On June 21, U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al Nashif expressed concern over Iran’s human rights record between August 2022 and April 2023. “The overall human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran has markedly deteriorated against the backdrop of continuously worsening socio-economic conditions, aggravated by sanctions and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said while presenting the U.N. report on rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council. “Overall, the report shows a worsening human rights landscape in Iran coupled with the chronic lack of meaningful and effective avenues for the population to voice grievances or indeed to seek remedies.”
The report focused on rights violations after nationwide protests erupted in September 2022. It detailed the regime’s excessive use of force, harsh legal penalties, arbitrary detentions, and other rights abuses, particularly against women, children, and minorities.
The report called on Iran to reverse its policies, including executions, the death penalty, arbitrary detentions, and more. It urged Tehran to uphold the rights of Iranians and ensure impartial investigations into violations. The United Nations also called on Iran to engage with U.N. bodies, particularly the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to implement recommendations. The following are excerpts of the report on the situation of rights in Iran.
Overview of the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran
A. Excessive use of force
Since nationwide protests erupted in September, information received by OHCHR indicates that security forces intentionally used disproportionate force, including lethal force, against protestors, in various parts of the country. Incidents of use of force that reportedly resulted in human rights violations were higher in areas where protests were more significant and sustained, including in the capital Tehran, Kurdish regions in the north-west and the Sistan and Baluchistan Province in the south-east. In addition to the anti-riot police (yeganeh vize), which is the only entity authorized under Iranian law to respond to and manage protests using less-lethal means, other security forces, including the Basij paramilitary force and plain-clothed security agents, were reportedly heavily deployed in some areas.
B. Attacks by non-state actors
On 26 October 2022, three armed men opened fire at the Shah Cheragh holy shrine in the city of Shiraz resulting in the death of at least 15 people, including women and children, and injury to 30 others. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The Secretary-General strongly condemned “the terrorist attack” against people “exercising their right to practice their religion”. Two individuals were found guilty of efsad-fil-arz (corruption on earth) and “taking action against national security” for their involvement in the attack. On 18 March 2023, they were sentenced to death.
C. Death penalty and arbitrary deprivation of life
According to information received, it is estimated that 582 people were executed in 2022, marking a 75 per cent increase compared to 2021 in which 333 people were reportedly executed. There were three children among those executed in 2022. Of the total number of executions, 256 (44 per cent) were for drug-related offences, marking a six per cent increase in executions for drug-related offences compared to the previous year. This marks the highest rate of drug-related executions in the country since 2017. It is estimated that 15 people were executed under security-related charges while 288 individuals were executed for murder charges, and that 16 of those executed were women. At least 273 of the executions in 2022 were based on death sentences issued by the Revolution Courts.
D. Arbitrary detention and conditions in detention
The Secretary-General is alarmed by large-scale arrests and detentions since the onset of the protests. According to information received, between 17 September 2022 and 8 February 2023, it is estimated that 20,000 individuals have been arrested and detained for supporting or participating in the protests. Many women who have expressed their public support for the protests by dancing or removing their veil (hijab), have reportedly faced arbitrary arrests. Such arrests have allegedly taken place at protest sites, homes, workplaces, and academic institutions. In many instances, individuals claimed they were not informed of the reason for their arrest, and some were subsequently released without charge, or they were released on bail. On 22 September 2022, the head of the judiciary reportedly stated that these arrests were “preventative detentions”.
E. Freedom of opinion and expression and access to information
Since the onset of protests, respect for the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and access to information has markedly deteriorated in law and in practice. Reportedly, a significant portion of arrests made in the context of the protests were for exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression online and offline. During the reporting period, more than 70 journalists have been arrested, among them 25 women. At least 16 of these journalists remain imprisoned. It is deeply concerning that they have received harsh prison sentences ranging from 12 months to 18 years, as well as travel bans and suspension of their work permits, for their journalistic activities.
F. Human rights situation of women
Individuals from a wide cross-section of society participated in the nationwide protests, with women and girls playing a prominent role. The protests, under the banner “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (“Women, Life, Freedom”), emphasized that women’s rights were central to the larger struggle for human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite years of tireless activism by Iranian women demanding an end to deeply embedded discrimination against them in law and practice, the authorities have not only failed to address their grievances, but also intensified the repression against them. Women and girls belonging to minority groups are particularly affected by the intersecting nature of discrimination. On 14 December 2022, the UN Economic and Social Council adopted a resolution expressing grave concern about the continuing gross and systematic violation of the human rights of women and girls in Iran by the authorities and deciding to terminate the membership of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Commission on the Status of Women effective immediately.
G. Human rights situation of children
The authorities have acknowledged that a significant number of protesters were children. It has also been estimated that thousands of children may have been among those who were arrested. During the reporting period, at least 44 children, including 10 girls, were reportedly killed by the security forces using lethal force. The highest number of deaths of children in the context of protests was reported in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, where at least 10 children were killed. The Secretary-General strongly denounces all forms of violence against children, particularly the disproportionate use of force and its impact on children of minority communities.
H. Human rights situation of minorities
In addition to the systemic discrimination and marginalization described in more detail in previous reports of the Secretary-General, ethnic and religious minority communities were significantly affected in the context of the latest protests. The number of reported deaths amongst minorities appeared to be higher relative to the total population. Death sentences appear to have been disproportionately imposed on individuals belonging to ethnic minorities, including members of the Baloch, Arab and Kurdish minorities. Latest figures indicate that since the start of 2023, the authorities executed at least 13 Baloch, one Ahwazi Arab, and 14 Kurds. The generally worsening economic conditions are compounded in regions predominantly populated by minorities groups, which already suffer from chronic underdevelopment. The current protests also served as an opportunity for minorities to express discontent regarding persistent discrimination affecting a host of their fundamental rights. Conditions in the Sistan and Baluchistan Province continued to worsen, particularly in relation to health and medical infrastructure. More than half of the population lives under the poverty line, while an estimated 100,000 people in the province do not have official documents and are considered stateless. This prevents them from enjoying a range of human rights, such as accessing a host of state entitlements, including health services, education, social benefits, and the right to vote and the acquisition of a nationality.
I. Human rights defenders and lawyers
Scores of human rights defenders remain imprisoned while authorities continue to harass, arrest, and prosecute those seeking accountability and justice. Hundreds of human rights defenders were arrested, summoned, and interrogated in relation to the protests. According to information received, there was an upward trend of targeting of human rights defenders, with at least 218 arrested or convicted between 16 September 2022 and 30 November 2022 related to the protests, double the number for 2021. Lawyers representing protesters and human rights defenders have been targeted at an unprecedented rate. From 16 September 2022 to 10 January 2023, a total of 44 lawyers were arrested for their work; 27 of those have reportedly been released while the rest remain in detention.
Domestic avenues for accountability remain weak and ineffective, particularly in addressing violations in the context of recent protests. While there have been some investigations into several incidents, most resulted in inconclusive outcomes with very few leading to the accountability of alleged perpetrators. Similarly, after more than five months since the first incident of a school poisoning, the authorities have failed to prevent these attacks and to identify and hold accountable those responsible. While the Secretary-General notes the establishment of a national committee to investigate violations in relation to recent protests, information on the work of the committee is not publicly available. OHCHR requested but is yet to receive information regarding the outcome of the work of this committee.
The Secretary-General urges the Government to:
(a) Immediately halt the execution of all individuals, including those sentenced to death in the context of protests and for drug-related offences, and to refrain from further application of the death penalty;
(b) Abolish the death penalty and introduce an immediate moratorium on its use and prohibit the execution of child offenders in all circumstances and commute their sentences;
(c) Release immediately all persons detained arbitrarily, including women and girls, human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists, for legitimately exercising their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, association and of peaceful assembly;
(d) Ensure that Internet shutdowns are never applied as they inherently impose unacceptable consequences for human rights;
(e) Guarantee the right of peaceful assembly and ensure that security measures in relation to protests are undertaken in line with international human rights norms and standards, including the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials;
(f) Uphold the full respect for due process and fair trial rights in line with international standards, amongst others by ensuring that all defendants, including those accused of crimes against national security, have effective access to legal counsel of their choosing during the preliminary investigative stage and all subsequent stages of the judicial process;
(g) Ensure prompt, transparent and effective investigations by an independent and impartial body into allegations of the excessive and lethal use of force and firearms when not strictly unavoidable to protect life, including during protests, deaths in custody, allegations of torture or other ill-treatment and inadequate prison conditions; prosecute and hold accountable public officials, including law enforcement officials, for issuing or carrying out the relevant orders; and make the findings of investigations public;
(k) Take further steps to eliminate all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls in law and in practice, including through revision and repeal of laws and policies which criminalize non-compliance with compulsory veiling; and urgently implement effective measures to respect and protect their fundamental human rights, in accordance with international norms and standards and advance their equal and safe participation in public life;
(l) Conduct independent, impartial, prompt, thorough and effective investigations into reported poison attacks on girls’ schools with a view to hold the perpetrators to account; provide full reparations to the victims and guarantee the right to education without discrimination;
(m) Guarantee the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and of peaceful assembly, including by reviewing the draft Bill on Discretionary Punishments and the User Protection Bill, to ensure that any limitation to rights offline and online complies with the established criteria for permissible restrictions under international human rights law;
(n) Ensure that human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, writers, and labour rights activists can engage in their respective activities safely and freely, without fear of reprisals, harassment, arrest, detention or prosecution;
(o) Protect the rights of all persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, and address all forms of discrimination against them without delay;
p) Join the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; and the fundamental International Labour Organization conventions;
(q) Submit outstanding periodic reports to UN human rights treaty bodies, implement the recommendations of international human rights mechanisms - the treaty bodies, special procedure mandate holders and Universal Periodic Review - and cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran, including by accepting visits by these mandate-holders;
Continue to engage with OHCHR in implementation of all the recommendations made in the reports of the Secretary-General and those of international human rights mechanisms, and consider strengthening its cooperation with OHCHR, including by facilitating a visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Islamic Republic of Iran and through OHCHR in-country engagement.