Iran: UN rights chief concerned over arrests, excessive force following polls

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay19 June 2009 – The top United Nations human rights official today expressed concern over reports of the use of excessive force and violence, as well as rising numbers of potentially extralegal arrests, in Iran following last week's contested presidential polls.

According to media reports, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets, and Mir Hossein Mousavi has said he believes the vote was fixed in favour of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while the incumbent said the vote was fair.

“The legal basis of the arrests that have been taking place, especially those of human rights defenders and political activists, is not clear,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

“What are the grounds for the arrests? Have proper warrants been issued in accordance with Iranian law? Why have some of those who have been arrested been denied access to lawyers and members of their families? And why is the whereabouts of others unknown?” she asked, urging the Government to guarantee that due process is followed to prevent fanning “the feelings of injustice.”

Stressing that the freedoms of expression and assembly are fundamental human rights, Ms. Pillay hailed the largely peaceful and dignified massive demonstrations in the capital, Tehran.

She voiced concern over reported violence by members of the Basij militia, which could be in violation of international and Iranian national law.

“It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that militia members and regular law enforcement agencies do not resort to illegal acts of violence,” the High Commissioner said. “If they are perceived to be acting outside the law, it could provoke a serious deterioration in the security situation, which would be a great tragedy and is in nobody''s interests.”

Also expressing their concern over the situation in post-election Iran today were five UN independent human rights expert who stressed that excessive police force, arbitrary arrests and killings in the wake of the recent elections thwart the freedom of expression and assembly.

Violent clashes with security forces have resulted in the death, injury and arrest of several people, the experts said in a press release. Further, they noted reports that students and others who may have contested the election results have been attacked.

“We are gravely concerned that the recent arrests and the use of excessive police force against opposition supporters may be a direct attempt to stifle freedom of assembly and expression in the country,” said Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

He pointed to reports of online news services and social networking Internet sites have been blocked after election results were announced.

“Human rights defenders are often the first target in situations as this one, but each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect them against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action” stressed Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

For her part, Manuela Carmena Castrillo, the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, underscored that it is the Government's “obligation to take all necessary measures to guarantee the right of everyone not to be deprived arbitrarily of their liberty and to have fair proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal.”

On the reported killings in Iran, Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, emphasized that “law enforcement officials should apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms,” while Mannfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, highlighted that “excessive violence may constitute ill treatment which contravenes international human rights law.”

Earlier this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he is keeping an eye on the post-election situation in Iran.

“At the same time, I have also taken note of the instruction by the religious leaders that there should be an investigation into this issue,” Mr. Ban told reporters in New York.

“In any country, when there is an election, the genuine will of the people should be reflected and respected in a most transparent and fair and objective manner,” he added.

Source: UN News Centre