Dismay at lack of human rights resolution on Iran as persecution worsens

14 April 2005

— The Baha'i International Community today expressed its dismay and disappointment at the failure of the UN Commission on Human Rights to even consider a resolution on human rights in Iran, given the worsening situation in that country and in particular the persecution of the Baha'is.

"In view of the sharp increase of human rights violations against the Baha'i community of Iran, it is nothing less than shocking that the Commission on Human Rights has for the third year in a row failed to renew international monitoring of the situation," said Bani Dugal, principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"Over the past year, two important Baha'i holy places have been destroyed, Baha'i students have been denied access to higher education, and, most recently, Baha'is in Yazd and Tehran have been swept up in a new wave of assaults, harassment and detentions.

"All of this has come as part of a continuing pattern of religious persecution instigated and condoned by the Iranian government, which has in years past faced the clear condemnation of the international community for its actions," said Ms. Dugal.

"We are very disappointed at the failure of the Commission on Human Rights to live up to its mandate," said Ms. Dugal. "Unfortunately, countries which in the past have initiated resolutions calling for the international monitoring of Iran backed away from the table again this year," said Ms. Dugal.

Ms. Dugal's comments came at the end of the Commission's period for consideration of country-specific resolutions today, when all hope for such a resolution on Iran had passed.

Three weeks ago, the Baha'i International Community strongly urged the Commission to table and pass a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran, saying that "the gross, flagrant, repeated violations of human rights in Iran -- including the abuses that target Baha'is in that country -- warrant the re-establishment of a monitoring mechanism."

"For three years, this Commission has not been capable of presenting a resolution on Iran, while the situation there has gradually but steadily deteriorated," said Diane Ala'i, the community's representative to the United Nations in Geneva, in a statement to the Commission on 23 March 2005.

"And now, over the past few months, we have had the impression of a shifting back in time, some 20 years or more, as we have witnessed a resumption of violent attacks on the Baha'i community in Iran," said Ms. Ala'i.

"The most serious outbreak occurred in Yazd, where several Baha'is were assaulted in their homes and beaten, a Baha'i's shop was set on fire and burned, and others were harassed and threatened, following a series of arrests and short-term detentions. The Baha'i cemetery in Yazd was wantonly destroyed, with cars driven over the graves, tombstones smashed and the remains of the interred left exposed."

Ms. Ala'i also said that in March, in Tehran, Iranian intelligence agents entered the homes of several Baha'is and spent hours ransacking their houses before carting away their possessions and taking them into custody.

"Five Baha'is have been imprisoned just this past month," said Ms. Ala'i. "Two were finally released on bail, but family and community members have not been able to locate those in detention. Two others, who had previously been briefly detained for nothing more than distributing copies of a courteous letter to President Khatami, have now received the maximum sentence for this so-called offence.

"Six more Baha'i families recently had their homes and land confiscated, depriving them of their only means of livelihood."

"Indeed, human rights violations in Iran have again become so grave that, in our view, they warrant a clear signal from the international community and a decision to reestablish international monitoring -- now," Ms. Ala'i said in March.

Between 1978 and 1998, the Iranian government executed more than 200 Baha'is. Hundreds more Baha'is were imprisoned, and tens of thousands were deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses, and educational opportunities.

In the face of intense international pressure, most significantly through a series of United Nations human rights resolutions, the Iranian government has essentially halted the executions and greatly reduced the number of Baha'is held in prison.

Yet while it has halted the most egregious forms of direct violence against individual members of the Baha'i community, the government has nevertheless continued its campaign of persecution, principally through social and economic restrictions that aim at slowly suffocating an entire religious community.

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