Tomas Sandell

Remove Iran from UNHRC Social Forum Presidency

Rarely has the multilateral system been more out of touch with reality than this week when tomorrow, on Thursday, 2 November, the Islamic Republic of Iran takes on the important chair of the Social Forum of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Forum, which brings together social NGO’s and other stakeholders, will be exploring, among other things, how new technologies can help strengthen human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.

The Islamic Republic has indeed been a master in using modern technology – but not exactly in strengthening human rights but rather in abusing them by targeting human rights activists and opposition leaders, mainly young women across Iran with the help of sophisticated new technologies. The list of Iranian atrocities is long and well documented.

These grave human rights violations have rightfully been exposed and condemned by the international community. Just a few weeks ago the European Parliament issued a serious reprimand to the Islamic Republic by posthumously presenting the prestigious Sakharov human rights award to Masha Amini. Amini was brutally beaten and arrested by the morality police of the Iranian regime for “improper clothing” and later died in custody. Just a few weeks earlier the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo announced that Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi would receive this year’s Nobel Peace prize for her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all.

But back to Geneva and the UN Human Rights Council which is supposed to be the gold standard in defining and pointing out human rights violations around the world. While both the European Parliament and the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as numerous resolutions from the US congress and other national parliaments, have been expressing their grave concerns over Iranian human rights violations for years, the UN Human Rights Council will instead elevate this murderous regime to the chair of its Social Forum and thus give the mullahs a global platform of respectability.

The flawed process which gave us Iran as the guardians of international human rights is well known in the UN system. The five regional groups in the UN have a rotating system where each group is given the right to nominate chairs for various bodies. This time it was the Asia-Pacific group which was given the task of selecting a suitable candidate among its member states. The Asia-Pacific group is of course dominated by the not so democratic Arab League and not so human rights loving International Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In what today is regarded as a huge diplomatic embarrassment because of a lack of coordination by the chairs of regional groups who decide on these matters, this is something that the UN diplomats in Geneva would prefer to bury under the carpet. Not only does it raise the obvious question about the role and the legitimacy of the UN Human Rights Council, which despite a number of attempts to reform the committee has failed miserably. Sooner or later member states are rightfully going to ask themselves if the UNHRC is a liability that the UN system can afford much longer.

With only one day until the opening session of the Forum now is high time for some serious crisis management for anyone who wants to preserve the reputation of the UNHRC and those who would like to keep it alive. It also raises the question as to what role the EU really plays in international arena of human rights. While supporting the Woman, Life, Freedom movement by giving Masha Amini the Sakharov prize does the EU also support the Islamic Republic which brutally suppresses them?

The EU can’t have it both ways. Unless the EU and the international community do not remove Iran from the chair of the Social Forum this week they may just as well also cancel the Sakharov prize in Brussels and choose not to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo. Hypocrisy is rarely a good strategy to win the trust of the people. This also applies for the international human rights community.

About the Author
Tomas Sandell is a Finnish journalist who has been accredited by the European Union. He is today the Founding Director of European Coalition for Israel.