On Monday 2nd March the Bar Human Rights Committee and the UK Bahá’í Community held a joint seminar to examine Iran’s failure to act in response to its 2010 Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Speakers Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law, and Iranian human rights lawyer, Shadi Sadr, explored the challenges for the Government of Iran in adopting international human rights norms and instruments and the efficacy of the UPR process in relation to the rights of religious minorities and women.

Almost five years have passed since Iran’s first UPR and in March of this year, the Iranian Mission to the Human Rights Council will formally respond to recommendations made to their second UPR. Since 2010, human rights activists in Iran have reported a range of concerns in relation to human rights violations in the country including torture, lack of legal due process and discrimination against various minority groups.

Prof. Payam Akhavan, Kirsty Brimelow QC and Shadi Sadr

Prof. Payam Akhavan, Kirsty Brimelow QC and Shadi Sadr

 The case of Iran’s Bahá’í community was explored as the litmus test by which the international community can judge Iran’s commitment to human rights. The systematic persecution of Bahá’ís is unique in that it is promoted and implemented by government authorities. “[Iran’s] own leadership is the biggest source of incitement to violence against the Bahá’í community” commented Professor Akhavan, a former Legal Advisor to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, who thanked the BHRC for drawing attention to the issue.

Ms Sadr, a founder and Executive Director of Justice for Iran, highlighted the practice of early and forced marriage in Iran, noting also that because women are expected to submit to their husbands in every aspect of their lives, the issue of marital rape is not addressed within a legal context in Iran. She described how the government attempts to intimidate Iranian women who attend United Nations events such as the Commission on the Status of Women by arresting them upon their return to the country.

Both speakers went on to describe Iran’s efforts to justify its human rights violations through claiming that human rights must be read through a “multi-cultural lens”. Ms Sadr commented that this view distorts the meaning of human rights, making them contingent on state ideology, so that they apply to some and not others. This argument is used to legitimise elements of cultural practice that harm certain groups and minorities. Professor Akhavan further noted that this distorted concept of human rights used by the government to deny religious freedom to Iran’s Bahá’ís is the same one through which it continues to condone early and forced marriage.

“I urge you all to engage in the UPR process” concluded Ms Sadr. “Together we can achieve changes for Iran.”

See the special report of the Bahá’í International Community on Iran’s failure to implement UPR recommendations here.