An Iranian diplomat has been appointed to chair the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Social Forum in November 2023. UNHRC President Vaclav Balek announced the appointment of the Iranian foreign policy expert in a letter dated May 10, 2023. Ali Bahreini, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, was chosen from among several regional candidates.
The UN Human Rights Council 2023 Social Forum, scheduled November 2 and 3 in Geneva, will focus on the contributions of science, technology, and innovations to the promotion of human rights, including in the context of post-pandemic recovery.
A 'slap in the face'
Mariam Claren, daughter of Nahid Taghavi, a German-Iranian human rights activist imprisoned in Iran, was shocked by the decision. "As the daughter of a political prisoner who has experienced the regime's arbitrariness and human rights violations firsthand for more than two years, I seriously question the values of the United Nations," she told DW.
Arrested in October 2020, Nahid Taghavi was charged with disrupting national security and spreading anti-state propaganda. In a speedy trial that lacked any evidence of the charges, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. "I don't understand how a country with such atrocities and human rights violations can chair a UNHCR forum," Claren said.
In view of the ongoing crackdown on Iran's civil society in response to nationwide protests sparked by the violent death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini in police custody, Claren stated that "in Iran, people are executed every day. More than 20,000 political prisoners are behind bars. Those who demand their basic rights are shot in the street."
In her view, rewarding Iran the Social Forum chair is "a slap in the face for all Iranians and anyone who loves freedom." Many men in Iran currently face the death penalty.
Contradictory messages from the UNHRC
In a November resolution against Iran, the UNHRC called for an independent investigation into the Iranian leadership's violence against peaceful demonstrators.
"The appointment of an Iranian official to chair a UNHRC forum while the council investigates the deaths of hundreds of peaceful protesters in Iran reflects a shocking ethical blindness," said Hadi Ghaemi, head of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
In a bid to preserve the legitimacy and credibility of the UNHRC, Ghaemi's organization is calling on governments around the world to appeal to Czech UNHRC President Vaclav Balek and demand the immediate withdrawal of Iran's appointment.
Pandemic's long-term effects on Iran unclear
The long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be an important topic at the UNHCR Social Forum. However, it is still unclear how many people have died in Iran as a result of the country's disastrous handling of the pandemic, in which authorities initially denied the spread of the virus in Iran. Critics say they failed to take adequate measures to combat the pandemic and later spread conspiracy theories about vaccines produced in the West.
Little effort has been made to contain the spread of the virus in prisons in particular. Iranian poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin died in January 2022 after falling ill with COVID-19. According to his family, he was taken to the hospital far too late.
Jafar Azimzadeh, a union member and one of the few activists still willing to talk to foreign media, recovered from the virus in prison. "The pressure has increased enormously over the past months," he told DW, adding that the repression of civil society is unprecedented.
Azimzadeh is chairman of the Free Workers Union of Iran. The 57-year-old has been arrested several times over the past 20 years. In March 2015, a revolutionary court in Tehran sentenced him to six years in prison for assembling and conspiring against national security and spreading propaganda against the system.
"As a long-time trade union activist, I don't remember ever seeing so many trade union activists in prison," Azimzadeh told DW. "Critical voices are immediately crushed." He added that "a person just needs to voice criticism about the regime twice to end up in prison."
This article was originally written in German.