UNITED NATIONS

Press Release



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COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS PERIODIC REPORTS FROM IRAN
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CERD
63rd session
13 August 2003




The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has reviewed the sixteenth and seventeenth periodic reports of the Islamic Republic of Iran on how that country implements the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the reports, Paymaneh Hastel, Director of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, said the reports presented a picture of the measures taken for the implementation of the International Convention, and the changes and developments that had taken place since the last report had been submitted. All ethnic minorities lived together peacefully with their own languages and traditions in Iran. Iran was following the policy of elimination of racial discrimination in many ways, and every effort was ongoing for eliminating social discrimination, as could be seen in bilateral agreements. Any discrimination based on colour, ethnicity or language was prohibited, and there was no such discrimination. The Government had developed certain policies in order to achieve its goals with regard to racial discrimination.

Committee Experts including Marc Bossuyt, the group’s country Rapporteur for the reports of the Islamic Republic of Iran, raised a series of questions, including on whether all citizens were treated equally under the civil and penal codes and if not, why not; the results accomplished in implementing programmes to improve the living conditions of women and of nomadic groups; the status of the International Convention in Iranian legislation and was it of equal or superior value to the laws of Iran; what was being done to raise awareness of the possibility of invoking the International Convention as a basis for a court case; whether Iran intended to adopt other measures such as the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights; the practical application of a law on the freedom of the press in the context of the fight against racism, and whether this law was applied more in a political context than in the context of freedom; and if any of the tribunals in Iran had received an application for redress of grievances such as discrimination in jobs or indeed if these possibilities of redress applied to all citizens of Iran including non-recognised religious minorities.

Taking part in the debates, which were held over two meetings, were Committee Experts Marc Bossuyt, Chengyuan Tang, Luis Valencia Rodriguez, Mohamed Aly Thiam, Morten Kjaerum, Patricia Nozipho January-Bardill, Jose Agusto Lindgren-Alves, Agha Shahi, Régis de Gouttes, Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos, Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai, Mario Jorge Yutzis, Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr, Kurt Herndl, Patrick Thornberry and Nourredine Amir.

The final conclusions and recommendations on the reports of the Islamic Republic of Iran will be issued towards the end of the session, which concludes on 22 August. In preliminary remarks, the Rapporteur said the discussion had been most interesting and informative, and it was particularly encouraging to hear that there was an irreversible trend towards reform in Iran. Positive points were noted, such as the information provided on the marriages of the Baha’i, but negative issues, such as registration at universities were also mentioned, since these led to unjustified distinctions. The issue of the status of the International Convention under domestic law also required further clarification. The Iranian Delegation was warmly thanked for all its efforts in the report and in the replies given.

In concluding remarks, Ali A. Mojtahed Shabestari, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Head of the delegation, said the delegation was very grateful to all members of the Committee for their patience and attention, and welcomed their constructive recommendations, which would have the benefit of improving implementation of the International Convention. All issues coming under the International Convention would be discussed back in Iran, where great steps forward were being taken, as the international community was aware.

Members of the Iranian delegation included Jamileh Kadivar, Member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly; Hossein Mehrpour, Advisor to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Head of the Committee for Supervision and Follow-up of the Implementation of the Constitution; Alireza Jamshidi, Secretary of the Supreme Council for Judicial Development; Saeed Sayyadi, Director-General of the Centre for Cultural Relations, Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; Shahin Dokht Molavardi, Head of International Relations, Centre for Women’s Participation; Saeed Taghavi, Head of Department of Religious Minorities, Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; Seyed Hassan Masomi Eshkevari, Deputy of the Office of Statistics, Organisation for Management and Planning; Farahnaz Tavakoli, Expert, Ministry of the Interior; Seyed Hassan Hefdahtan, Counsellor, Ministry of Labour; Seyed Mohsen Emadi, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and Seyed Hosein Zolfaghari, Expert, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also members of the delegation were Mr. Hejazi, and Mr. Akhavan, Interpreters.

As one of the 169 States parties to the International Convention, the Islamic Republic of Iran must present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to eradicate such bias.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will begin consideration of the fourth and fifth periodic reports of Latvia (CERD/C/398/Add.2).


Reports of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The sixteenth and seventeenth periodic reports, contained in document (CERD/C/431/Add.6), describe progress in the field of human rights and in particular in the fight against racial discrimination. They include information relating to the implementation of articles 2 to 7 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In Iran, six ethnic groups, Azeri, Kurd, Lur, Arabic-speaking, Baluchi and Turkmen live with their respective customs, traditions and dialects among the Persians. The different ethnic groups within Iran always bear in mind the words of the Prophet of Islam that “The Arab is not superior to the alien, nor the alien to the Arab: white to red, nor red to white, except in piety”. In line with this general principle, Iranian society is a successful example of fraternal and friendly cohabitation between different peoples. Promotion and strengthening of this situation remains a major Government priority. Numerous activities have been dedicated to this goal.

Given the absence of any division based on race or ethnicity in any walk of life, ethnic characteristics are not elicited during the official census, and no precise figures can therefore be given as to the population of the various ethnic groups of Iran. There is also a growing trend towards settlement of nomadic tribes, and the Government provides these with certain services to encourage voluntary settlement. Iran is also home to a large population of refugees, 91 per cent of which are Afghan, 8 per cent Iraqi, and the remainder from other countries. The Government of Iran, in spite of a shortage of means and resources and the lack of sufficient international funding, will take steps to maintain a suitable standard of living for the refugees until such time as they can be properly and voluntarily repatriated.


Introduction of Reports

ALI A. MOJTAHED SHABESTARI, Deputy Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Head of the delegation, said this year, Iran had sent a high-level delegation, made up of members of Parliament and of the judiciary.

PAYMANEH HASTEI, Director of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then introduced the report, stating that with regard to article 9 of the International Convention, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, as the national focal point, had taken certain measures to produce the current report. A National Committee had been established, with representatives of different state organizations working for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination in the country. Members of this Committee considered all the provisions in the International Convention, and the general guidelines thereof as well as previous reports. All members participated in writing the report, which attempted to show a picture of the different organizations and parties working for the implementation of the International Convention.

The report presented a picture of the measures taken for the implementation of the International Convention, and the changes and developments that had taken place since the last report was submitted. All ethnic minorities lived together peacefully with their own languages and traditions in Iran. There was a diversity of groups, but given the absence of any division based on race and ethnicity, ethnic characteristics were not elicited during the census. There were also nomadic tribes in Iran, and a large number of refugees were hosted including more than two million Afghans living in Iran. Despite the fact that significant international help and assistance had not been received, tremendous measures had been taken to provide facilities for these large populations of refugees, who enjoyed equal facilities and opportunities in the country, and this was also reflected in the Constitution, which called for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination in the country.

The Office of the President for less-developed areas was involved in specific activities for improving the situation in these areas, and was also involved in the activities of other bodies around this subject. There were also plans for the nomadic tribes of Iran, which included women, aiming to provide a better role for them in the context of the family unit. A plan had been hatched to reintegrate children and girls who had dropped out of school. There was an ongoing research effort into the social and economic conditions of women in order to put into place programmes for improving their situation.

Iran was following the policy of elimination of racial discrimination in many ways, and every effort was ongoing for eliminating social discrimination, as could be seen in bi-lateral agreements. In view of the Government attaching great importance to fighting racial discrimination, Iran had become part of the International Conference in Teheran. Iran believed there was a great need for a plan of action of the recommendations from the International Conference. It was believed that the culture of dialogue should take place, as this led to tolerance, mutual understanding, and peaceful coexistence between nations and ethnic groups.

In view of the recommendations made by the Committee after previous reports, with regard to article 6, paragraph 8, this would be finalized soon. The activities of political parties and guilds and associations, within the permit of the law, were allowed. With regards to providing support for the activities of political associations and parties, this was already done. Freedom of speech for ethnic groups, TV programmes, pamphlets, books, periodicals were guaranteed. There were 179 cultural associations. Any discrimination based on colour, ethnicity or language was prohibited, and there was no discrimination with these grounds. The Government had developed certain policies in order to achieve its goals with regard to racial discrimination.


Discussion

MARC BOSSUYT, Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur for the reports of the Islamic Republic of Iran, said the report under consideration, though containing rather detailed information, did not entirely meet the Committee’s conditions. It was essentially legalistic, and often highlighted the economic aspects of the discussed policies. There were gaps in the information on the practical implementation, and the report did not include adequate information about the factors and difficulties that could impede the practical implementation of the International Convention. Very little information on ethnic groups was provided, since this was not elicited during censuses, and this information was of particular importance to the application of the Convention. The inclusion of information on the situation of women in the report was welcomed, since this enabled the Committee to consider whether racial discrimination had an impact upon women different to that upon men. However, while the report provided information on the Government’s policies focusing on women exclusively, the actual situation of women was not depicted. A more up-to-date picture of women’s position today was requested, and Mr. Bossuyt asked whether any thought had been given to the accession by Iran to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

With regards to article 19 of the Iranian Constitution, the Committee had previously expressed concern that the definition of racial discrimination found in that article was not in complete conformity with the broad definition contained in the International Convention, and asked whether any consideration had been given to a possible review of the article of the Constitution. The major part of the report under article 2 was devoted to two types of measures in the social and economic fields. These were the measures taken in less developed areas inhabited by ethnic groups, on the one hand, and the measures taken to improve the living conditions of nomadic tribes on the other hand. Was an improvement of their situation noticeable, he asked, and what was the effectiveness of these programmes.

Under article 3 of the International Convention, the report reaffirmed the State party’s commitment to oppose any policy based on racial discrimination. As for article 4, it was demonstrated that Iran had enacted the necessary legislation to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, racial discrimination. Nevertheless, this was only one part of its obligation, and another component was to ensure that this provision was effectively enforced, but information on this was absent in the report. The report was inadequate in the context of article 5, since it did not provide information on existing limitations as to the equal enjoyment of rights. However, practical measures taken by the Government with respect to a number of civil, economic, social and cultural rights should be welcomed. He also noted that freedom of religion had been omitted in the list of rights and freedoms discussed in the report, and that the enjoyment of this freedom appeared to remain severely under restraint, as did the enjoyment of freedom of speech.

With respect to the implementation of article 6, Mr. Bossuyt said, the report contained a record of relevant legal provisions. However, this was unsatisfactory. Measures taken to promote tolerance between the different ethnic groups and to disseminate a culture of non-discrimination under the three fields, in the context of article 7, were also catalogued. Associations and institutions that promoted tolerance and unity had enjoyed remarkable growth recently. Finally, he said, Iran had not yet ratified the amendment to article 8, paragraph 6 of the International Convention, and had not yet made the declaration under article 14 on individual complaints, and the Government of that country was urged to do so.

Other members of the Committee also raised questions. They asked, among other things, questions related to such topics as whether all citizens were treated equally under the civil and penal codes and if not, why not; the results accomplished in implementing programmes to improve the living conditions of women and of nomadic groups and what these programmes were; issues related to organizations advocating racial hatred; what results had been achieved in teaching racial tolerance in higher education institutions; the status of the International Convention in the Iranian legislation and was it of equal or superior value to the laws of Iran; whether Iran intended to adopt other measures such as the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights; the need to consult a wider range of ethnic groups when formulating the next report; what was being done to raise awareness of the possibility of invoking the International Convention as a basis for a court case; education facilities for ethnic minorities from pre-school to graduate level; whether non-recognised minority religions would be invited to participate in discussions; whether the report had been written in consultation with NGOs; and for more information on State Policy with regard to ethnic groups and how this was formulated.

The Committee also noted that the Iranian Government paid great attention to its duties under article 4 of the International Convention, and had enacted a law on the basis of this article. This was a gesture that should be encouraged. The high-level nature and gender composition of the delegation was also appreciated, and several speakers commended Iran’s taking in of so many refugees.

Responding to these questions and others, ALI A. MOJTAHED SHABESTARI, Deputy Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the delegation was very grateful for the questions and comments raised earlier, although regrettably some of the comments made by the Rapporteur were not relevant under the International Convention, and these issues were being surveyed in other Committees. The discussion required knowledgeable experts. There had been concerted efforts in the media in collaboration with some circles to attack Islam, and this had increased since the tragic events of September 11. It was a sad fact that in the current world situation, some people were working on widening the gap between cultures and increasing hatred. There was no country that was free of racial discrimination, and the delegation did not claim that all provisions of the International Convention had been implemented, but since the Islamic Revolution, serious measures had been taken and continued to be taken to eliminate discrimination against disadvantaged groups. There was a search for a constructive and fruitful dialogue with the Committee, on an equal footing. It was believed that there could be mutual learning, and it was in this spirit that the other questions would be answered. There was an irreversible trend in the Islamic Republic of Iran that had been noted by the High Commissioner on Human Rights: Iran had issued an open standing invitation to the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, and had evidenced its commitment to human rights in cooperation with the international community and other bodies.

PAYMANEH HASTEI, Director of the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, then answered other questions, saying that with regard to measures taken by the Parliament, for example one of the priorities of the present Parliament was the protection of human rights, and the prevention of all measures intended to violate these in the country. With regard to the elimination of racial discrimination, tremendous efforts had been made, and legal steps had been taken to promote this issue, by the approval of some Bills and motions providing equal opportunities for both Islamic groups and other religious groups in the context of the Punishment Act. Other Bills and motions included ones on women’s issues and rights, and the discriminatory sections of Civil Law had been reviewed in this context; and measures taken to improve the living standards in less-developed areas, which were priority areas. Parliament had the right and responsibility to investigate all complaints of the public with regard to the Judiciary, who were held accountable for their actions, as were other State organizations and bodies. All complaints, notwithstanding wherever they emanated from, were investigated in detail by the competent body. Due to the importance of human rights issues, there was a need to follow up such measures independently, and this was done by the Human Rights Committee, created in 2002, which had the power to investigate all claims of racial discrimination in the context of the International Convention.

Certain ethnicities, including the Sunni, had approached this Human Rights Committee to ask for a change in approach in the areas in which they lived. After hearing and receiving the complaints of these people, the issue had been put on the agenda at very many levels, including the Presidential level. This case in particular would be brought to Court once sufficient evidence had been garnered. The Baha’i had also approached the Committee on various issues, demonstrating their confidence in that body, and the Committee had responded appropriately. Follow-up had been prosecuted vehemently. With regards to the nomads, numerous complaints had been received, for example that range lands had been given to non-nomadic people, and that grazing permits had been revoked. These complaints had been forwarded to the relevant organizations and the representatives of these people told whom to address. The Committee revived the citizenship rights of the citizens of Iran as much as possible.

With regard to article 7 of the International Convention, which required propagation of the International Convention and education as to its provisions, this had been done at many levels, including the teaching of human rights in schools and at the University level and by workshops organized by NGOs. Iran aimed to promote the culture of dialogue and understanding of many cultures, and to propagate a culture of peace and tolerance, eradicating racial discrimination and xenophobia, thus strengthening international society and ethical ideals.

Other members of the delegation then responded to other issues including measures taken by the Government regarding implementation of the International Convention under article nine thereof. With regard to the principles of the rights of the citizens, tremendous efforts had been made with regard to information dissemination on international conventions and treaties on human rights. Discrimination was not supported in any law, and there was a need to fight against all forms of this. Mr. Bossuyt had raised many issues, but a considerable portion of his argument had focused on religious matters, which were not an issue to be discussed in the context of the Committee. A better result would be obtained should everything be discussed in its appropriate framework.

The Government of Iran was not in a position to recognize more religions than it had already done. No person should be forced to convert to other religions, and when a religion was recognized as an official one, the focus was on divine religions with Holy books. Recognition required much discussion among clerics, and the important thing was that the Government recognized the rights of citizens as defined by international instruments and treaties, and these should be respected without discrimination.

Some matters raised during the previous meeting had been addressed over the last years by the Government, which had worked hard to ensure as many rights as possible for its people, whilst respecting all religions and those who believed in something besides the official religion, as well as respecting those of different ethnic origin and race. Of course there were problems, since no country was without these, but work was done to resolve these on many fronts and at many levels, and the Government was resolved to take up the complaints of all citizens, regardless of ethnic, racial, colour, or religious differences, at whatever level was appropriate, as well as to providing and guaranteeing to each citizen his or her human rights.

Committee Experts then asked further questions on varied topics, including whether mechanisms of complaints applied to judges and magistrates when these had not carried out their functions appropriately, and whether the political branch would then have to interfere in the work of the judiciary; the practical application of a law on the freedom of the press in the context of the fight against racism, and whether this law was applied more in a political context than in the context of freedom; if any of the tribunals in Iran had received an application for redress of grievances such as discrimination in jobs or indeed if these possibilities of redress applied to all citizens of Iran including non-recognised religious minorities; whether the International Convention could be invoked by individuals before national administrative authorities and the tribunals; and public primary school education in minority languages and whether this indeed existed in all cases.

The Committee also reassured the delegation that it was vociferous in urging countries to make considerable efforts to eliminate Islamophobia, and it had done so before the events of 11 September 2001, after which it had only intensified its efforts.

Responding, members of the delegation said there was a possibility to lodge a complaint against the performance of judges, as well as against the Government, members of the Cabinet, and this was in the Constitution. Various cases had been dealt with over the last years linked to legal proceedings and the acts of the Courts. With regard to the press fomenting racial discord, the Press Law included an article that forbade discord among various strata of society, especially through talking of ethnic and racial matters. Some newspapers had been warned and others punished in the context of this article.

As for teaching of minority languages, at the moment there was teaching of non-Persian languages and literature in schools, but there were no specific schools for these languages. The issue was also currently under discussion in the Cultural High Council. The articles of the International Convention could be referred to by any person and applied in a judgment, even though this latter had never happened in the past.

With regards to paragraph 6 of article 8 of the International Convention, there were no problems with approving this, but the administrative procedure for this had not yet arrived at completion. The Government was probably not ready yet to issue a statement on Article 14, but the proposals of the Committee on this issue would be studied.

In concluding remarks, Mr. SHABESTARIA said the delegation was very grateful to all members of the Committee for their patience, kindness and attention, and welcomed their constructive recommendations, which would have the benefit of improving implementation of the International Convention. It was hoped that the recommendations of the Committee would be within their mandate, since other issues would come under the purview of other Committees and would weaken this great International Convention. All issues coming under the International Convention would be discussed back in Iran, where great steps forward were being taken, as the international community was aware.


Preliminary Remarks

In preliminary remarks, the Rapporteur on the reports of Iran, MARC BOSSUYT, said the discussion had been most interesting and informative, and it was particularly encouraging to hear that there was an irreversible trend toward reform in Iran. The permanent invitation to the Thematic Rapporteur was also very encouraging. Iran continued to bear a very heavy burden in welcoming refugees, and the information provided on them was very interesting. It was encouraging to note that nearly half a million of these had returned to their own countries voluntarily. The activities for nomadic groups and ethnic minorities were very interesting, as were the numerous projects with respect to the emancipation of women. A delicate question was that of freedom of religion. Some had been discriminated against because of belonging to a religion. When this happened, the Committee was disturbed and had expressed its concern, also when this was evidenced in reports of State parties. When faced by evidence that some had been discriminated against because they did not belong to a specific religion, he considered it important to note this. It went without saying that it was not up to the Committee to make pronouncement on the precepts of any religion. On the other hand, when a State adopted a legal system that gave rights to some and deprived others on the basis of their belonging or not to a religion, then questions might arise under the International Convention, particularly since religion could go along with an ethnic group. Human rights were indivisible and interdependent. Different aspects of the personality of a person were also indissociable, and all rights needed to be respected without discrimination.

Positive points were noted, such as the information provided on the marriages of the Baha’i, but negative issues, such as registration at universities were also mentioned, since these led to unjustified distinctions. The issue of the press also required further study. The issue of the status of the International Convention under domestic law required further clarification. The Iranian delegation was warmly thanked for all its efforts in the report and in the replies given.



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