he said, noting that the question of what was “enough time” was an open one.   Iran seemed to care and to present avenues for dialogue.  This week, the Iranian delegation was in Geneva, another opportunity for progress, he added.

Asked if he would send a letter to the “P-5+1” [permanent five Security Council members and Germany] for Iran to stop shipping arms, he said he had picked up on the frustration among non-governmental organizations in that regard.  He had clear reference points for his work and was pursuing available avenues for cooperation.  Explaining that a country mandate was structured to work in a cooperative manner, he said:  “I shall not give up on that.”  There were opportunities for collaboration, and he was optimistic Iran would ultimately supply information to him.

As for Iran’s treatment of journalists, the role of the Internet and use of disinformation, he said that, generally, there was serious concern about worsening conditions for journalists, marked by several severe sentences for bloggers and instances of censorship.  He had raised concerns about the erosion of political space for critics of the regime and journalists reporting on the situation in Iran.

Responding to a query on whether he would visit prisons if he travelled to Iran, Mr. Shaheed said he would be very keen to examine prison conditions and speak to detainees.  He also would demand to meet with political leaders Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.  He was reviewing other high-profile cases and would report on them in his full-term report.

To a final question, he said it was indeed possible to send his report to the Iranian Parliament or individual Parliament members who had requested it.  He would follow protocol on that front.  As to reports of a lawsuit to be filed against him, Mr. Shaheed said he did not know what the complaint was but he would welcome any constructive response to his report.  If he had transgressed any law, citizens had a duty to ensure that the law was followed.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.