Ongoing Executions of Iranian Protesters Cause Deep Concern Among UN Human Rights Experts

How Iran’s executions of protesters violate international law

Iran’s recent executions of three men who were involved in the protests that erupted in September 2022 have sparked international condemnation and raised serious concerns about the human rights situation in the country. The UN Human Rights Council-appointed panel of independent experts examining the Iranian Government’s response to the protests, as well as three UN Special Rapporteurs, have expressed their alarm and dismay at the continued use of the death penalty against protesters, especially in light of the reported unfair trials and torture of the defendants.

The three men, Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirhashemi and Saeed Yaghoubi, were arrested on 21 November 2022 during protests in Esfahan city following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who died in police custody. The men were accused of participating in the killing of three Iranian officials, and sentenced to death after being charged with moharebeh (which translates as “enmity against God”). According to reports, they were subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment to extract forced confessions, and denied access to lawyers and family members.

The executions of these men on 19 May 2023 violated several international human rights norms and standards that Iran is obliged to respect as a party to various treaties and conventions. These include:

– The right to life: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran ratified in 1975, states that every human being has the inherent right to life and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of this right. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the ICCPR, has clarified that the death penalty should only be imposed for the most serious crimes involving intentional killing, and that it should be abolished altogether for other crimes. The Committee has also stated that moharebeh does not meet the threshold of a most serious crime under international law.

– The right to a fair trial: The ICCPR also guarantees the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. This includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, the right to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, the right to communicate with a lawyer of one’s own choosing, and the right to appeal to a higher court. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and Lawyers has emphasized that these rights are essential for ensuring that justice is done and seen to be done.

– The prohibition of torture: The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which Iran signed in 1988 but has not yet ratified, prohibits any act of torture or other ill-treatment for any purpose, such as obtaining information or a confession. The Convention also requires states to ensure that any statement obtained as a result of torture is not invoked as evidence in any proceedings. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has stressed that torture is one of the most serious violations of human dignity and human rights.

By executing these men without respecting their rights to life, fair trial and freedom from torture, Iran has shown a blatant disregard for its international obligations and commitments. The UN experts have urged Iran to halt its appalling wave of executions and to ensure that all those who exercise their right to protest are protected from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and death. They have also called on Iran to cooperate with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran, which was established by the Human Rights Council in March 2023 to investigate all alleged violations relating to the protests.

The international community should also continue to monitor and denounce Iran’s human rights violations and hold it accountable for its actions. The world cannot remain silent while Iran continues to execute its own people for expressing their dissent.