German Foreign Minister calls for EU sanctions against Iran crackdown

NEW YORK CITY: Protests in Iran over the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini mark the latest chapter in a long history of public protests that have rocked the Islamic Republic since 1999.

All have faced brutal repressions by the regime that have left many dead or injured and thousands of political prisoners behind bars.

Students took part in widespread and violent protests in July 1999, for example, and returned to the streets four years later to demand justice for those killed and injured in previous protests.

The election of Mahmood Ahmadinejad in 2009 sparked unrest which continued until 2010 and erupted again the following year and in 2012. More recently, a series of political movements, acts of civil disobedience, online activism and protests took place between 2017 and 2021.

But the continued protests over the September 16 death of Amini, who had been arrested three days earlier for failing to follow strict headgear rules, represents a watershed moment because it is “an uprising of young, very young, adolescents, young women”, according to Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Accordingly, she said, the Iranian authorities may well be facing a different situation now than they have in the past.

“The problem was triggered by women’s expression,” Khan told Arab News. “Whether or not you wear a hijab is a woman’s right to self-expression.”

In her reports, including the latest presented to the General Assembly this month, Khan tirelessly shines a light on the ways in which women’s rights of expression are suppressed by culture, custom or politics.

“And what we see in Iran is a backlash against this kind of repression, where young women are now saying, ‘We will not allow our rights to be taken away in the same way as the rights of our mothers and grandmothers were removed,'” she said.

Another difference with the current protests, Khan said, is that there is increasing access to digital technology that is more powerful than ever. Some online platforms have done their best to make it as easy as possible for Ukrainian civilians to access and use information, and Khan recommended to the General Assembly that this similar commitment to using technology to preserve human rights be adopted and implemented at all levels throughout the world.

“In Iran, platforms, social media, digital technology play a very important role,” she said.


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“Take that, (along with) what’s happening with young women, take the whole issue of youth unemployment, the frustrations of young people, and the Iranian authorities may be facing a different situation now than in the past.”

Khan said his message to Iranian leaders was clear and simple: “Stop violating people’s rights. People have the right to demonstrate peacefully. Women have the right to wear the hijab or not. I have been saying this for a long time.

“These issues of fundamental freedom of expression, of human dignity, of women’s autonomy over their own bodies, should be left to them to decide and the government should do the right thing and uphold human rights standards.”

In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly issued a resolution condemning the human rights violations committed by the Iranian regime. Fact-finding missions have taken place to monitor violations and gather evidence in hopes that one day the world will be able to hold perpetrators to account.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Arab News that human rights mechanisms had been activated in Iran and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was following the situation there “very closely”.

However, pressure is nonetheless mounting on the UN to take an even tougher stance on what is happening in Iran in terms of human rights, amid warnings that the situation continues to worsen from day by day.

Khan told Arab News that although certain rules and regulations prevent experts like her from making all information public, and despite the fact that the Iranian authorities will not allow the UN special rapporteur to visit the country , “we are certainly working very hard behind the scenes – and very soon, publicly – to put as much pressure as possible to ensure that people can peacefully protest within their rights.

She added: “For us, because we are appointed by the (Human Rights) Council, we have a code of conduct that says we have to inform the government (of Iran) before we publish something. . We published some things about the Mahsa Amini case. We will do more. We would like to do more.

“So in a way, the mechanisms have been activated for a while. The question is what more is needed in a situation where massive violations are taking place and the country of origin has not authorized the special rapporteur to surrender, etc. So in a way, you know, we have a problem here.

But as investigations take place and evidence is gathered, does she think anyone will ever be held accountable for crimes committed against the people in a country like Iran, where the authorities frequently resort to violent crackdowns on dissent that left hundreds dead, thousands injured and thousands more in prison.

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“I want (the accountability) to happen today,” she said. “I draw strength from the fact that there have been situations that have taken decades – but accountability is hugely important.

“The UN has many different tools; he must use them. More and more, commissions of inquiry are set up. There are special types of reporters being built. So there are a lot of innovations happening there.

“The key is not innovation, it is the political will of governments – and unleashing the political will is the key. And that is where much more than the UN system is needed.

She added: “The media, for example, plays a huge role. Digital technology has opened new doors, the flow of information, the empowerment of people; now you can see young people in Iran rising up. There are many different ways.

“I also recommend a lot of community development in my reports, from the ground up. So a lot has to happen in this multi-party, multi-faceted and very complex world, but we must not give up hope.

Special rapporteurs are part of what are known as the special procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council. They are independent experts and work on a voluntary basis. They are not UN staff and are not paid for their work.

Khan, a Bangladeshi lawyer who was previously secretary general of Amnesty International, became the first female special rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion when she was appointed in August 2020.

James R. Rhodes