Twenty-four Senators — all Democrats, plus Joe Lieberman — have sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton urging her to work at the March session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an independent human rights monitor on Iran.
“The upcoming session of the HRC marks the sixth session since Iran’s June 2009 elections,” the letter states. “While Iran has a long history of human rights abuses, those disputed elections spawned one of the largest popular democracy movements of the 21st Century, and unleashed a subsequent campaign of brutal, systematic human rights violations by Iran’s government“:
Establishing an independent U.N. human rights monitor charged with monitoring and reporting on Iran’s human rights violations is an important effort to provide some protection for Iran’s human rights and democracy movement. You will remember that from 1984 to 2002, an independent human rights monitor on Iran was in place, and some measurable progress was achieved on human rights over that time. However, this mandate has not been renewed since 2002 and since then the situation in Iran has deteriorated.
It is important that the United States work through multilateral institutions to ensure Iran upholds its international human rights obligations. We commend the Administration’s efforts to engage the international community regarding human rights violations. However, human rights violations by the Iranian government continue unabated. The efforts of the HRC have yet to result in the extension of meaningful protections to the groups and persons being persecuted there.
Many Iranian human rights activists — including Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who I interviewed last year — have called for the establishment of a special human rights monitor. Unlike the focus on the nuclear program, for which there is substantial support among Iranians (including many the Green movement), the human rights issue has a far greater potential of putting the regime on the defensive and bolstering a key argument of the Greens.
As was discussed last year on a Center for American Progress event calling on the Obama administration to elevate human rights on its Iran policy agenda, the line between fact and fiction is disputed when it comes to Iran’s nuclear issue. It is far less so on human rights:
“It’s clear they’ve tortured and killed people since June ,” said [the Century Foundation's] Genieve Abdo. “There’s too much documentation” to ignore it and “Iran has always been sensitive to its human rights record,” she added.
An official U.S.-led United Nations investigation into Iran’s human rights abuses would “bring out the crimes,” Hadi Ghaemi [of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran] urged, and “put the government on the defensive.”
Pushing these issues in multilateral fora like the UN is important, as it makes it more difficult for the Iranian regime to simply dismiss them as a U.S. contrivance, which is why it was the correct move for the Obama administration to reverse the Bush administration’s policy and re-engage with the HRC. On the other hand, you’ve got Republicans like House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who want to de-fund the UN Human Rights Commission and rely on the utterly ineffective strategy of lecturing Iran from Capitol Hill, which is also what Iran’s rulers would prefer.