Tens of participants at the UN Human Rights Council walked out when the Islamic Republic’s foreign minister spoke at the 52nd session of the body on Monday.
Many seats were empty while Hossein-Amir Abdollahian was delivering his speech at UHRC’s headquarters in Geneva, following calls by activists urging delegates to walk out in reaction to the regime’s gross human rights violations, especially during the ongoing crackdown on antigovernment protests.
The current session of the council, made up of 47 member countries, will last for more than five weeks and is set to tackle an extensive array of human rights issues, including discrimination and freedom of religion, both major issues in Iran.
The council was one of the first international bodies to react to the current wave of protests, ignited by the death of Mahsa Amini in custody of hijab police. In November, the council voted to launch an independent investigation into the regime’s deadly repression, which has killed more than 500 civilians, including 70 children.
Most participants who left the hall in protest to Amir-Abdollahian's presence were members of NGOs as most diplomats preferred to stay and listen to the Islamic Republic’s rhetoric.
Trying to manipulate the realities on the ground, the Iranian FM said, “The peaceful assemblies that took place in my country following the sad death of Mahsa Amini... turned violent following the malign interference by some terrorist elements. In this respect, a number of Persian language TV channels based in the US and the UK, acted as provocateurs of hatred and propagators of violence.”
He also claimed that an investigation was ongoing and that all the people that were arrested during the protests have been released. He also claimed that "no one has been killed," in response to Iran International’s correspondent who asked him about the Islamic Republic's killing of protesters including a 10-year-old kid.
Outraged by Amir-Abdollahian's presence, many politicians and activists expressed concern about the UN’s move to invite the Iranian official for the opening day of the five-week session. Member of the Swedish parliament, Alireza Akhondi, said, “It’s a shameful day for the UN that they allowed representatives for a murderous regime to speak here about human rights.”
“I’m expecting that they (the UN) are redrawing their badges and they are not allowing them to enter this building anymore. Because they are not respecting the human rights of anybody and they are trying to harass and make the Iranian voices to not be able to be heard,” he added.
The foreign minister’s presence was not the only issue of contention among Iranian and foreign activists as he also held several meetings on the sidelines of the UN session, such as a meeting with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib and Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.
The meetings shocked social media users, especially because Lahbib cut their hair in the country’s parliament in solidarity with anti-government demonstrations. Her meeting was criticized by many activists and officials, including Belgian lawmaker Darya Safai, who pointed out that “The Belgian government goes along with hostage diplomacy.” Lahbib herself tweeted about the release of Olivier Vandecasteele, an aid worker and a former employee of the Norwegian Refugee Council sentenced to 40 years in prison in Iran. Some believe her meeting with Amir-Abdollahian was probably an attempt to plead for his release.