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UN rights chief says Iran must end crackdown on protesters

November 24, 2022

The UN Human Rights Council is considering an international investigation into the human rights situation in Iran. Tehran said the West "lack the moral credibility" to criticize it.

This past weekend six people in Kurdish cities were killed by security forces using live ammunition.
The protests in Iran have been met with a deadly crackdown by security forces. Image: SalamPix/abaca/picture alliance

United Nations Human Rights Chief Volker Türk warned on Thursday Iran is, "in a full-fledged human rights crisis."

He was speaking at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on what it called "the deteriorating human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran" in Geneva. 

The UN official demanded an end to the "unnecessary" use of force against protesters in Iran.

Türk, who began his role as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights last month, told reporters on Thursday that he offered to visit Iran during protests, but has not received a reply yet.

The UN commissioner added that he also "offered a stronger presence in Iran — we don't have an office yet — but so far I haven't received a response."

His appeal for Tehran to stop using the death penalty also went unanswered, according to Türk. 

Iran's rights violations raise concerns

"From what we could gather, around 14,000 people, including children, have so far been arrested in the context of the protests. This is a staggering number," Türk said, adding: "The unnecessary and disproportionate use of force must come to an end. The old methods and the fortress mentality of those who wield power simply don't work."

The Geneva meetingwas also attended by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who called for an "independent and impartial" UN mechanism to investigate rights abuses in Iran so those "responsible can be held accountable."

She added the UN meeting was also about their "courage to speak out' against abuses in Iran.

In turn, Iran's deputy of the vice president for women and family affairs, Khadijeh Karimi, said Western countries "lack the moral credibility to preach others on human rights."

For nearly two months now, Iran has been witnessing women-led protests denouncing the traditional regime. 

Although Iran would likely refuse to cooperate with a UN investigation, there are still steps the international community can take to support protesters, Lucy McKernan, the deputy director for United Nations at Human Rights Watch's Geneva office, told DW.

"We can't underestimate how showing solidarity to the protests on the ground can give them a sense of support from outside of the country at a time when they are facing this brutal crackdown," she said. "The international community can offer sanctuary to those fleeing prosecution in Iran."

UN condemns harsh response to Iran protests

What is Germany's position on the Iran protests?

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was in Geneva to call for a condemnation of the Iranian leadership for its actions against demonstrators. 

"The Iranian demonstrators do not have a seat on the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and they do not have a voice at the UN," Baerbock said in a statement issued before she traveled.

"Today the UN Human Rights Council can raise its voice for the indivisible rights of the people in Iran. Today, the members of the Human Rights Council can make a stand against the injustice, the beatings and the shots with which the Iranian regime is trying to destroy peaceful protest."

Germany's top diplomat vowed to concentrate efforts on supporting those who are standing up for their rights with "courage and dignity."

"For more than two months, we have had to witness on daily basis how Iranians have been victims of brutal violence and state tyranny," Baerbock said.

She stressed that Iran had consistently denied UN envoys entry into the country, and called on Council members to vote for a resolution on creating an independent mechanism to investigate human rights violations.

"We owe it to the victims," she said.

'Today is also a test of our courage': Baerbock on Iran

Why are Iranians protesting?

The protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the Guidance Patrol, or the so-called "morality police," in Tehran.

She died shortly after in hospital under mysterious circumstances.

The nationwide demonstration has seen students and women burning their veils and cutting their hair in a show of defiance against the repressive Islamic Republic that came to power in 1979.

The protests have been met with a deadly crackdown by security forces. 

The UN estimates that over 300 people have died since they began in mid-September. 

Have the Iran protests had an impact?

What's the current situation in Iran?

On Tuesday, UN spokesman Jeremy Laurence cited human rights chief Volker Turk as saying that the rise in deaths, including among children, and the tougher security response "underline the critical situation in the country."

The UN called on Iranian authorities to address the demands for equality, dignity and rights, rather than "using unnecessary or disproportionate force to suppress the protests," Laurence said while talking to the media. 

There is also a growing worry about the treatment of those detained in the clampdown

Some 1,000 people have been charged in the capital Tehran alone. 

Human rights groups say there is overcrowding in the country's prisons and many detainees are being temporarily taken to detention camps run by the Ministry of Intelligence. 

Last month, the UN human rights office also expressed concern about Iran's treatment of detained protesters. 

rm, lo, dvv/rt (Reuters, AFP)