Iran: Possible Council Briefing*
This afternoon (5 January), the Security Council is scheduled to hold a public meeting at 3 pm on the recent protests in Iran. A procedural vote, however, is anticipated at the start of the session on whether to hold the meeting. If the vote passes, it will be followed by a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun. The US formally submitted a request to hold the meeting yesterday afternoon (4 January), following Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement to the press on 2 January of the US intention to request emergency sessions of the Security Council and Human Rights Council on the Iranian protests. This morning, Russia, which is expected to raise an objection to the meeting at the session’s outset, requested a meeting of Council members in consultations ahead of the scheduled Council session, with members planning to meet at 2:30 pm.
If an objection is raised, this will precipitate a procedural vote, which is not subject to a veto and requires at least 9 members voting in favour for the decision to pass and for the Council to thus proceed with the briefing. Russia, China, Bolivia, and some other members are likely to vote against holding the meeting, believing that the protests are an internal issue and not a threat to international peace and security. In the last few days, other members, including several European countries, have also been cautious about the idea of a Council public session, feeling this may not be the most appropriate forum to consider the protests. Some have preferred, instead of a public session, discussing the issue under “any other business” in closed consultations.
But the US has been keen to have a public meeting. Ambassador Haley’s public announcement on Tuesday to the media that the US would seek a Council session came as a surprise to members, since Haley had not raised this during the monthly breakfast that morning of the Council’s permanent representatives, nor did the US mention the possibility when the Council adopted its programme of work. The US subsequently contacted Council members bilaterally regarding its call for a meeting.
If Zerihoun briefs, he can be expected to provide an overview of the protests. The protests began on 28 December in the city of Mashad, and quickly spread to other cities across Iran, though notably they have not taken off in Tehran, which was the centre of the 2009 protests after presidential elections. News coverage has depicted protestors’ grievances as being mostly over socio-economic conditions, and as having been triggered by a leaked government budget proposal that would reduce spending on social programs, amidst generous funding for the military and religious establishments. Media reports have said that 21 people have been killed over the first six days of demonstrations, with hundreds arrested and restrictions placed by authorities on the internet. On 3 January, there were a number of large pro-government demonstrations in several cities. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blamed Iran’s foreign “enemies” for the protests. Meanwhile President Hassan Rouhani in an address on 31 December acknowledged Iranians’ right to protest, while calling for the demonstrators to act peacefully and to maintain national unity. Reports over the last two days have indicated that the protests may have lessened.
The US has been very vocal on recent developments. US President Donald Trump has expressed in repeated tweets his support for the protestors. Ambassador Haley issued a statement on 31 December expressing her support for protestors, whose voices she said the US wanted to amplify when she addressed the press this Tuesday. Yesterday, Haley issued a further statement, referring to lessons from Syria during the Arab Spring, and noting that it would be “telling if any country tries to deny the Security Council from even having this discussion”. In letters to the Secretary-General and the Security Council yesterday (4 January), Iran’s ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo described recent actions of the US administration as interfering in Iran’s internal affairs.
UN officials and other members have also issued statements in recent days. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on 3 January that he was “deeply disturbed” over reported deaths, and that authorities must respect the rights of all demonstrators and detainees, while the issues they raise should be resolved through dialogue. The Secretary-General in a short statement that same day similarly urged respect for the rights to assembly and freedom of expression, and for any demonstrations to take place peacefully. President Emmanuel Macron of France issued a statement following a phone conversation he had with Rouhani on 2 January, saying that he had expressed his concern over the number of casualties and had told Rouhani that freedom of speech and protest must be respected. A 2 January press release by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini said that the EU is closely following the ongoing demonstrations, including the “unacceptable loss of human lives”. She highlighted the fundamental right to demonstrate peacefully while stating “we expect all concerned to refrain from violence.” Russia meanwhile issued a statement saying that the demonstrations are an “internal affair” for Iran and that external interference is unacceptable. At noon, a meeting of members of the caucus of Non-Aligned Members–which includes Bolivia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Equatorial-Guinea, Kuwait and Peru, among Council members–was being organized to discuss to discuss their positions for the upcoming vote.
The vote is expected to be close. If the matter passes, members are likely to reiterate the range of views that have been expressed publicly.
*Post-Script: The briefing took place without members holding a procedural vote (S.PV/8152), after Council members had met in consultations ahead of the session. If a vote had been held, it appears that it would have passed, probably with only three ‘no’ votes and three abstentions. This may have contributed to Russia’s decision not to raise an objection to the meeting as had been widely anticipated. During the Council session, a number of members expressed the view that the situation did not meet the criterion for Council consideration as a threat to international peace and security. While referring to the recent demonstrations, they stressed the importance of upholding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iran nuclear deal.