Iran: Call not to ignore human rights violations in Iran during 5+1 talks

The Guardian

 Iranian human rights activists are calling on the international community not to ignore human rights violations in Iran during their planned talkslater this week. Iran has agreed to 5+1 talks (UN permanent members and Germany) as proposed by the European Union's high representative on foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton. Of "utmost urgency" is the case of the Iranian human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotudeh, who has been on hunger strike in the notorious Evin prison since 28 September. Her husband says her condition is deteriorating and she has lost a lot of weight. Although Sotudeh briefly broke her hunger strike in October she has been refusing food again. For over a week she has also refused water.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) called on the United Nations to intervene in her case. Sotudeh has been kept in solitary confinement, denied a lawyer and allowed only token visits by her family in the presence of several security guards.

The Islamic Republic's campaign to silence lawyers has been relentless. Last week another prominent rights lawyer, Mohammad Seifzadeh was sentenced to nine years in prison by Tehran's revolutionary court and stripped of his right to practise law for nine years.

Ashton directly criticised the lack of judicial procedures in Iran last week when she condemned the planned execution of the Iranian woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, on the charge of adultery. "Ms Ashtiani was not given a fair trial," said a statement by her office, "not least in view of the detention of her lawyer, Mr Javid Houtan Kian, and her son who has campaigned for her release."

Shadi Sadr, an Iranian rights lawyer, herself the victim of beatings and solitary confinement in Evin prison, welcomes the intervention by EU foreign affairs chief, and is calling on Ashton to include the issue of human rights in future exchanges with Iran.

An important woman's rights activist who was forced to flee Iran fearing her life, Sadr has set up a pressure group, Justice for Iran. She is consulting with EU and UN rights experts to find an international mechanism for bringing Iranian officials to justice in international courts. She says human rights sanctions should be imposed on these officials in conjunction with the punitive nuclear sanctions to ban their travel and freeze their assets in western countries.

Over the past few months at least five human rights lawyers have been detained and five more have been forced into exile including Ashtinia's first lawyer, Mohammad Mustafaei, and Sadr. At least 10 more have been imprisoned in the same period and released on bail. Tehran's revolutionary court fabricates accusation that these lawyers are "threatening the national security", the punishment for which could be execution. Those who have managed to be released have had to pay hefty bails or leave their homes as collateral.

Karim Lahidji, the vice-president of the International Human Rights Association, says urgent lobbying is taking place to encourage the UN general assembly to endorse a new resolution designating a UN special rapporteur to investigate human rights violations in Iran. A letter has also been sent to the UN special rapporteur for the independence of judges and lawyers "to look into the treatment of lawyers banned from practicing law", he says.

The UN's latest annual report catalogues Iran's human rights violations. However, as the UN has been denied direct access since 2005 its findings are not investigated through appropriate channels. Many requests to visit have been denied. A loose gesture to the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, to visit Iran in 2012 was never backed up by a response to her request for a working group to travel to Iran prior to her trip.

"The mass human rights violations that unfolded in Iran after the disputed presidential election of 2009 need fresh investigations," says a recent statement by Iranian lawyers backed by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The statement urges the international community not to "deflect attention" from Iran's human rights violations just because Iran has agreed to talks with 5+1. It says Iran's track record calls for a "robust response" to the failure of Iranian authorities to address human rights abuses and their "obstruction of international scrutiny".

Mary Robinson, the former UN high commissioner for human rights, or Louise Arbour, the former chief prosecutor for tribunals into the genocide in Rwanda and human rights abuses in Yugoslavia in the 1990s support such an action. International jurisdiction seems increasingly to be the only method for achieving justice, where domestic justice becomes unattainable.