This week, Iran reached a pivotal point in its nuclear talks. With the November 24th deadline looming, many still remain sceptical on whether a deal will be reached. All major news sources have been homing in on these nuclear talks that have become one of the defining diplomatic periods with Iran for decades. If this deal is reached, it will go down in history as a major milestone in Iran’s relations with the West.
Yet, with all this anticipation and buzz surrounding the nuclear deal, it seems concerns about Iran’s human rights commitments are taking a back seat. Without going further, it must be noted that when sanctions are lifted on Iran it will be the people of Iran that will benefit. Or, at least it will, as Ahmed Shaheed notes “pave the way to help them – particularly in terms of their economic and social rights.” Yet, its importance does not negate the significance of dealing with Iran’s ongoing human rights violations.
As Dr. Shaheed rightly points out in his interview with IranWire, for the everyday situation of Iranians to improve significantly, there needs to be an adoption of substantive human rights policies. He goes on to mention that a vital factor resulting in this necessity being ignored is the media influence on the matter. “In a sense this [media coverage of the nuclear deal] deflects peoples’ concerns for human rights. If the nuclear issue was no longer a serious matter for the media, it will hopefully mean that they’ll focus on human rights,” he commented.
The new ‘sexy’ story of secret letters being swapped between president Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei is also keeping media outlets busy with enough intrigue speculation and controversy to ensure that vital rights issues take the backseat. Limited coverage is given to the very important news that Iran is allowing the first UN human rights envoys to enter Iran since its decade long resistance, yet Ahmed Shaeed himself who is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran has not been invited, despite his standing invitation since 2005. The reason is given by Hadi Sadeghi, the deputy of the Iranian judiciary: “He is not a fair rapporteur and in recent years he has not acted impartially.” Although, ‘impartially’ has a very subjective meaning here when referred to by Sadeghi.
Neither has the issue of diminishing rights of women and minorities, due to Iran’s weak laws and increasingly dismissive parliamentary bills, been given sufficient weight during this period of ‘modernisation’. Although individual cases receive the due attention – such as Reyhaneh Jabbari’s arbitrary execution – the degrading state of rights does not seem to attract the same media attention. Dr. Shaheed outlines these issues in another interview with IranWire, where he discusses women’s, LGBT, and ethnic minority rights.
Further, Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi, in an interview the Associated Press, stated that the human rights situation in Iran is just as bad under Rouhani’s moderate regime, as it was under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, even in cases worse. Yet the difference being that Ahmadinejad’s words and actions perpetuated such limitations on human rights, whilst Rouhani who vows to ease these restrictions, does not have the power to.
Certain cases that do get the international attention get trapped in the political cross-fire. Ghoncheh Ghavami’s case, who’s now known as Iran’s volleyball prisoner, is taking a more concerning turn. Reports suggest that she may be sentenced to a 6 year term for trumped up charges against her. She seems to be sucked into the political struggles between the moderates and hardliners, similar to the case of Jason Rezaian. It is for prisoners like Rezaian, Ghavami and numerous others, that international pressure and attention on Iran’s human rights record needs to be upheld.
Although Ghavami has received bad news for herself, her cause has somewhat achieved a result: international calls have pushed Ministry of Sports to react to public pressure and announce plans to designate a section of stadiums to female spectators. Updates are awaited on this.
Despite the unbalanced coverage of Iran news, this week 30 organisations – including ARTICLE 19 – from 14 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and North America, signed on to a joint letter urging the UN General Assembly to vote in favour of the adoption of a resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in Iran. This letter can be found in full here. Such pressure, whether it gains media attention or not, is vital in the push to remind Iran to address its human rights violations and remind international audiences that the nuclear deal is only part of the current happenings in Iran. The UN processes have shown their ability to affect some change in Iran so far, let’s push for more.