UN reporting should be Neutral and Unbiased
Iran rights Transparency – IRT, intends to discuss different rights concerns with experts. IRT invited Mr. Sharif Behruz to shed light on general rights concerns in Iran and particularly the situation In Kurdistan. Sharif Behruz is the Vice-President of Iran Roundtable, a non-profit entity organized exclusively for advocacy and educational purposes. He regularly appears on Kurdish, Persian and English media to comment on Iran, Kurdish issues and human rights. He also contributes to his blog and number of other outlets. IRT below share his views with readers.
Mr. Behruz remarks: “Given Iran’s ethnocultural compositions, such distinction by the UN Rights System is imperative that reporting of rights abuses should be impartial and neutral and so should be the sources and media outlets. For example, major human rights organizations only highlight and focus on right abuses that occur in the center, merely because their upbringing culture is the same as those of the oppressors. Therefore, they rarely touch on issues that are dear to the hearts of many in Kurdistan and other deprived and neglected areas of Iran.”.
Interviewed by: Jamal Ekhtiar
Iran rights Transparency: The United Nations Human Rights System “admits its failure in familiar terms like ‘deepening human rights crisis’ in Iran or human rights situation has ‘deteriorated’ in Iran”, as quoted in the reports of UN rights bodies, Secretary General, Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed and etc. UN literature about Iran; how and does this happen?
Serif Behruz: Well, The United Nations and all its bodies make sure they use politically correct terms that convey the same message without offending the member state in question. The UN and its various bodies are composed of nations who have a lot of interest in not exposing or even questioning human rights situations not only in Iran but also in other countries where there are widespread violations of basic human rights. Even if monitoring bodies and agencies manage to expose the Iranian regime, there is little authority these bodies, such the Special Rapporteurs, have in implementing or enforcing anything on sovereign states, such as Iran.
IRT: In any specific situation regarding any issues, including human rights, there should be priorities, The UN Rights System apparently ignores some major concerns, in other words there is not enough pressure on different aspects of rights violations in Iran. How do you see imbalance in this area?
Serif Behruz: Though I am not an expert on the United Nations system and various bodies that deal with human rights, I know for a fact that it is a complex system to understand for many human rights activists and organizations inside and outside of Iran. Priorities are all self-centered, so our priorities are not necessarily the UN or others’ priorities and vice-versa. However, I can say that understanding the UN working system is imperative to have our priorities in line with the priorities of the UN and its affiliated bodies. Therefore, any rights violation concerns need to channeled through the proper human rights screening that are in place, for example, torture, treatment of women, housing, etc…
IRT: The issue of politicizing and being accused of politicization, how does this prevent proper addressing and debate over major rights concerns in Iran, within UN rights mechanism?
Serif Behruz: Politicizing has two aspects. On one hand the country under review or question complains that the criticisms put forward are based on political agenda. For example, Iran often labels criticism of its nationalities treatment as support for separatism and instability by foreign powers. The other aspect of politicization is related to the use of report of right abuses by political organization. Non-politicization of human rights in countries with room for grass root organizations and a strong civil society is a valid argument; however, in a repressive regime like Iran, where there is little or no room for civil society to operate and focus on human rights issues is bogus and often times used as an excuse by the oppressive regime to further silence dissidents and activists. Many of these human rights violations are inflicted on activists belonging to dissident political groups who only get support from respective political groups. Therefore, these groups have all the right to be heard by the human rights bodies and organizations regardless of their nature, political or non-political.
IRT: What kind of issues do you believe the UN rights mechanism rarely touches, for example, access to proper housing, employment, condition of prisons in Kurdistan and elsewhere outside the center?
Serif Behruz: I believe the UN rights mechanism has failed in many aspects as far as covering human rights in Iran or elsewhere are concerned. In the past when the UN monitoring organization was permitted to visit Iran, they were only allowed to visit places that the regime wanted them to see, be it regions, prisons, dissidents, civil society organizations, cities and etc. Now that the regime gives little access, there is little that is expected from these organizations, but they too rely too much on media outlets and organizations who are located in central Iran or have are less interested and have access to the non-peripheries. Given Iran’s ethno-cultural compositions, such distinction by the UN Rights System is imperative that reporting of rights abuses should be impartial and neutral and so should be the sources and media outlets. For example, major human rights organizations only highlight and focus on right abuses that occur in the center, merely because their upbringing culture is the same as those of the oppressors. Therefore, they rarely touch on issues that are dear to the hearts of many in Kurdistan and other deprived and neglected areas of Iran.
IRT: One of the other issues rarely talked about is education for children. Some statistics estimate 1.5 million children, some others estimate 3 million, are deprived of education. Some push children into child labor due to dire situations of their families. How do you see this issue and how does it affect the regions such as Ahwaz, Kurdistan and Baluchistan, which suffer historical lack of development and attention from the center?
Serif Behruz: Education in one’s mother tongue is a fundamentally recognized right in various UN right charters and the Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly states that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” Unfortunately the Islamic state in Iran not only does not recognize the role of parents in the kind of education their children being taught, but also the education is forced onto their kids in a language foreign to the parents.
This right has been vaguely mentioned in the regime’s own unjust constitutions, but little steps are taken to address this problem. Regrettably, it is not only the State and its institutions that are denying millions of this fundamental right but also the general consensus with the Persian speaking population, which is also the official language in Iran, is also against such a right. Ironically, a Persian outside Iran sees it perfectly justified if his or her children are educated in the West in their mother tongue, but finds it troublesome when Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Turks and Baluchis demand those same rights in their own territories within their own country.
It is scientifically proven that those who start their education in the second language tend to be behind and many are forced to leave school unfinished, especially in the rural areas of the peripheries where their labour are badly needed to help their families with the farm and other work. Many families send away their kids to work away from home to earn a living and this is partly due to the dire economic conditions that these families are in, and the current regime is the main culprit.
The areas belonging to non-Persians are home to majority of Iran’s natural resources, while their budget allocation is a small fraction of central provinces dominated by Persians. Unfortunately, such economic disparity and discriminations is little mentioned in the UN rights monitoring system, and they are rarely mentioned in the government delegation replies with “utopian Islamic justice system”, and unfortunately it ends there and leaves no room for further debate.
IRT: Mr. Behruz, again one of the other issues improperly and unsuitably touched by UN, is women’s rights and violence against women, I read on Kurdpa News agency that sometimes women commit suicide due to dire poverty within families, low living standards of families and citizens. This is not limited to women but also men commit suicide; apparently it is not violence against women, but basically violence against human, family and as a female women rights activist noted in a seminar, we are all violated, why not violence against men, why not violence against Kolbars. You are aware notable foreign historians and sociologists, who had travelled to Kurdistan, admit Kurdish society enjoyed a considerable degree of gender equality in the past, but now Kurds are not free to exercise their cultural and social freedoms and have their own structures. Aren’t those problems ramifications of lack of basic freedom instead of violence against women as claimed, of course rights of women should be respected and violence against women including of domestic type should be addressed anywhere they exist?
Serif Behruz: Well, as I mentioned such economic disparities across Iran creates massive irreparable social, economic and environmental problems including, violence against and injustice towards women. Kurdish women traditionally are more vocal compared to others in the region; however, there are many Kurdish customs and traditions that still plague Kurdish society, especially women. Due to the general situation of women in Iran, Kurdish women in Iran are also greatly affected and the problems mentioned inflict greater harm on women. That is why we see higher numbers of divorce, suicides, prostitution and addiction among Kurdish women in Iran compared to a few decades ago.
Kurdish women should work harder to free themselves and society from religious and traditional chains and of course along the way they will need help from courageous men who are willing to fight for their spouses and daughters’ rights. The UN and other human rights bodies and organizations should help women empower themselves, not only in Kurdistan and other deprived and neglected areas of Iran, but also across the region where women are the primary victims of violence and injustice. Many countries in the region who are UN member states are the main obstacles to such issues being debated less often while relatively smaller issues such as racism are highlighted for political purposes by certain states against other countries.
The issue of border carriers, best known as kolbars or those who carry goods on their back for a living is an epidemic facing the Kurdish society, especially men, in Iran due to the same problems that we mentioned above. Young and old embark on this dangerous and deadly labor to bring an honourable food to their families’ table. They often times become victims to the indiscriminate and extrajudicial killings of Revolutionary Guards, local paramilitaries, border guards and various other security forces present in the area. The innocent kolbars mostly fall victim to the greedy guards who confiscate their goods they carry on their back for personal gain. The Guards are so powerful in the area, no one dares to speak up or out against it, and the international community and human rights organizations are also silent about it.
IRT: As an essential cultural, identity and linguistic rights, how do the arguments go around the article 15 and 19 of the constitution; interpretations of the Iranian government of the constitution and have they been fruitful?
Serif Behruz: One of the main differences between the dominant culture in Iran since the inception of the modern state in the 1920s, and other regional modern states with minorities, has been that Persians have always admitted to the existence of those minorities but not only have done nothing to promote and protect those cultures but rather have done everything in their power to demonize and assimilate them into the Persian culture both during the monarchy and the Islamic reign.
The rights mentioned in article 15 and 19 are prime examples of such rights being admitted and mentioned but never put into practice. When there are discussions of implementing them, different interpretations of the article arise and after years of debate about their implementation then we are back to square one, where such discussions endanger national unity and territorial integrity. In my humble opinion, the inclusion of these two articles are on the one hand to rub it against the face of those such as the UN and other countries who criticize Iran for its treatment of its people. On the other hand, it is to downgrade the demands of nationalities which are greater freedom, role and power within a decentralized Iran to these two articles and any discussion beyond those two articles for self-rule are considered as treason and labeled as separatists and etc…
IRT: Do you think sometimes UN rights bodies raise less important issues, while major issues that could lead towards genuine development are in stuck?
Serif Behruz: Certainly, I mentioned the case of racism, even though in my opinion it is a very important matter to discuss, but in terms of priority and sheer numbers, it is nowhere close to the level of discrimination against women and oppressed nations in Iran and around the world.
While the bulk of human rights abuses in Iran are against various nationalities, the UN human rights reporting mechanism and other states such the US as well briefly mention these violations in fear of retaliations and reprisal not only from the state but also from the general public who considers such issues to be decisive and politically motivated.
IRT: The Iranian Government always complains about violation of the rights of Iran for development at international bodies such as Human Rights Council; the so called “rights to development” of third world or developing countries are supposed to be violated by greater powers; on the other hand in domestic level, it seems those rights have been severely violated, government has budget for nuclear and missile programs, to pursue its strategies in the Middle East, but there is no budget for family welfare, child education, health and development in Balochistan, Kurdistan, Ahwaz and etc. In Ahwaz, citizens lack drinking water, in Balochistan children don’t have proper education even in Farsi, which is not their mother tongue, are Balochies concerned about this?
Serif Behruz: This is the irony with this regime that whatever it wants and stands for outside its borders is off limit and forbidden for its people. It often complains of unjust world order, where injustice is widespread inside Iran. It stands with and fights for the rights of many deprived populations, compensates them while it ignores the basic rights and freedom of its population.
Nationalities inside Iran are the prime victim of an unjust development policy adopted by this regime for decades. As outlined in the UN Declaration on the right to Development, “development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits…”. Unfortunately, this is the utmost important and neglected issue that even international monitoring organizations tend to overlook. Very rarely, the UN monitoring system has looked into economic, social and cultural discriminations in Iran against nationalities who make up more than half of Iran’s population. Right to development is a fundamental right that Iran is a signatory and must abide by its commitment to fairly distribute resources and benefits among its entire population, which Iran has failed to do and will continue to do so as long as it goes unchallenged. This emanates from this systematic discriminatory practices that have been in place in Iran for decades and the international community has said little or nothing about it. While when bodies such as Human Rights Council screens Iran’s human rights records at a minimum, the regime in Iran complains of biasedness. The policy of this regime has been to maximize discrimination, rights violations at all levels so the international community can settle for the minimum scrutiny.
At the UN, Iran often complains of police brutalities in countries such as the US and Europe and defends the rights of Palestinians to self-determination; however, while it denies Kurds and other nationalities of the right to determine their own destiny and brutally kills young and old belonging to nationalities. It is such bigotry and double standard that Iran is second to none.
IRT: Are there other concerns that can be raised, but human rights organizations inside Iran have failed to shine enough light? Are rights violations properly documented? In general, how is the documentation of rights violations in Iran?
Serif Behruz: Such discrimination and deprivation of development has led the society to being underdeveloped with little economic and social infrastructure for civil society empowerment and little room for an educated and informed population to develop and organize. Given Iran’s repressive regime, it even becomes more difficult to speak up against such discriminations. The policy of intimidation and systematic watchers and informers are at the core and heart of this regime where various security elements harass and intimidate those who strive to document human rights violations. Case example is the formation of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization where its leading and founding member, including Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand, are in prison for years for simply founding the organization. Other activists such as the Kurdpour brothers have been unjustly silenced to intimidate others and to refrain them from engaging in such activities.
While these are tangible limitations on the part of the activists inside, there are shortcomings on the part of those who are relatively free of repression, mainly those who are outside of Iran. The opposition groups have covered human rights violations extensively; however, they have failed to adequately document all aspects of rights violation in all parts of Iran in accordance with the UN and other human rights monitoring organizations’ procedures; hence, making their reports, at times, irrelevant and unprofessional.
IRT: Could you brief us about the main rights bodies which deal and work on Iran, and among them how do you see the role of Human Rights Council, Third Committee and General Assembly?
Serif Behruz: There are several non-governmental and governmental human rights monitoring mechanism that focus on Iran. The non-governmental organizations are the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Border, which in my view they have all performed well in exposing human rights violations in Iran; however, this is not to say that they are no shortcomings on their parts; nonetheless, their detailed reports on nationalities and religious minorities under threat has been of extreme value.
The UN rights bodies and some other governmental bodies, such as the US State Department, have also been crucial in exposing Iran’s gruesome rights record; however, they have utilized a ‘politically correct’ language at the expense of deprived nationalities. As I mentioned in the beginning, human rights reporting is mostly based on observations in the center, where the level of violations and discrimination is nowhere near the peripheries which are mainly populated by the nationalities. Most of the reports insufficiently document violations in those areas, only devoting a paragraph or two to report same information over and over again, that Kurds are discriminated against in Iran. This is not enough, one has to understand the level of discrimination in regards to restriction on language, the education system, lack of services, little and badly managed budgets, poor infrastructure, low employment rates and lack of employment opportunities, inadequate housing, cultural, social and environment challenges, etc.
As I mentioned, there are too many biased individuals working in those offices that misinform and intentionally omit and ignore these issues and important areas. Unfortunately, the many placed guidelines and frameworks allow them to do so. As far as the performance of the organizational bodies mentioned, as indicated I am not an expert on the UN mechanism to judge which do better as far as exposing human rights violations in Iran are concerned. So far, the criticisms that were directed at the former Human Rights Commission are also directed at the new Human Rights Council. The formation is problematic as is the UN itself with the majority of the member states with poor human rights records; however, I have noticed that the HRC attributes a special role for non-governmental organizations which the previous system did not even though it had the mechanism to do so. Even though Human Rights Council is the primary UN body to deal with human rights violations in Iran and elsewhere, one should not underestimate the role other bodies such as The Third Committee and the General Assembly play in exposing human rights conditions in Iran. This is often little understood and underestimated by human rights activists and organizations, especially those working on the rights of the nationalities. For example, The Third Committee deals with the issue of self-determination among other issues; however, rarely ever the nationalities’ right to determine their own destiny has been discussed at an international stage such as the UN. If this and other issues are raised through the proper channel and enough awareness is made, it is quite possible that it can attract the attention of such bodies.
Based on a personal observation of a Human Rights Council on Iran last year, very few countries mentioned the mistreatment of nationalities at the hands of the central government and one or two member states mentioned the struggle of Kurds in Iran. This number must increase and member states must be approached at the General Assembly level, and such as the Palestinian cause, the Kurdish and other nationalities cause should come to the forefront of issues and concerns that must be addressed at all the levels of the UN system.
IRT: Decisions and resolutions on human rights are not binding, how does this affect UN hunan rights mechanism system?
Serif Behruz: Of course, the non-binding nature of most of the resolutions is a major cause for concern which Iran continues to take for granted; however, the UN and affiliated bodies do not have the authority to act even if the resolutions are binding. It requires strong member state backing and even the support of the Security Council to enforce these resolutions. It took years of diplomatic wrangling to enforce UN sanctions on the regime for its nuclear non-compliance that also paved the way for imposing human rights violation related sanctions on Iran for the first time. There is precedence and I believe it could be done, however it requires a lot of coordinated and calculated efforts.
IRT: How do you see current HRC compared to past Human Rights Commission?
Serif Behruz: Since Human Rights Council is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, directly accountable to the full membership of the United Nations, its resolutions and decisions are more binding than the former Human Rights Commission which was mandated by the Secretariat structure, reporting to the UN Secretary-General. The new body tends to have its own flaws as well, but as we see rising number of responsible member states with better human rights record especially in Africa and South and Central America, the function of the Council seems to be better. As I mentioned, another positive element of Human Rights Council’s work is a “Complaints Procedure,” which allows individuals and organizations to bring complaints forward regarding human rights violations to the attention of the Council.
However, one major criticism directed against the Human Rights Council is that the new 57 member state Council seats tend to be occupied by countries with poor human rights records. Under the new monitoring system, all 192 member states will be monitored and it takes years for a country like Iran with appalling human rights records to be monitored; however, this concern has been complemented by the system of ‘Special Procedures’ where independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a country-specific perspective which a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been mandated since 2011 and extended by the Council every year after. The Special Rapporteur has been more inclusive in his reports, however similar shortcomings mentioned above still apply to the Special Procedures as well.
IRT: If you remember EU had the so called ‘Critical Dialogue’ with Iran in 90s; at that time EU and UN used to talk about Gozinesh or Selections – routinely conducted by Iranian government in all areas of life- which apparently still continues – but was mainly seen in the context of education and employment; when one looks at the practices of the UN rights and protection system, quite apparently they are selective too. How do you see sermons and preaching of UN on Iran?
Serif Behruz: Human rights violation reporting cannot be selective. No human rights agency or organization, governmental or non-governmental should pick and choose what aspects of the rights violation to cover or expose. Regrettably, so far this has been a common practice that will only embolden this regime in its mission to further crack down on people’s rights and freedom.
As for the issue of policy of Gozinesh, the Islamic Republic of Iran knows very well the importance of such issues to be included in major human rights reports. This issue was first mentioned years ago and still continues to be a major point of concern in the existence of discrimination against nationalities where the screening system prevents them from enrolling in higher education or employment. The regime viewed this as a major setback and has strived ever since to prevent this from happening. As rightly mentioned many western countries have purposely kept quiet on many issues and obstacles facing nationalities fearing retaliation from Iran and maybe loss economic and commercial interests.
Despite being a rouge state, Iran remains to be a strategic county geographically, economically and politically. It is a major market for many Western firms and it cannot be simply ignored. Iran know this and tries to capitalize on its strength as much as possible.
IRT: How do you see the role of UN protection system namely UNHCR?
Serif Behruz: The UNHCR role is still very important. Since it is still under the Secretariat structure, it depends on the leadership of UN to steer and guide the directorate of the UNHCR to take more of a proactive role against certain countries. However, the Human Rights Council has taken over the traditional role of UNHCR and the UNHCR has a supportive role for the meetings of the Human Rights Council. The role of UNHCR has diminished since its replacement by the Council, and UNHCR has done little since the changes took place to carry out its mandated mission.
IRT: It seems in recent years, the UN has been putting a blind eye in the plight of many refugees known as political refugees, among them Kurds and members of exiled Kurdish political parties. Why have their refugee cases been in limbo in recent years?
Serif Behruz: Under the UN refugee system, these individuals and groups are still considered refugees, and individuals belonging to these exiled groups in any shape or form still receive refugee protection under the UN refugee system. However, the rising refugee crisis across the globe has shifted the UN’s attention for obvious reasons. The primary problem facing many Iranian Kurdish refugees, including those belonging to the opposition groups, has been the changes in the immigration rules and law of the host countries who take these refugees. Heightened security concerns in many of these countries have led their immigration officials to vet many refugee applicants and prevent anyone from entering their country who have affiliation to any subversive armed groups, which the Iranian Kurdish political opposition groups are.
It is ironic that their affiliation to the exiled political group grants them refugee status; however, the same affiliation, often times, bars them from resettling in countries such as Canada and the United States which have rather taken a quite negative approach to their anti-terror laws. Instead of preventing real terrorists entering their countries, they have wrongly targeted individuals and groups who have been the real victims of terrorism. Maybe, they are political overtures to give signals to the Iranian regime that despite the severed relations, they are ready for rapprochement with the regime.
IRT: IRT very much appreciates analyst and observer Serif Behruz
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