Deputy Assistant Secretary Suzanne Nossel spoke today on Capitol Hill at an event sponsored by the National Iranian American Council before Congressional staffers, civil society and the press to make the case for creating a Special Rappateur on Iran at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
"The case for a new mandate focused on human rights in Iran is powerful," Nossel said, explaining that the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated since the 2009 Presidential elections. "The Iranian government has jammed foreign broadcasts and blocked internet sites; 28 journalists and 9 bloggers are currently in prison. The execution rate continues to rise and is now the highest per capita in the world..with credible estimates suggesting that 80 people were executed in the first two months of this year."
This is by no means the entire list of human rights abuses, but as Nossel pointed out the regime continues to deny responsibility. In an effort to hold Iran accountable, the Human Rights Council will vote on whether to call for a Special Rappateur on Iran next week.
Nossel explained why the UN is a critical arena to show Tehran that its treatment of its own people, its low regard for human rights and its pattern of abuses have consequences. "While we can and do convey that message on our own, the UN allows us to make clear that Iran's poor human rights record is of grave concern not just to the U.S. and Europe, but to the entire world. The Iranian activists and dissidents we speak to confirm the obvious: Tehran cares about what happens at the United Nations. But so do we."
A Special Rapporteur is a prominent independent expert empowered by the United Nations and its membership to carry out monitoring and reporting on an individual country situation. The Rapporteur carries the imprimatur of the entire international community, and in this case would deliver information and messages that would be difficult for Tehran to dismiss or counter (though they'll surely try). This individual would report at least annually to both the General Assembly in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Late last year Ted Piccone at the Brookings Institution published a comprehensive study of the work of UN Special Rapporteurs. He found that such mechanisms "represents one of the most effective tools of the international human rights system" and found that they "have a direct impact on elevating attention to important and sensitive human rights problems by government officials, nongovernmental organizations, the media and politicians."
Special Rappateurs serve as key conduits for victims of human rights abuse and human rights defenders so that their suffering does not occur in silence. By speaking the names of dissidents and prisoners, Special Rapporteurs can help save lives.
Nossel insisted that Tehran knows it is under scrutiny. "They have sent a Deputy Foreign Minister to lobby in Geneva and are approaching individual delegations at a relentless pace," she said. "In many countries Iran can invoke trade relationships and other equities to exert persuasive influence. They also benefit from regional bloc dynamics that can result in large groups of countries voting in unison to defend their own. Finally, they will play on the aversion many capitals have to country-specific resolutions, often motivated by fear that someday the spotlight may be turned on them. So we face a difficult battle with more twists and turns to come as the Council session enters its final weeks."