United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

UN Report: Deepening Human Rights Crisis

            On October 22, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran released a new report on violations in the Islamic Republic. It stated that:

            “At the heart of the deepening human rights crisis in the Islamic Republic of Iran is its disregard for the pre-eminence of rights and standards promulgated by treaties to which it is a party. Its culturally relativistic positions on human rights result in broad restrictions on fundamental rights and limit who can enjoy those rights on the basis of gender, ethnicity, ideology, political opinion, religion or culture.”
            Iran criticized the U.N. report in a 56-page response. Tehran challenged Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed’s sources and called his approach “politicized.” The following are key excerpts on various issues from the report and Iran’s response.  
U.N. Report
Freedom of expression, access to information and association
6. A number of Iranian laws and policies, including the 1986 Press Law, the 2009 Computer Crimes Law and the 2010 Cybercrime Law, continue to flagrantly violate the right to freedom of expression and access to information under international law.
Also of concern are reports that the Government considers 600 Iranian journalists to be part of an anti-State network, that it has stated that journalists are arrested to prevent them from engaging in “seditious activities” and that the Government broadened the scope of sanctioned expression in February 2013 to include online content that either encouraged boycotts of the 2013 presidential election or mocked its candidates. In its comments, the Government asserts that freedoms are determined on the basis of their conformity with Islamic standards and that elected officials establish laws through a democratic process and therefore they do not violate freedom of expression or access to information.
7. Some 67 Internet cafes were reportedly closed in July 2013, authorities have reportedly announced that up to 5 million websites are blocked, and in April 2013 officials estimated that some 1,500 “anti-religious websites”, such as those containing pro-Wahhabi or Baha’i content, are blocked per month, as well as those dedicated to news, music and women’s rights, web pages maintained by ethnic minorities and social media sites.
8. At least 40 journalists, as well as 29 bloggers and online activists, are reportedly serving sentences in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and at least 23 journalists have reportedly been arrested since January 2013 (see figure I). This includes the arrest of 15 journalists between 25 and 27 January, the largest mass arrest of journalists in the country since 2009, as well as the arrest of 8 journalists on 6 and 7 March. All 40 journalists currently serving prison sentences were convicted for either national security crimes or crimes of a political nature, with 18 being convicted for “spreading propaganda against the State.”
9. Seven individuals were reportedly sentenced for crimes associated with their roles as lawyers and administrators of Majzooban Noor, a community news website that covered human rights abuses against members of the Dervish community. Their prison sentences range from 7.5 to 10.5 years for crimes including “organizing an illegal group with the intent to disturb national security” and “propaganda against the regime”. Sources reported that as at 18 July, the defendants had refused to submit an appeal as a form of protest against unfair trial standards, including inadequate access to legal counsel.
22. Of particular alarm are reports thatsome 724 executions took place between January 2012 and June 2013; of those, 202 were reportedly carried out in the first half of 2013, 135 of which were officially announced by the Government (see figure IV). The majority of executions in the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to be related to drug-trafficking cases, including a number of public executions. Some 786 executions, in violation of international law, have been reported for drug trafficking since the Special Rapporteur began monitoring the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Other forms of cruel and inhuman punishment
28. In 1997, the Human Rights Committee equated flogging, amputation, and stoning with torture, rendering those punishments incompatible with human rights standards. The Special Rapporteur is perturbed by reports about sentences of limb amputation for the crime of theft and by reports about the flogging of 123 individuals between 1 July 2012 and 30 June 2013 for such crimes as “sedition”, “acts incompatible with chastity”, drinking alcohol, “illicit” relationships and non-penetrative homosexual acts. An equally disturbing report issued by the Iran State News Agency (ISNA) stated that 10,814 flogging sentences were implemented in the Mazandaran Province alone over the course of eight months in 2012.
Women’s Rights
34. Of concern are laws and policies that continue to limit women’s access to decision-making roles and that erode the advancements made by women in education. The Government has not reconsidered policies that result in the admission of more men than women in certain fields at universities across the country, that prohibit women from enrolling in certain fields of study (77 fields and hundreds of courses for the 2012/13 academic year) or that replace women’s studies curricula with courses on “women’s rights in Islam” at universities.
35. In its comments to the present report, the Islamic Republic of Iran contends that all female candidates were disqualified because of their lack of “executive and political experience” and that gender was not a consideration. The Government has also called attention to attempts to address domestic violence legally and to establish initiatives to treat victims of domestic violence and eliminate discrimination against women and that would allow women to attend decision-making sessions of government meetings that address environmental, economic and health issues.
Response by Iran’s U.N. Mission
Freedom of expression, access to information and association
As inferred from various principles of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran, the scope of freedoms are determined by three criteria namely opposition or nonconformity with Islamic standards, public interest and rights as well as the rights of others. Observance of the Islamic standards have always been noted and emphasized.
The Special Rapporteur has based his draft report on a report by the Iranian opposition as well as some other unreliable sources. He is using unverified figures and by using terms such as "alarming reports of execution" tries to inculcate an undocumented issue.
Other forms of cruel and inhuman punishment
The Special Rapporteurs claim on the presence of conflict between some recognized punishments in the Islamic Penal Code and human rights regulations is due to his lack of attention to both cultural diversity and Sharia provisions.
Women’s Rights
The I.R. Iran is obliged according to its Constitution and its willingness to cooperate with international bodies and belief to guaranteeing the rights of women has adopted in 2012 the law on protecting the family. In the law, developments on observing rights of women and children are envisioned. Those rights are inter alia presence of judge counselor in courts, appointing lawyer by court for those without sufficient financial resources, provision of alimony to the wife from the court which is considering the family dispute, possibility for the wife to file disputes in her area of residency, envision of council centers for family in which at least half members should be married women, obligatory registration of permanent marriage its dissolution, divorce, and registration of temporary marriages where the law stipulates, conducting medical examination before marriage to ensure couples health and health of their children, child fostering, provision of regular allowances for the wife from the salary of the dead husband even after remarriage…
In response to the claim of the draft report on the limitation of political participation of Iranian women, it is reiterated that in the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran no limitation is placed on the political participation of women and holding of political vacancies by them. In the process of qualification of presidential candidates of the June 2013 presidential elections, gender was not considered as a criterion, and women who registered their candidature were disqualified merely for lack of required executive and political experiences.


Iranians Divided on Nuclear Program

            About 56 percent of Iranians approved of their government developing nuclear power capabilities for non-military use, according to a new Gallup World poll. And a plurality of some 41 percent of respondents disapproved of developing such capabilities for military use. But 34 percent approved of developing nuclear power capabilities for military use. The remaining 25 percent either did not know or refused to answer the question. The results were based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adults conducted in between May 24 and June 6, 2013—before the election of President Hassan Rouhani. The following are excerpts from the report.

            Many Iranians would likely welcome an end to the diplomatic standoff between their country and many of the world's top powers over Iran's nuclear program. Even before Rouhani's election, the majority of Iranians were at least somewhat hopeful about the possibility of their country reaching an agreement with the European Union on Tehran's nuclear program.
            Despite the considerable difficulties facing negotiators on both sides on Tuesday, Iranians are cautiously optimistic that their country will eventually reach a diplomatic settlement with Western nations.

US Views of Iran Improve After UN Assembly

            Diplomatic overtures from Iran during the U.N. General Assembly seem to have softened American views of Iran, according to a new Economist/YouGov poll. On September 13, some 52 percent of respondents considered Iran an enemy. But on September 30, only 36 percent did. The following are results from the report, some of which compare public opinion before and after the assembly.

            Just after President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, 62 percent of Americans favored personal involvement by the president in negotiations with Iran on its controversial nuclear program. About 64 percent of Americans still did in September 2013.

            Americans, however, were divided on how to negotiate with Iran. Some 30 percent of those asked were unsure of how to get Iran to limit its nuclear program. Nearly equal amounts of respondents favored rewarding Iran by lifting sanctions, threatening Iran with harsher ones or rewarding Iran with resuming diplomatic relations. About 19 percent favored threatening Tehran with military force.

           The events related to the U.N. General Assembly, including conciliatory remarks by President Hassan Rouhani and President Obama’s historic call with his Iranian counterpart, seemed to have softened American views of Iran. The percentage of Americans who considered Iran an enemy dropped some 16 points to 36 percent between September 13 and September 30.
            The public was more or less split on Obama’s handling of Iran. About 38 percent approved of Obama and 36 percent disapproved, while just over a quarter of Americans did not express an opinion.


Report: Principles for Unwinding Sanctions

            Iran may be ready to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but removing punitive measures would require “a sustained period of concrete and verified Iranian actions,” according to a new Center for a New American Security brief. Lifting years’ worth of unilateral and multilateral sanctions by the United States, European Union, United Nations and other countries also would involve a lengthy process and much coordination.
But Tehran would likely expect the quick removal of at least some sanctions. The brief argues that the Obama administration would need to identify areas where it can relax sanctions during the initial stages of implementing an agreement. The brief also recommends “provisions for automatic reinstatement if Iran does not comply with the terms of any nuclear agreement.” The following are excerpts with a link to the full text at the end.

Principles for Possible Sanctions Relief
            The multilateral and interdependent character of Iran sanctions presents a logistical challenge for any effort to lessen or reconfigure sanctions in response to progress in nuclear talks. To be clear, non-nuclear Iran sanctions focused on terrorism and human rights would not be eased by progress on the nuclear issue. If a nuclear accommodation can be achieved then the only sanctions that should be rolled back are those related to Iran’s nuclear activities or the generation of revenue Tehran can use to finance nuclear activities. This may mean that some targets simultaneously subject to sanctions under multiple programs would only see a lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions and therefore still face economic constraints. Iran would have to renounce terrorism, make amends and appropriately address its human rights problems before any sanctions related to this conduct would be lifted. Also, national and international stakeholders would have to align their objectives in an effort to unwind the sanctions, and begin with principles – not road maps – for what nuclear concessions and sanctions relief would look like. 
            In Geneva, the P5+1 cannot promise to change the UNSCR-imposed Iran sanctions, which must be approved not only by the permanent five members of the Security Council but also by a simple majority of the 15 Security Council members. Similarly, the three EU members represented in the P5+1 cannot change the EU sanctions without agreement from all 28 member states. The U.S. negotiators in Geneva, represented by the State Department, do have the ability to relieve some of the sanctions. However, significant and enduring relief from U.S. sanctions would require the administration to convince a skeptical U.S. Congress that a final nuclear settlement would be meaningful and verifiable. This is not likely to happen anytime soon, not least because policy hawks in Washington, and elsewhere, will require a sustained interim period of Iranian compliance with confidence-building agreements that demonstrate Tehran’s genuine commitment to constrain its nuclear activities. Additionally, the details of proportionate sanctions relief will take months to solidify under the best conditions.
            At the same time, Iran cannot be expected to make significant concessions in negotiations or implement meaningful constraints on its nuclear program unless it receives meaningful relief from the sanctions. This means that the Obama administration will need to identify the areas where it has the ability to lessen sanctions (or suspend the implementation of sanctions) during the initial stages of implementing an agreement. Some such measures would not necessarily require legal changes, and could provide near-term economic relief by loosening restrictions on the physical and financial sides of trade in certain products.
            The administration will also need to work with Congress to maintain the leeway legislators have given to U.S. negotiating representatives in Geneva, and manage the expectations on all sides that no meaningful deal will come quickly or be seen as absolutely optimal by all sides. Lawmakers committed to the strategy of increasing punishing sanctions to elicit Iranian concessions may be tempted to push forward with new sanctions if they are unsatisfied with the progress of talks or if a road map is not laid out immediately…
            Washington will also need to work closely with all EU partners to identify specific European sanctions changes to be implemented, or mandates to be suspended or lifted, at upcoming EU Foreign Affairs Council meetings. This could deliver real sanctions relief for Iran and broaden permissible transactions and areas of commerce. Any measure of relief from the harshest economic sanctions, such as those dealing with payment messaging services and insurance and reinsurance provision, should only be considered once confidence in a nuclear deal has been built and tested.

Iran's Man on Wire: Javad Zarif

Robin Wright
            When Mohammed Javad Zarif left the United Nations in 2007, I asked what he had achieved in five years as Tehran's ambassador. "Not much," he said with a sigh. "A stupid idealist who has not achieved anything in his diplomatic life after giving one-sided concessions--this is what I'm called in Iran." He flew home depressed, faded into academia and vowed not to return to diplomacy.
            Over the past two months, however, Zarif has re-emerged to lead Tehran's boldest overture to the West since the 1979 revolution. Iran's charismatic new President Hassan Rouhani clearly commissioned the initiative, but his new Foreign Minister is the plan's architect.
      It's the comeback of a diplomatic lifetime. "A second chance," Zarif told me last month. And a huge risk. If he fails to make a deal limiting Tehran's nuclear capabilities--on Oct. 15, Zarif sat down in Geneva with the world's six major powers for a fresh round of negotiations--Iran could face punishing military strikes.
      The talks went well, Zarif and top E.U. diplomat Catherine Ashton agreed. The negotiators will reconvene on Nov. 7.
Skeptics claim Zarif is merely buying time with all this talking so Tehran can work on developing nuclear weapons. "We know that deception is part of the [Iranian] DNA," State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, chief U.S. negotiator in Geneva, warned a Senate committee on Oct. 3.
            But Zarif has also built a following in Washington. "He doesn't play games," says Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein, who met Zarif in 2006 and was among a number of members of Congress who talked to him at the U.N. in September. "I think a deal is doable."
            Zarif has the ear of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and was approached by three of the six candidates in June's presidential election to be their prospective Foreign Minister. But he has also been lauded by the likes of Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Chuck Hagel when they were in the Senate. And he earned a University of Denver doctorate under the same professors who taught Condoleezza Rice.
            Zarif is not just the man of the moment, however. He helped create the moment by being at the heart of virtually every key deal Tehran struck with the U.S. for two decades, beginning in the late 1980s. He was the "invaluable" liaison in talks that freed dozens of foreign hostages seized by pro-Iranian militias in Lebanon in the 1980s, former U.N. official and hostage negotiator Giandomenico Picco says. And after the 2001 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, U.S. diplomats credited the Iranian envoy with persuading the Afghan opposition to accept the U.S. formula for a new government in Kabul.
            The danger--to Zarif and to the chances of a deal--may be that Zarif actually has too many American contacts. He was fiercely grilled by hard-liners during his parliamentary confirmation. Just days before the Geneva talks, a conservative newspaper claimed Zarif had deemed "inappropriate" the phone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani at the end of the U.N. General Assembly. Zarif said he'd been misquoted, but the stress triggered nervous spasms that sent him to the hospital. Winning over the powerful hard-liners in Iran's complex power structure will continue to pose a huge challenge to Zarif--and Rouhani.
             The real question," says Ryan Crocker, a veteran of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East who has dealt with Zarif since 2003, "is whether hard-liners in both Tehran and Washington sabotage whatever comes out of this effort to resolve the nuclear issue and improve U.S.-Iran relations."
      A host of issues will divide the two nations for years to come. But for the first time in 34 years, Zarif's frenetic diplomacy has spurred talk of détente between Tehran and Washington. When asked in New York City last month about the potential shape of future ties between Iran and the U.S., Zarif invoked the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, in which deep differences remain but communication and occasional collaboration continue nonetheless. It's a model far preferable to the military alternative. "This time," Zarif told me, "I can't afford to fail."
This article is reposted from Time magazine.
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.


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