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UN Human Rights Council

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was photographed on November 24, 2022 during a special session on the human rights situation in Iran. (Photo: Valentin Flauraud/AFP via Getty Images)

UN Human Rights Council Launches Probe of Iran's Deadly Protest Repression

"Today's vote sends a clear message to the Iranian authorities that they can no longer commit crimes under international law without fear of consequences," said Amnesty International's Agnès Callamard.

Brett Wilkins

A United Nations body voted Thursday to create a fact-finding mission to investigate and report on the ongoing deadly repression of protests in Iran, a move welcomed by human rights advocates.

"The cries of people in Iran for justice have finally been heard."

At a special session in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council—which is made up of 47 U.N. member states, including several dictatorships—voted 25-6, with 16 abstentions, to create the investigatory mission to probe documented and alleged abuses by Iranian government forces perpetrated against protesters, with a special focus on women and children.

"It pains me to see what is happening in the country," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said during Thursday's meeting. "The images of children killed, of women beaten in the streets, of people sentenced to death."

"We have seen waves of protests over the past years, calling for justice, equality, dignity, and respect for human rights. They have been met with violence and repression," he continued. "The unnecessary and disproportionate use of force must come to an end."

"The old methods and the fortress mentality of those who wield power simply do not work," Türk added. "In fact, they only aggravate the situation. We are now in a full-fledged human rights crisis."

According to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran, 440 people, including 61 children, have been killed by government forces since protests began following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman arrested by so-called morality police three days earlier and reportedly beaten for violating the Iran's strict dress code. The group also said that 56 security personnel have been killed.

Despite the risk of joining the more than 18,000 people who have been arrested—and the handful of people who have been sentenced to death—for protesting, Iranians, often led by women and girls, continue to demonstrate against the regime in cities across the country of 84 million inhabitants.

"This important and long overdue step shows that the cries of people in Iran for justice have finally been heard," Amnesty International secretary-general Agnés Callamard said in a statement. "We hope the establishment of this fact-finding mission marks a fundamental shift in the international community's approach to tackling the crisis of systematic impunity that has long fueled crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations in Iran."

"The resolution not only enhances international scrutiny of the dire situation in Iran, but also puts in place a process to collect, consolidate, and preserve crucial evidence for future prosecutions," she added.

Callamard continued:

Amnesty International has been working towards the establishment of an international investigative and accountability mechanism on Iran for years. While the fact-finding mission should have come far sooner, today's vote sends a clear message to the Iranian authorities that they can no longer commit crimes under international law without fear of consequences.

States must now ensure that the mandate is made operational and sufficiently resourced without delay and call upon the Iranian authorities to cooperate fully with the mission and allow unhindered access to the country. Today's vote must also serve as a wake-up call for the Iranian authorities to immediately end their all-out militarized attack on demonstrators.

Khadijeh Karimi, Iran's deputy for women and family affairs, responded to the U.N. vote by insisting her government has taken "necessary measures" to seek justice for Amini's death, including the establishment of an independent parliamentary commission and a forensic medical team.

"However," she added, "before the formal announcement of the probe analysis, the biased and hasty reaction of a number of Western authorities and their interventions in internal affairs of Iran turned the peaceful assemblies into riots and violence."

Javaid Rehman, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, countered that "the Iranian government has consistently presented unsubstantiated reports and reiterated assertions claiming that [Amini] did not die as a result of any violence or beatings."

Iranian officials, Rehman added, refute "the killings of children by security forces, claiming that they committed suicide, fell from a height, were poisoned or killed by anonymous 'enemy agents.'"

Thursday's vote follows the approval earlier this month by the U.N. General Assembly of a draft resolution expressing alarm over human rights abuses against Iranian protesters, including the disproportionate imposition of death sentences on minorities. The vote was 80-28, with 68 abstentions.

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