2015: Raising the Bar - Iran and the Human Rights Council
Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, delivered HRLC's Annual Lecture on 9 February 2015.
His lecture addressed the purpose of and the need for UN Special Procedures and, more specifically, discussed his mandate regarding the human rights situation in Iran. Listen to Dr Ahmed Shaheed's lecture.
In his introductory comments, Dr Shaheed explained the purpose of UN Special Procedures and spoke about the task and mandate of Special Rapporteurs. He explained that the effectiveness of these procedures is dependent on multiple factors, such as flexibility, reach, accessibility and cooperation; implementation and follow-up; and the availability of resources and support.
He addressed one of the critiques that have often been voiced about the country-specific mandates, namely that they are naming and shaming operations. Dr Shaheed pointed out that there is now a Universal Periodic Review within the UN Human Rights Council which ensures that all States are subject to scrutiny. However, country-specific mandates tend to be established in case there is a lack of cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms in the presence of widespread allegations of mass violations of human rights.
Dr Shaheed then went on to talk about his mandate and the situation in Iran. The Human Rights Council established this special procedure in 2011, after the widespread violence following the country's 2009 presidential elections. In 1984, the then Commission on Human Rights had mandated another Special Representative, Mr Andres Aguilar, with the task of conducting a thorough study of the human rights situation in Iran. Mr Aguilar submitted a preliminary report in 1985 in which he indicated he had not been able to establish dialogue and cooperation with the Iranian government. In 2011, with the appointment of Dr Shaheed, the situation had not changed substantially. He prepared, as had his predecessors, a list of issues and cases emanating from the violence of the 2009 elections on which the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council could engage in a dialogue with the Iranian government.
Even though cooperation and willingness of a State to work with Special Procedures are important structural determinants of the mechanisms' influence and impact, in reality this is often not the case. Therefore, it is important to find ways to mitigate the consequences of a State’s unwillingness to cooperate. Dr Shaheed gave examples of how to do this, such as cooperating with other special procedures and the wider UN system; working with universities and the Iranian civil society; and using available technology and social media tools to raise awareness and to establish a safe channel for communications with human rights defenders and victims. In his work, he also tries to raise international awareness through appearances before parliamentary committees and attending meetings with UN Member States.
In conclusion, with regard to the impact of his mandate, Dr Shaheed believes that his efforts have sparked dialogue and national discussions in Iran on human rights issues. Furthermore, the Iranian government did on a number of occasions respond to urgent appeals and request for additional information. However, Dr Shaheed recognises that the solutions to the human rights situation in Iran lie with the Iranian people, coupled with international support.