ILO expresses concern over economic repression of Iranian Baha’is

August 1, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland — The International Labor Organization (ILO) has expressed "deep concern" over continuing economic and educational discrimination against Baha'is in Iran.

In particular, an ILO committee charged with monitoring global compliance with the right to non-discrimination in employment and occupation said the case of Iranian Baha'is remains "particularly serious" because of "systematic discrimination" by the government.

"The ILO is a tripartite body representing governments, workers, and employers from around the world. The committee's report, released in late June, is therefore especially significant because it represents the opinion not just of governments but also of workers and employers," said Diane Ala'i, representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

"The fact that it has joined the outcry of international concern over Iran's continued discrimination against Baha'is in the workplace and education is an important yardstick of global opinion."

"Indeed, not only has Iran failed to make progress at eliminating discrimination, the situation has grown worse," said Ms. Ala'i. "Since January of this year, there has been a sharp increase in the number of Baha'i shops that have been closed or had their business licenses revoked."

Ms. Ala'i said, for example, that some 32 Baha'i-owned shops were closed in Hamadan late last year, and, with two exceptions, all other Baha'i shopkeepers in that city were summoned by the authorities for questioning in late February. Many of those shopkeepers later had their shops closed.

"One Baha'i shop in Hamadan was closed down because the shopkeeper refused to open the shop on Baha'i holy days," said Ms. Ala'i. "When he began to sell goods out of his truck, his vehicle was confiscated. His residence was also raided and his bank account closed. Such forms of discrimination against Baha'is are occurring throughout Iran."

Discrimination in higher education against Iranian Baha'is has also continued, said Ms. Ala'i, noting that this discrimination also extends to vocational schools, which fall under the ILO's area of concern.

"A number of vocational schools were among the 81 Iranian universities that were specifically instructed to expel any students who were discovered to be Baha'is in 2006," said Ms. Ala'i, referring to a confidential memorandum issued by the government.

The ILO committee's report, in its conclusions, "urged the Government (of Iran) to take decisive action to combat discrimination against ethnic minorities and unrecognized religious minorities, in particular, the Baha'is."

The report also quoted worker, employer, and government representatives about the situation in Iran. Such comments are kept anonymous to ensure the committee's independence from pressure by governments.

"The Worker members stated that in spite of numerous examinations of this case, no real progress had been made to comply with the Convention," said the report. "The lack of ability of the Government to repeal even the most patently discriminatory legislation and regulations was deeply regrettable."

The worker members also proposed that a high-level mission be sent to visit the country as soon as possible, with the goal of fact-finding and setting a time-bound action plan aimed at ensuring compliance with the Convention, said the report.

Employer members, likewise, "urged the Government to take concrete steps to ensure comprehensive protection against direct and indirect discrimination on all the grounds enumerated in the Convention."

Several governments, including the European Union and Canada, were also quoted in the report.

The government representative from Canada, for example, said religious minorities faced persistent and pervasive discrimination.

"Members of the Baha'i Faith were discriminated against in access to education, universities and occupations in the public sector; they had been deprived of property, employment and education. The Government's continued failure to respect its obligations under the Convention in the face of repeated calls for change by the Committee demonstrated a lack of seriousness and good faith," said the government member from Canada, according to the report.