Predictably, Iranian authorities publicly rejected the resolution and attempted to portray it as a product of political bias, although they did not address the actual accusations in the resolution, which was presented to the General Assembly by Canadian diplomats. Bahram Qasemi, the spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, issued a response on Wednesday, as reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency. In it, he said “Iran is ready to hold negotiations with real supporters of human rights on developing human rights in the framework of mutual respect, equality, justice and fairness.”
The language of the UN resolution specifically called upon Iran to deepen its engagement with the world community over human rights issues, but the government has traditionally been selective about whom it allows to monitor the relevant situation. Although Iranian authorities claim otherwise, it has been widely reported that the UN’s special rapporteurs on human rights in Iran have been consistently barred from entering the country or communicating openly with its citizens for more than 10 years.
Some Iranians have even faced charges for secretly contacting the special rapporteur or other international human rights defenders. This past history raises questions as to whom the Iranian Foreign Ministry had in mind when Qasemi said Tehran would communicate with “real supporters of human rights.”
The Islamic Republic claims to maintain its own internal human rights monitor, but in practice this office has served little other purpose than to issue formal denials of international criticism regarding political imprisonment, unjustified capital sentences, and more. As with Qasemi’s response to the UN resolution, these statements typically proclaim political bias, do not address the relevant allegations, and baldly assert that the US and its allies are guilty of equivalent or greater human rights violations.
Twenty-nine other UN member states joined Iran in voting against the resolution on Tuesday. These nations’ diplomats also reportedly joined the Iranians in avoiding serious attempts to rebut the issues described in the resolution. Instead, they described the rationale for their vote as collective opposition to the use of the UN gathering for the purpose of producing targeted resolutions regarding individual countries.
Opposition to the Iran human rights resolution was led by steadfast Iran allies including Syria, North Korea, and two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and Russia.
These countries comprise a sort of anti-Western bloc that can be reliably expected to oppose any international measures that seem to result from pressures originating among Western powers.
Some analysts have been warning for some time of the development of this bloc. And they have also been able to point to the existence of influential voices in Iran, Russia, and elsewhere that are explicitly pushing for a more adversarial relationship between Eurasia and the West. As an example, an article on Tuesday profiling Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin, who has been dubbed with the nickname “Putin’s brain” in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin and who has traveled back and forth between Russia and Iran for the past 20 years.
The article describes how Dugin has advanced a Eurasia-centered worldview that encourages Russia to remain aligned with anti-Western forces like the Iranian regime and to pursue a more adversarial relationship with the West overall. Political forces such as this have presumably helped to undermine the international efforts to divide Iranian and Russia interests against each other in Syria, where both countries helped to save the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad from a popular rebellion that began in 2011.
Despite some Western analysts expectations to the contrary, the Syrian Civil War appears to have solidified the Iran-Russia alliance that remained on display in the debate and vote over Tuesday’s human rights resolution. Now, far from helping the US and its allies to diminish Iranian influence in post-war Syria, it seems that Russia will be helping Iran to remain entrenched there.
Notably, this problem was highlighted in another resolution at the UN General Assembly. As Al Arabiya reported on Wednesday, the Iran human rights vote was immediately followed by another country-specific resolution addressing rights violations in Syria. The language of that resolution included a call for Iran to remove its militant proxy-forces from the country, where many of them have been accused of brutal treatment of Sunni populations which were reminiscent of the treatment of Shiite populations by militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
On one hand, this second resolution may call further attention to the immediate consequences of the developing, Russia-led eastern bloc. But on the other hand, insofar as it is country-specific it may further galvanize that bloc’s coordinated opposition to international measures that seem to advance Western interests, even if those measures also address well-recognized human rights crises.
Certainly, the existence of such a crisis in Syria is not a matter of dispute. Meanwhile, the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s failure to address the allegations in the first resolution seems like tacit admission that the existence of an Iranian human rights crisis cannot be seriously denied either. However, this is not to say that other Iranian officials haven’t tried to do so, at least for a domestic audience that is somewhat isolated from international media as a result of vigorous government censorship.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran reported on Tuesday that Mohammad Hossein Moghimi, the governor of Tehran Province had repeated debunked narratives about an improved domestic situation in Iran under President Hassan Rouhani, who began his first term in 2013 and won reelection in May of this year. The governor told the Iranian Labor News Agency that there had been no clashes between Iranian security forces and lawful public gatherings during the Rouhani era. But CHRI pointed to several specific reports that prove the falsity of this statement. Indeed, many human rights organizations have insisted that certain human rights issues have only gotten worse since the supposedly moderate president’s election. Furthermore, many of the protests that have attracted the violence of the security forces over the past four years have explicitly called attention to the Rouhani administration’s failure to live up to campaign promises regarding the defense of human rights.
Another CHRI report published on Tuesday served to highlight the ongoing efforts to tighten restrictions on free speech and to facilitate the crackdown on dissent, in absence of serious political opposition from the Rouhani administration. The report updated the Iranian regime’s account of its efforts to develop a National Information Network with the intention of effectively cutting off the Iranian population from the global internet. According to recent statements from Iran’s Supreme Cyberspace Council, once this network is put into place, Iranians may be required to use unique identification numbers to access it, thereby making it easier for security forces to identify persons who post material that supports vague, political charges like “propaganda against the regime” or “insulting the sacred”.
It is not yet clear whether such new restrictions would overcome the virtual proxy networks and other technical tricks that young and politically active Iranians currently use to circumvent existing restrictions on the Iranian internet. If they are, the regime may be able to cut off powerful outlets for political dissent and information sharing, which recently helped to spread unprecedented awareness of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, among other things.
In a statement welcoming Tuesday’s UN resolution, the National Council of Resistance of Iran made a point of tying the current human rights issues to the persistent lack of international inquiry and criminal punishment for the perpetrators of past crimes against humanity. The 1988 resolution, which primarily targeted the NCRI’s main constituent group and which killed an estimated 30,000 people in the span of a few months, was described in the statement as “the best example of serious human rights violations in Iran.”
The statement went on to urge the UN to follow up on its resolution by initiating a comprehensive, independent investigation of the 1988 massacre. NCRI President Maryam Rajavi emphasized, “This is the first step in putting an end to the impunity of criminals who have been ruling Iran for 38 years.”