Iran steps up engagement on UN rights concerns

2015-10-26 22:01
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New York - In a shift, Iran is opening up to talks on its draconian use of the death penalty and other critical human rights issues, a UN rights expert said on Monday.

But beyond a willingness to discuss UN grievances, Iran had yet to take concrete steps to improve its rights record, Ahmed Shaheed told reporters.

Shaheed is due to present his annual report to the UN General Assembly this week, the first compiled since the historic nuclear deal with world powers that has opened up a new era of relations with Tehran.

The deal provides for the lifting of sanctions and brings to an end decades of isolation for Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

"The nuclear agreement reached this summer does present opportunities for advancing human rights," said Shaheed, a lawyer from the Maldives who has been the UN's special rapporteur on Iran since 2011.

The rights expert said he was "marginally more optimistic" in this year's report, compared to 2014.

"The real reason for that is that I am witnessing a greater desire on behalf of Iran to engage with me and the UN," he said.

In a first, Shaheed last month sat down with members of Iran's judiciary and security forces to discuss the crackdown on drugs that has in part fueled the high number of executions.

More than 800 people have been executed so far this year, and Iran is on track to reach 1,000 by the end of the year, its highest total in years.

'Country visit still not on the cards'

There is no indication, however, that Iran would be willing to change course and invite Shaheed to visit. No such invitation has been extended since his appointment four years ago.

"They are cooperating with me in a more meaningful way than before," said the rights expert. "But a country visit is still not on the cards."

Other than meetings with a broader range of Iranian officials, Tehran is responding to requests for more information from the special rapporteur about specific cases.

Shaheed's voluminous report on the rights situation this year is for the first time matched by an equally voluminous response by Iran, a sign that Tehran takes the UN assessment seriously.

Other than concerns on executions, the report criticises the jailing of journalists and plans for new legislation that will set back women's rights, by requiring, for instance, that they get approval from their husbands to work.

Shaheed said the economic boost from the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear deal "holds promise for improvement in the future" by providing more opportunity to Iranians.

"But this will require continued pressure on the country to do better," he said.

Read more on:    un  |  iran  |  nuclear deal

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