The General Assembly on the Human Rights Situation in Iran

Iranian representatives describe the Resolutions as confrontational and counterproductive.
Ban Ki-Moon: Just because Iran is a member state of some key human rights treaties does mean that these treaties would be respected and upheld. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)
President Hassan Rohani – Iran refers to cultural differences and Islamic principles. (UN Photo/ Sarah Fretwell)

Resolutions by the General Assembly on the “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran”:

The General Assembly of the United Nations has condemned the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran 26 times in the last 28 years. Such a high level of condemnation from the United Nations indicates the massive significance of the human rights violations occurring.  UN Resolutions from 1985 onwards can be found in the UN database; earlier documents are not available online.  

Resolution Human Rights in Iran 18.12.2013 [A/RES/68/184]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 20.12.2012 [A/RES/67/182]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 19.12.2011 [A/RES/66/175]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 21.12.2010 [A/RES/65/226]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 18.12.2009 [A/RES/64/176]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 18.12.2008 [A/RES/63/191]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 18.12.2007 [A/RES/62/168]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 19.12.2006 [A/RES/61/176]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 16.12.2005 [A/RES/60/171]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 20.12.2004 [A/RES/59/205]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 22.12.2003 [A/RES/58/195]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 19.12.2001 [A/RES/56/171]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 04.12.2000 [A/RES/55/114]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 17.12.1999 [A/RES/54/177]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 09.12.1998 [A/RES/53/158]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 12.12.1997 [A/RES/52/142]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 12.12.1996 [A/RES/51/107]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 22.12.1995 [A/RES/50/188]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 23.12.1994 [A/RES/49/202]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 20.12.1993 [A/RES/48/145]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 18.12.1992 [A/RES/47/146]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 18.12.1990 [A/RES/45/173]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 15.12.1989 [A/RES/44/163]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 08.12.1988 [A/RES/43/137]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 07.12.1987 [A/RES/42/136]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 07.12.1986 [A/RES/41/159]
Resolution Human Rights in Iran 13.12.1985 [A/RES/40/141]

The General Assembly of the United Nations has adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran almost every year since 1985.  However, an identifiable improvement of the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic has been virtually non-existent. In fact, quite the opposite - the situation has continued to worsen since the elections on June 12 of 2009.  Nevertheless, in order to avoid the regular criticism of the UN, the Iranian government seeks to prevent such resolutions and obstructs the work of the human rights institutions of the UN.  

Resolutions on the situation of human rights in a specific country are only passed by the General Assembly in rare and serious cases. Generally, there are four to five resolutions per year. In recent years, alongside Iran, North-Korea and the military dictatorship of Myanmar have been criticized most frequently. Previously, the resolutions were meticulously developed in special committees consisting of representatives of the all of the members of the General Assembly. In the General Assembly, only the resolution as a whole needs approval, not the content. The resolutions are not of a binding nature, but are still of major importance as recommendations and warnings, because the United Nations is still seen as one of the greatest moral authorities in the world.

Human Rights Violations in Iran

The UN resolutions on the human rights situation in Iran have often identified and documented the same violations over the years. The following selection from the resolution of the UN General Assembly in 2012 identifies some of the worst human rights violations:

  • “Torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including flogging and amputations”
  • “The continuing alarmingly high frequency of the carrying-out of the death penalty in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards, including an increase in the number of public executions”
  • “The failure to abolish the execution of minors and persons who at the time of their offence were under the age of 18”
  • “…persons in prison continue to face sentences of execution by stoning”
  • “increased persecution and human rights violations against persons belonging to recognized religious minorities, including Christians, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Zoroastrians and their defenders”
  • “Increased persecution and human rights violations against persons belonging to unrecognized religious minorities, particularly members of the Baha’i faith and their defenders”
  • “a continued crackdown on women’s human rights defenders, arrests, violent repression and sentencing of women exercising their right to peaceful assembly, and increased discrimination against women and girls in law and in practice”
  • “Ongoing, systematic, widespread and serious restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression”

Behavior of Iranian representatives in the UN

In the committees that handle the content of the resolutions, diplomats of the Islamic Republic regularly try to prevent the inclusion of certain pieces of information from entering the text.  Once the final resolution has been presented to the General Assembly for the vote, the Iranian diplomats put all of their effort forth to prevent the adoption of the document.  For instance, in 2007, the delegates claimed that the western countries act with double standards that are not at all objective. The Iranian representatives expressed that they felt the resolution merely serves as public prosecution of the country, and is confrontational and counterproductive. Furthermore, they alleged the accusations to be outdated and unfounded.  At the same time, Iran protested against the decision to ask the Secretary-General to produce a current report on the human rights situation in the Republic. Iran’s most important formal assertion is that the General Assembly has no jurisdiction over convictions of human rights violations because of the establishment of the Human Rights Council. 

Alarming Results

 Iran submitted a motion in 2007 on the question of whether the General Assembly should even vote on the resolution “Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, and the result was alarmingly very close. Iran lost the vote with only 80 to 84 votes.  Almost all of the countries with a predominantly Muslim population sided with Iran.  However, support also came from countries who also have extremely serious human rights situations, such as China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Congo, North Korea, Cuba and Myanmar. Russia also gave its support. The two countries are linked by strong economic and political interests.

Human Rights and “Islamic Principles” 

It is noteworthy that the representatives of the Islamic Republic always refer to human rights in association with “Islamic principles”. These are the basis of Iranian law and are of divine origin.  From the Iranian government’s perspective, these stand above all laws made by humans, and therefore also above human rights laws. It is emphasized that human rights policy in Iran is a reflection of ‘national and regional specificities’, as well as of its ‘cultural, historic and religious background’. Even though Iran assures that this “Islamic interpretation” of human rights is not in conflict with their international human rights concerns, the UN reports on the human rights situation in Iran verify the opposite – at least for the “interpretations” of all previous governments of the Islamic Republic.