Iranian President Rouhani's speech to UN falls short on human rights
NEW YORK — The Baha'i International Community expressed its disappointment over Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's failure to address the human rights situation in his country during his speech today at the United Nations.
"While we note the promise of coexistence and dialogue with other nations that marked President Rouhani's speech, we are extremely disappointed that he did not discuss any steps he would take to improve the human rights of Iranian citizens," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.
Ms. Dugal said President Rouhani has failed to end religious discrimination, despite promises to do so, something that was raised last week by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his annual report on human rights in Iran to the General Assembly.
She noted in particular that Mr. Ban expressed concern about "reports of persistent discrimination" against ethnic and religious minorities, while noting that President Rouhani had himself made commitments aimed at "ensuring equality, upholding freedom of belief and religion, extending protection to all religious groups and amending legislation that discriminates against minority groups."
"President Rouhani has now had two full years to live up to the promises he has made regarding an end to religious discrimination in Iran. Sadly, despite all his talk, little progress has been made," said Ms. Dugal.
"In the case of the Iranian Baha'i community, the government has actually intensified its anti-Baha'i propaganda campaign in the media. The arbitrary arrest and detention of Baha'is has continued, and Baha'i youth are still banned from higher education."
Ms. Dugal said more than 7,300 items of hate propaganda directed against Baha'is have been published in government-sponsored Persian media since President Rouhani took office in August 2013.
The government has also continued its crackdown on Baha'i businesses, said Ms. Dugal, adding that there have been more than 200 individual incidents of economic oppression against Baha'is under President Rouhani's administration, whilst the exclusion of Baha'is from public sector employment, begun in the early 1980s, continues.
"With 74 Baha'is currently in Iranian prisons, solely because of their religious beliefs, it is clear that President Rouhani's promises for change are hollow," she said.
"At a time when world leaders are meeting with President Rouhani, the Secretary-General's report is a sober reminder that the human rights situation in Iran desperately needs to remain on the international agenda," she said.
"How long must Iranian Baha'is face persecution? How long must they wait before they can go to university, be allowed to bury their dead without obstruction, or live without fear of imprisonment?" she said.
Ms. Dugal also acknowledged the recent article by former Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari, who wrote last week that "[t]he best way to test the Iranian government's will for a new chapter in its relationship with the rest of the world is to question them about their treatment of 300,000 Iranian Baha'is."
"Mr. Bahari, who was himself imprisoned in Iran in 2009, correctly points out that when Iranian officials are asked to explain why they persecute Baha'is, 'they simply don't tell the truth'. The world must ask why President Rouhani not only refuses to discuss reports of human rights violations generally but also avoids addressing his government's unwillingness to confront the Baha'i question," said Ms. Dugal.
(Editor's note: On 30 September 2015, a correction was made in paragraph seven to more accurately reflect the number of items of hate propaganda — directed against Baha'is — which had been published in government-sponsored Persian media since President Rouhani took office in August 2013.)