Human Rights

At 2014 UPR, Iran’s faces numerous questions about religious freedom and Bahá’ís

GENEVA — During a major review of Iran’s human rights record at the Human Rights Council in October 2014, governments from around the world repeatedly called attention to Iran’s lack of religious freedom — and its continued persecution of Iranian Bahá’ís.

During the four-hour session, known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), 104 governments made statements, yielding 291 recommendations about how Iran might improve its commitment to human rights.

Of these recommendations, at least 36 expressed concern about Iran’s use of the death penalty, 22 appealed for greater religious freedom or tolerance, at least 20 urged Iran to treat women with greater equality, and 20 or more called on Iran to cooperate more fully with international human rights mechanisms and monitors.

Of the recommendations on religious freedom or tolerance, 10 specifically mentioned the situation of Iranian Bahá’ís, while a recommendation regarding discrimination against women and girls from Chile also urged Iran to promote access to higher education for Bahá’ís.

During its time during the session, held 31 October 2014, the Iranian delegation to the Council generally avoided addressing the specific concerns of other countries, maintaining instead, in a general way, that Iran “continues to fully participate in the international deliberations and activities for the promotion and protection of human rights.”

The head of the Iranian delegation, Mohammad Javad Larijani, did respond late in the session to questions from other governments about the status of Bahá’ís, saying “they enjoy all the privileges of any citizen in Iran.”

Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations in Geneva, said Mr. Larijani’s description of the situation facing Bahá’ís was flatly wrong.

“Sadly, what we saw at today’s Human Rights Council session was an attempt to gloss over the issue of religious discrimination, repeatedly cited as a concern by other governments,” said Ms. Ala’i shortly after the meeting.

“In response to questions posed by member states about Bahá’ís, Iran’s representative once again completely distorted the facts and hypocritically stated that Bahá’ís enjoy all citizenship rights.

“If there were the least thread of truth in what he said, why then on Saturday were at least 79 Bahá’í-owned shops in Kerman, Rafsanjan, and Jiroft, summarily closed by officials because proprietors had stopped doing business to observe a recent Bahá’í holy day. Those closures obviously violate the freedom of these Iranian citizens to practice their religion.

“Moreover, why has it been over 30 years since Bahá’ís have been officially allowed to attend university or work in the public sector or even be gainfully employed in their own businesses?” said Ms. Ala’i.

Ms. Ala’i noted that governments from every region raised the issue of religious tolerance in Iran, and that concern over the treatment of Bahá’ís — along with Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Sufis — were frequently and specifically raised.

“Sadly, the comments made by Iran’s representatives once again were clearly nothing less than prevarication, whether it be on the issue of religious freedom, freedom of the press or assembly, or due process in legal proceedings,” said Ms. Ala’i.

Ms. Ala’i noted that Mr. Larijani also suggested there is a “multicultural universality of human rights.”

“Such a concept would give the government a license to interpret international human rights law as it pleases,” said Ms. Ala’i.

“How Iran treats its Bahá’í citizens is really a litmus test on how the government respects the rights of all its citizens,” she said, adding tht they “pose no threat to the government, and so there is no reason it cannot simply and reasonably uphold their rights.”

On 4 November 2014, the Iranian delegation said it would tell the Council which recommendations it would accept sometime before the next session of the Council in March 2015.