UN Report Spotlights LGBT Rights Abuses in Iran

By Julie Bolcer

Read the full article at advocate.com »

…"For years, Iranian authorities have committed acts of terror against LGBT people, incited violence by others, and refused even to admit that LGBT Iranians exist," said Hossein Alizadeh, regional coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), in a statement on Thursday. "Today, the Human Rights Committee has made clear that the government of Iran's conduct amounts to a violation of the very international laws that it has agreed to uphold. As a state that prides itself in tradition and morality, Iran must now take immediate action to ensure its definitions of culture and morality are in accordance with the fundamental principles of international human rights law."

As part of the review, Iran submitted a 213-page government report prior to the committee’s 103rd session in Geneva. The committee, a panel of 18 independent experts from around the world, then asked the government to provide written answers to 34 questions about a range of human rights concerns including women’s rights, torture and treatment in detention, the judiciary system, freedom of expression and assembly, and fair elections. NGOs including IGLHRC and its partner, the Iranian Queer Organization, issued shadow reports, totaling more than 500 pages, with details on the legal situation and day-to-day conditions in the country. A delegation from Iran then appeared before the committee for a dialogue last month.

During the review, Iran evaded specific questions about LGBT rights, to the apparent frustration of the committee, according to those familiar with the process. The country was asked in writing about censorship of materials related to LGBT issues, allegations of forced gender-reassignment surgery, the Special Protection Division of the judiciary, which enlists volunteers to monitor “moral crimes.”

“This question has gone beyond the mandate and subject matter of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the Iranians tersely wrote back. In fact, LGBT rights have been addressed under the treaty since the landmark Toonen v. Australia decision of 1994.

“Basically, they said it’s none of your business,” said Alizadeh. “That basically showed they really don’t understand their obligation.”

Last month during the dialogue session in Geneva, committee members showed considerable interest in LGBT issues. Advocates attribute the awareness to improved collaboration between groups like IGLHRC, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International over the past five years, and increased recognition that LGBT rights are part of the international human rights framework.

“Six committee members specifically asked about the LGBT rights situation in Iran,” said Alizadeh. “This is something very surprising, even for people who are familiar with this system.”

The committee does not have the power to enforce its recommendations, but the report can be referenced and followed up across the UN system. NGOs can use the findings to help their advocacy, particularly with countries such as Germany and France that have close relationships with Iran. The report also could be useful in the context of other countries such as Uganda, where lawmakers have considered a bill that would impose the death penalty for homosexuality. Most importantly and immediately, the report provides unprecedented visibility for the LGBT community in Iran.

“This is one of the few opportunities where you can have a meaningful dialogue with Iran based on their own signature,” said Alizadeh. “You signed this treaty, and you have to follow it.”