Friday, November 20, 2009

UN committee targets Iran's rights violations

UNITED NATIONS — A key U.N. committee approved a resolution Friday urging Iran to halt the persecution of political opponents following the country's disputed presidential election and release those still detained.

Citing arbitrary arrests, detentions and the disappearance of Iranians exercising their right to freedom of assembly and expression following the June 12 presidential election, the General Assembly's human rights committee adopted the resolution by a vote of 74-48 with 59 abstentions.

The resolution must now be approved at a plenary session of the 192-member world body, where its adoption is virtually certain.

Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee called the resolution "highly politically charged and motivated" and stressed that the majority of General Assembly members — 118 — did not support it.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood, speaking in Washington, welcomed the result, calling it "the largest vote margin on such a resolution on Iran in the U.N. ever."

The resolution which criticized Iran's handling of human rights in general, expressed "particular concern" at the government's response following the declaration that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won reelection.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians joined street protests, supporting opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's claims of fraud, until pro-government forces crushed the demonstrations with a crackdown in which hundreds were arrested.

The opposition says at least 69 people were killed and that many of those detained were abused, tortured and even raped in prison.

The resolution cited the "harassment, intimidation and persecution ... of opposition members, journalists and other media representatives, bloggers, lawyers, clerics, human rights defenders, academics, students and others exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries."

It criticized the "violence and intimidation by government-directed militias," the government's reported use of forced confessions, its mass trials resulting in some death sentences, and the "escalation in the rate of executions in the months following the elections." It also criticized the severe restrictions on media coverage of public demonstrations and the arrest of employees of foreign embassies.

The resolution urges the Iranian government to end the harassment and persecution of political opponents and release those imprisoned for their political views, again singling out those detained after the presidential election.

In addition to the human right violations following the election, the resolution expresses "deep concern" at the government's increasing use of executions, death by stoning, torture, flogging and amputations, and its increasing discrimination against religious, ethnic and other minorities.

Iran's Khazaee called the claims about the election "entirely misleading and incorrect."

"The election was another display of the democratic nature and openness of the political system in the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said, noting that the country's election laws "provide adequate remedies for addressing any complaint or concern with regard to the results."

Canada's U.N. Ambassador John McNee told the committee human rights protections have continued to deteriorate in Iran over past year.

"What is routine is Iran's consistent failure to live up to its international human rights obligations," he said. "These failings were only made all the more evident following the June 12 presidential election."

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