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Press Conference by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Iran, 24 October 2012

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

Despite some optimistic signs from Iran’s Government, on the whole, the human rights situation in the country remained “disturbing”, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the issue told reporters today at Headquarters.

“I remain optimistic about engagement with Iran,” said Ahmed Shaheed, who provided updates on his work and pressing concerns at a press conference after presenting his second interim report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). “Lately, I’ve received some responses.” (See Press Release GA/SHC/4047.)

Based on 240 witness accounts with Iranian citizens in and outside the country, largely by telephone and Skype, interviews with officials and the examination of evidence, the report outlined a number of observations, he said. Among them were that impunity must be addressed, the rule of law must be ensured, the Iranian Government must conduct investigations into reports of violations and the impact of current sanctions on human rights must be studied.

Highlighting the “positive step” signalled by the release of persons who had been imprisoned, he added that he continued to call upon Iran to release all prisoners of conscience.

Further concerns included the detention of a high number of journalists, of Internet users known as “Netizens” and of human rights defenders, and of reports of due process violations and allegations of torture. Of 99 individuals he had interviewed for the current report, he said that 58 per cent reported prolonged solitary confinement, 78 per cent spoke of beatings during interrogations, and 64 per cent had alleged they were denied adequate access to a lawyer. He was also seriously concerned about the recent execution of 10 individuals and the continued use of the death penalty.

When asked to elaborate on sources for and criticism of his report, he said he had not visited Iran and a request to the Government was still pending. He had relied on witness testimony and Government information provided to various United Nations human rights bodies.

On the subject of reports that Iran had complained that some of the testimony was from witnesses hostile to the State, he said he had responded by underscoring that political beliefs were immaterial in his interviews, which relied on reports of violations. Many of his sources remained unnamed to protect their rights, he added, and, answering another question, he said lawyers did not enjoy any special protection, noting that Iran was not a party to the Rome Statute, which had established the International Criminal Court.

While he had already begun researching the effects of sanctions on human rights, he said that Iran must demonstrate transparency and support for further efforts. For instance, examining the impact of sanctions on medical supplies required information on Government expenditures, he said.

However, he said a growing concern among many special rapporteurs and organizations was developing about the human rights situation in Iran. In addition, responses sent by Iran was also “evolving”, he said, noting that his work, alongside others’ who put the spotlight on human rights, was collectively helping.

Further noting Iran’s engagement in the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, he said: “We hope to see in two years’ time there will be meaningful progress.” He also noted that there was a debate in the country on addressing those issues. Answering a related question, he highlighted as positive the fact that Iran was running for elections in international bodies, such as at the Human Rights Council and its current position as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement.

“There is some moderation that comes with being Chair of such a large movement, with more than 100 Member States,” he said. “ Iran’s engagement in the United Nations system would help others in the system to have a dialogue with Iran and encourage it to respond positively to concerns that are raised.”

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