UN panel criticizes Iran’s repression of minorities

August 30, 2010

GENEVA, Switzerland — A United Nations panel of experts has expressed concern over Iran’s continued repression of ethnic and religious minorities, including members of the Baha'i Faith.

In conclusions issued last Friday, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) questioned why Iranian minorities – such as Arabs, Azeris, Balochis, Kurds and Baha'is – are so poorly represented in Iran’s public life.

The Baha'i International Community has welcomed the panel’s findings that categorize Iran’s persecution of Baha'is as a matter of discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion.

“This finding is important because it represents the opinion of a body of international experts on discrimination – including many from countries that are friendly to Iran,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

“As such, their criticism of Iran, even if couched in somewhat mild diplomatic language, represents further evidence that the world community will not turn a blind eye to Iran’s ongoing persecution of Baha'is – which are that country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority – nor, for that matter, to the violation of the human rights of any of that nation’s citizens,” said Ms. Ala’i.

Committee’s concern

In its conclusions about Baha’is and other minority groups, CERD urged Iran to “carry out a study of members of all such communities that would enable the State party to identify their particular needs and draw up effective plans of action, programmes and public policies to combat racial discrimination and disadvantage relating to all areas of the public life of these communities.”

The recommendation followed a series of exchanges on 4-5 August with an Iranian delegation that came before the Committee to defend their human rights record.

Committee members appeared quite skeptical about Iran’s efforts to meet the mandates of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which the Committee monitors, including a number of members from countries that have generally friendly relations with Iran, such as Brazil, India, and Turkey.

Reports from human rights groups

Alternative reports submitted by human rights groups were more critical, noting that Baha'is have since 2005 faced an upsurge in arbitrary arrests and detentions, the demolition of properties, and the denial of rights to education, employment, and social participation.

“Since the beginning of 2010, numerous Baha’is have been sentenced to imprisonment,” said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), and Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) in a joint report.

Amnesty International noted that “derogatory articles and other media pieces” frequently appear in state-run media. “Such practices are of particular concern in relation to the Baha'i community.”

This is not the first time that the Committee has spoken out about Iran’s treatment of Baha'is. In similar concluding observations issued in 2003, the Committee noted with concern “the reported discrimination faced by certain minorities, including the Baha’is, who are deprived of certain rights” which “appear to be discriminatory on both ethnic and religious grounds.”

The Committee in 2003 went on to recommend that Iran “ensure that all persons enjoy their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, without any discrimination based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin,” and also that Iran allow “students of different origins to register in universities without being compelled to state their religion.”

Ms. Ala’i noted that although the Committee’s primary concern is racial discrimination, that mandate is broadly interpreted by the United Nations as including all forms of discrimination, including religious discrimination.

“Members of the Baha'i Faith come from various ethnic backgrounds, but the fact that this committee has identified the intense religious discrimination against the Iranian Baha'i community as something it must look into shows from yet another angle how deep the oppression of Baha'is and other minorities is today in Iran,” said Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

“The intense questioning during the dialogue session with Iran, moreover, clearly displayed the skepticism with which the international community views Iran’s efforts to defend what is otherwise indefensible in terms of human rights violation,” she said.