The Nowruz holidays weren’t the happiest of days for Iran’s diplomats at the UN in Geneva, coinciding as it did with a highly critical report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman.
Almost six months to the day since the death of Gina Mahsa Amini, the 47-member states of the Human Right Council delivered their opinions on the Report in two meetings of the so-called Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. The Council will vote on the report on either the 3rd or 4th April, at the close of its 52nd Session, which began on 27 February.
The 20-page Report, published in February, details the evidence of serious violations of human rights, including murder, imprisonment and forced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence and persecution in the context of protests that began last September. Professor Rehman says, “these were part of a systematic, widespread and state instigated policy…the scale of gravity of these crimes points to the possible commission of crimes against humanity.”
This was the Report’s first council outing for comment from member States. The majority of the Council members, some thirty countries, voiced overwhelming support for Rehman’s Report and its conclusions. Iran’s isolation on the world stage was on physical display in the huge, white, brightly lit circular Council chamber as ambassadors from country after country spoke in favor of Prof. Rehman’s findings and conclusions.
The sheer size of the Council chamber concentrates attention on what is being said: despite its size, it is a quiet space as all communication is through microphone and interpreter. Diplomats, press, delegates from dozens of NGOs and other organizations all listen with an earpiece.
UN Human Rights Council in session (file photo)
There was a tension waiting to see how Iran, as ‘country of concern’ in UN language with right of first reply, would respond to Rehman’s summary.
Iran’s response in the Council was to go on the attack. Ambassador Ali Bahreini, head of the Iranian delegation at the UN in Geneva, sat stony-faced through Rehman’s summary of his Report at the beginning of the first session. Speaking in English, Bahreini called on “the spirit of spring and Nowruz (to) bring dignity, honesty and justice to our world” before moving on to say that Rahman was “in total disregard of his duties under Resolution 5/2, which emphasizes the impartiality of the special rapporteurs”. Bahreini said that Rehman “plays the role of the opposition. In all his writings and statements, he uses biased languages and violates the code of conduct of the special mandate holders.”
The Special Rapporteur maintained his characteristic imperturbability while the Ambassador described the Report as reading like a “tragic novel…allegations made by Mr. Javaid Rehman…have been repeated by a number of Western governments and their media outlets and terrorist groups stationed in their countries in the past months. They tried to portray their imagination as the reality of human rights situation in Iran.”
But beyond this, Mr Bahreini did not expand on what he understood to be the reality of the human rights situation in Iran. And the Ambassador left: no further appearance, no press conference.
While most of the Council members backed Rehman’s Report, there were dissenters: Russia, Syria, China, and Belarus were among the seven states who gave a negative response to the report (joined by Zimbabwe, Cuba and Laos).
Their statements did not dispute the facts in the Report but were a more general complaint about the “politicization” of human rights issues by Western countries and a resistance to the idea of scrutiny outside state control.
Professor Rehman’s very lawyer-like insistence on accountability might also have played a part, carrying the possibility of international arrest warrants being issued against state actors incriminated in human rights violations - Rehman gave the example of Hamid Nouri’s arrest and trial and the ongoing case of Flight PS752 in the International Criminal Court. News of the international arrest warrant issued against President Vladimir Putin was fresh in everyone’s mind.
We didn’t hear from Ambassador Bahraini again, but Professor Rehman seemed to be everywhere. As well as the two sessions in the Council itself, Javaid Rehman gave a press conference and spoke at several side events organized by bodies such as Article 19, Iran Human Rights, the Ensemble center la Seine de mort, International Federation of Journalists and others.
The mild-mannered, softly spoken Special Rapporteur has over the past few months been increasingly outspoken about human rights in Iran. Prof. Rehman has had the mandate since 2018 and has consistently called upon Iran to allow him into the country and to engage with his mandate, which Iran does not recognize. As for Iran’s criticism of his findings, Rehman says his report is based on fact and is not subjective and calls for Iran to give him substantive replies - and to let him in and engage with him.
“I should be reporting to you from Tehran,” he says.