“Under no circumstances do we accept any particular life style imposed on us in the name of human rights.” This quote, by Mohammad Javad Larijani, the Head of the Human Rights Council of Iran’s judiciary, engulfs the tone of Iran’s attitude to its Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
During what was Iran’s second UPR, on 31 October 2014, Iran was presented with a total of 291 recommendations on its human rights record – a broad range of recommendations covering the numerous areas where Iran has failed to deliver on its human rights promises. An article by Justice for Iran succinctly outlines the recommendations made and the curt, dismissive and at points ridiculous responses given by Larijani.
11 of the more powerful recommendations made were in regards to sexual orientation and gender identification. Raising these issues are vital seeing as Iran is still one of the only countries that enforces the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations. Bizarrely, although homosexuality is seen as a crime worthy of the most sever punishments, gender reassignment is promoted and even coerced upon the gay and lesbian citizens of Iran. Although, not currently an official government policy to force gender reassignment on the gay men and women of Iran, there is an overwhelming pressure, especially for their own physical safety. The gender reassignment issue, as noted in Ali Hamedani’s article for the BBC, commenced in the 80’s when “Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa allowing gender reassignment surgery – apparently after being moved by a meeting with a woman who said she was trapped in a man’s body”. The whole concept of this offer by the government is based on the notion that homosexuality is an illness, where said persons can only be saved when placed in the “right” body for their sexual preference – in order to ‘normalise’ their sexuality.
In a revealing interview with Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC’s Regional Program Coordinator for Middle East and North Africa, he describes the medicalised approach taken by the Iran government as adding to the confusion for those in Iran attempting to figure out their sexuality. He also highlights that there is little option given to these people, who are forced to think that the only right route to take is gender reassignment, or else their whole existence is illegal. Such immense physical and psychological change forced on the gay and lesbian communities has led many to flee the country or even take their own lives.
For many looking from the outside, the issue came to the limelight after the documentary “Be Like Others: Transsexuals in Iran” by Tanaz Eshaghian. This brought to the international stage the paradoxical approach Iran takes to homosexuality. It highlighted the emotional and physical turmoil for those with no option but to take the reassignment route, as promoted and at times even part-funded by the government. Soon, the documentary which was distributed illegally in Iran, brought home some chilling truths that most Iranians were not aware of.
In Iran, the self-expression of the LGBT community is silenced severely; their existence denied and the mainstreaming of homophobia prevalent. Most will recall the ex-president’s claims that there are no homosexuals in Iran in 2007, yet not much has changed. Larijani attempted to twist the issue, last week in Geneva, by purporting that the human rights of homosexual is a new age western concept that Iran will not buy into; marginalising and muzzling the LGBTs of Iran further.
The shockingly inaccurate and distorted image provided by Iran in response to its UPR recommendations were more aggressively dismissive than expected. Amongst the responses was Iran’s proclamation that the freedom of expression is fully respected in Iran. They claimed this at a time when LGBT rights are fully disregarded; Ghoncheh Ghavami being sentenced to a year’s imprisonment for her peaceful protest in request to watch a volleyball match; Nasrin Sotoudeh has been re-imprisoned for demanding the her right to practice law; civil rights activist Maryam Sadat Yahyavi – who is suffering from advanced breast cancer – being arrested without due cause; Narges Mohammadi being summoned to court for her peaceful activism; and numerous other perpetual cases of suppression of expression. Amnesty International’s public statement captures the full dismay at Iran’s approach at the UPR process and its continued delaying tactics in order to avoid criticism.
The disappointing reaction the Iranian delegation had towards its UPR causes further concern. There is an increasing need for Iran to abandon its enforced “medical treatment” of homosexuals and to fully uphold pivotal human rights that Iran claims it respects. With continued pressure, reporting and advocacy, can we see a change in Iran’s hawkish approach by the next session of the UN Human Rights council in March 2015? Let’s hope so.