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Iranian Prisoner of Conscience calls on the Iranian authorities to allow civil society to participate in upcoming UN Human Rights Council Review

In an open letter written from Ward 350 of Evin Prison, prisoner of conscience Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi—a 28 year-old human rights activist in jail since 2010—has called on the Iranian authorities to allow civil society to engage in Iran’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The letter, published last month on the Persian website Kaleme, was addressed to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and noted that civil society’s participation in Iran’s UPR can help improve the country’s human rights situation. 

The UPR is a review of a government’s entire human rights record by UN member states, which all countries undergo every four and a half years.  Iran’s second UPR is scheduled to take place in Geneva in October of this year.

Zeidabadi explained that during Iran’s first UPR in 2010, the previous government submitted a National Report—a self-evaluation governments draft for their review—that grossly misrepresented the human rights situation in the country and relied on repeated references to rarely upheld rights provisions in Iran’s Constitution.

“For how much longer will the country's required reports to international human rights bodies be prepared behind closed doors and be submitted devoid of objective and clear facts about our society and with the endless references of laws [whose enforcement] are in fact in a limbo?” wrote Zeidabad.

Zeidabadi urged the new Rouhani government—which has pledged transparency and human rights reforms—to take hold of the country’s international human rights portfolio and ensure an honest and participatory UPR process. He also urged the creation of a fully independent National Human Rights Institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.

Zeidabadi is the founder and secretary of the Human Rights Committee of the Advar-e-Tahkim-e-Vahdat Alumni Group. He was arrested first in 2009 during the protests following the presidential election, and again in July 2010 on charges including participation in illegal gatherings, propaganda against the regime, and insulting the President.  His charges were based in part on the fact that his Committee issued a public critique of Iran’s UPR National Report. 

Read his full letter below: 

Your Excellency Dr. Zarif

Minister of Foreign Affairs 

With Greetings,

We all know that you have been extremely preoccupied, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs has returned to its expected legal position within the new Administration. Primarily--as promised during the 2013 presidential election campaign--you have been pursuing the nation’s interests through nuclear negotiations with the six world powers. You are also remedying the previous [administration’s] catastrophes. Naturally, there is very little time left for Your Excellency. However, as Iran’s second Universal Periodic Review is approaching, allow me to present you with a few points. 

As you are one of the few experts knowledgeable with international human rights subjects and their related mechanisms, I will be brief.

Your Excellency:

This is the second time the Islamic Republic of Iran will be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council through the UPR mechanism regarding the general condition of human rights in our country and the degree of the regime's commitment to its international obligations. The last review exemplified the type of fiasco of lies and falsehoods that was the norm under the previous administration's domestic and foreign policy. In February 2010 during the first round of UPR sessions--when the Iranian government's official report was being reviewed, the Human Rights Committee of the Iranian Alumni Association—which I chaired at the time—issued a statement as an Iranian civil society organization and a member of the Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI). This statement criticized Iran’s official report and highlighted the misstatements within it. Shortly afterward, however, drafting this statement became one of the charges against me.

The Iranian Alumni Association’s statement noted that "full implementation of the Constitution and in particular upholding the codified rights of people" was a national demand that brought millions of citizens to the public sphere in the form of a progressive (by regional and global standards) social movement. The statement explained that our nation's biggest challenge is the lack of commitment to and enforcement of the Constitution. So the fact that the government‘s official [UPR] report refers to the Constitution is pointless. It is simply parading the neglect of our national and constitutional commitments in front of representatives of foreign states and international public opinion. It amounts to nothing but legal deception, which assumes everyone to be blind and deaf.

Our fundamental question remains: For how much longer will the country's required reports to international human rights bodies be prepared behind closed doors and be submitted devoid of objective and clear facts about our society and with the endless references of laws [whose enforcement] are in fact in a limbo?

Your Excellency Dr. Zarif,

It has been several years since the Judiciary’s International Affairs Office took over the human rights portfolio [of Iran] and international communications. This was in violation of the Constitution, the principle of separation of powers, and the Executive’s diplomatic role. Now, it is natural to expect that, at minimum, the dynamic would revert to the past form so that at least the biggest culprits of violating the law and citizens’ rights are not the same people who are drafting the required reports. This is natural considering the importance of human rights in today's international relations, and especially when reducing tensions and confronting violence and extremism are at the top of the government's foreign policy agenda.

The 11th Cabinet [Hassan Rouhani's Cabinet] is supposed to be [according to the President] the cabinet of the truthful, therefore it is expected that:

1. This year the Iranian government's UPR official report to the Human Rights Council is not compiled behind closed doors and sent in secret. If political representatives of dozens of countries who are friends, competitors, and enemies [of Iran] are allowed to know the content of this report, why shouldn't fellow-countrymen and Iranian analysts learn about the content of this report through official Farsi language media? And even share their thoughts with state analysts prior to publication?

2. As you know, according to UPR mechanisms, the governments have been asked to prepare their reports in a participative process and it is obvious that the first step to this end is commitment to the principle of transparency.

3. One hundred days after election, the 11th Cabinet [the Rouhani Cabinet] published a draft document titled "The Citizenship Rights Charter," and with admirable innovation, made the draft available for public review. The final chapter of the said Charter addresses the mechanisms for guaranteeing citizens’ rights and [explores] the context for creating a "National Human Rights Institution," based on Paris Principles, which expects that institution to be responsible for all these issues (including preparing periodic reports). It can be said explicitly that not only the 11th Cabinet, but whatever administration succeeds in implementing the standards for this mechanism, has taken the most important historic step towards ensuring and developing human rights in Iran.

Although it appears that there is a long way to realizing that dream, until that time the 11th Cabinet –born from the participation of a social movement demanding change--can intervene in [Iran's] communications about human rights to international bodies. The Government can prevent reports that are untrue, unprofessional, and repetitive, and provide active participation of the civil society members as a guaranteed right.

According to the monitoring procedures of the UPR, which are based on a tripartite cooperation, in any country, human-rights-defending civil organizations have the right to provide reports about the situation of human rights in their countries.

Unfortunately, during the previous review, the rights of our civil society were violated. The civil society organizations that had been exposed to the worst suppression that year, not only were they not allowed to participate in the government's report, the government adopted a deceitful approach by introducing several self-created, irrelevant, and non-specialist organizations such as Ahlul Bayt World Assembly, the Oveis Qarani Charity, The Organization for Defending the Victims of Violence, The Rayhaneh [Rayhanatolnabi] Society, etc. It is essential now to create a safe environment in which this possibility is extended to the public, especially to activists inside Iran.

Your Excellency, Mr. Foreign Minister,

A participatory approach is what the human-rights-challenge in Iran needs today and the 11th Cabinet [the Rouhani government] and you can take fundamental steps towards it. A modern and humane approach to national security and national unity is dependent on the enjoyment of all rights by all citizens and would improve the country’s [international] standing.

Just as our people are entitled to be officially informed of what is inside the nuclear agreements, which fortunately happened during your tenure, they are entitled to be informed, in Persian, about the Islamic Republic of Iran's periodic reports regarding the situation of human rights issued to international organizations. Moreover they are entitled to express their opinions about it. In this way, the possibility of having a human rights dialogue in the public domain and to judge the positions of the rulers will be more effectively provided for.

Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi

Evin Prison-Ward 350

July 2014


This letter was published on the website, Kaleme on July 2, 2014 and translated by Impact Iran. This article was co-published with Impact Iran.

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