What's In Blue

Arria-formula Meeting on the Ongoing Protests in Iran

Tomorrow (2 November) at 1:15 pm EST, Albania and the US will convene an Arria-formula meeting on the ongoing protests in Iran. The expected briefers are Javaid Rehman, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Shirin Ebadi, Iranian human rights defender and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; and Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian-born activist and actress.

The meeting, which will take place in the ECOSOC Chamber, will be broadcast on UNTV. It is open to all UN member states, as well as permanent observers and non-governmental organisations accredited to the UN.

Albania and the US have prepared a concept note for the meeting, which says that its objectives are to:

The wave of anti-government protests currently sweeping Iran, which analysts have described as the most serious challenge to the Iranian government in more than a decade, were sparked by the 16 September death of Mahsa Amini after falling into a coma while in police custody. Amini, a 22-year-old woman from the city of Saqquez in Kurdistan province, was arrested in Tehran by Iran’s “morality police” on 13 September for allegedly violating a law requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothing.

The protests, which have largely been spearheaded by Iranian women, began in Saqquez and other cities in Kurdistan province before spreading throughout the country and quickly turning violent. Human rights organisations working in Iran have reported incidents involving the use of tear gas and live ammunition by security forces, including by the Basij Resistance Force, a paramilitary volunteer militia that forms part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as mass arrests and widespread beatings of protesters. Lawyers, journalists, and other members of civil society have reportedly been detained for supporting the protests. The Iranian government has also charged hundreds of those arrested with offences related to the protests, some of which carry the death penalty, and has curtailed access to the internet for most of its citizens. On 29 October, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a press association established by Iranian human rights activists, reported that 283 protesters have been killed and more than 14,000 people arrested during the unrest.

Both the EU and the US have imposed fresh sanctions on Iranian officials and government entities as a result of its response to the protests. On 26 October, for example, the US Department of the Treasury announced that ten Iranian officials would be sanctioned “for the brutal ongoing crackdown on nationwide protests in Iran”, while the EU placed a travel ban and asset freeze on 11 people and four entities—including Iran’s “morality police”—on 17 October.

On 30 October, a group of prominent women leaders, including former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, former US First Lady Michelle Obama, former Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and education activist Malala Yousafazi, published an open letter calling for Iran’s immediate removal from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Some member states might echo this call at tomorrow’s meeting.

In a 26 October statement, a group of human rights experts from the special procedures of the Human Rights Council (HRC) “condemned the killings and the crackdown by security forces in Iran”, including “alleged arbitrary arrests and detentions, gender-based and sexual violence, excessive use of force, torture, and enforced disappearances”. The experts also said that the violations against women are part of “a continuum of long-standing, pervasive, gender-based discrimination embedded in legislation, policies, and societal structures” and expressed support for “the establishment of an international investigative mechanism, to ensure accountability in Iran and to end the persistent impunity for grave human rights violations”. Some Council members are expected to convey similar messages in their statements during tomorrow’s meeting.

On 31 October, Iran wrote an open letter to all member states defending its human rights record, urging member states not to participate in tomorrow’s meeting, and accusing the US of politicising “human rights issues in order to achieve its political agenda”. The letter also argued that “addressing internal issues of states by the Security Council, including through establishing an artificial link between such issues with international peace and security” is counterproductive to the promotion of human rights and undermines existing mechanisms that are already in place. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may also argue that the situation in Iran is an internal matter that should not be discussed by the Council. These members might suggest that other organs within the UN system, such as the HRC, are more appropriate fora for discussing human rights in Iran.

The Council discussed protests in Iran in a public meeting on 5 January 2018. Shortly before the meeting took place, Russia issued a statement saying that the relevant demonstrations were an “internal affair” for Iran and that external interference is unacceptable. Russia was expected to raise an objection at the outset of the meeting, which would have precipitated a procedural vote on whether the meeting should be held, however no objection was made after Council members held closed consultations prior to the meeting. (For more information, see our 5 January 2018 What’s in Blue story).

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