OPINION: Offering Iran a voice at UN Human Rights Council is grotesque

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OPINION: Offering Iran a voice at UN Human Rights Council is grotesque

The "surreal" decision to give Iran a vocal platform is "an insult to the memory of all those Tehran has gunned down, executed and tortured in recent months" writes Labour MP Steve McCabe.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian speaks during a news conference in Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian speaks during a news conference in Tehran.

In the past week, Iran’s foreign minister was invited to address the annual opening session of the UN Human Rights Council. Steve McCabe MP, chair of Labour Friends of Israel, pledges his party’s full and proper application of the international body’s resolution to protect human rights.

“This decision – surreal at any time – is particularly grotesque at a moment when the regime in Tehran is continuing to brutally suppress protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini last September.

That Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was provided with a platform to slur the protesters – he said the demonstrations for women’s rights and democracy had “turned violent following malign interference by some terrorist elements” – is insulting to the memory of all those Tehran has gunned down, executed and tortured in recent months.

Steve McCabe MP

Amir-Abdollahian coupled his slanders about the regime’s violence at home on Monday with lies the previous day about its complicity in Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine; denying that Iran is supplying Russia with the drones it uses to terrorise innocent Ukrainian civilians.

Amir-Abdollahian is no reformer or moderate. With his close links to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he was a natural pick for Ebrahim Raisi when the “Butcher of Tehran” won the presidency following the sham elections of June 2021.

But there should be no surprise about the UNHRC’s invitation. Despite its remit, the body is dominated by non-democratic states – only 14 of its 47 members, which includes Britain, France and the US, are classed as “free” – who use their position to whitewash the human rights violations of their fellow authoritarian regimes.

There should be no surprise about the UNHRC’s invitation. Despite its remit, the body is dominated by non-democratic states

Current members of the UNHRC for instance, include China, Cuba and Qatar, while past members have included the likes of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Worse still, the UNHRC has appointed regimes with appalling human rights records to key human rights panels. In 2020 for instance, China gained a seat on the five-member Consultative Group, which selects the top officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide. Nor was this a one-off: in 2015, Saudi Arabia was appointed to the Consultative Group, despite its role in picking experts on women’s rights.

Moreover, Amir-Abdollahian’s address on Monday is hardly the first time the UNHRC has allowed the mouthpieces of dictatorships and war criminals to spout self-serving falsehoods and fabrications from its platform. Just last year Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was given the chance to justify Putin’s war against Ukraine and blame it on the west.

Unsurprisingly, the UNHRC frequently lets the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook. Since the body was established in 2006, it’s never passed a condemnatory resolution against Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Zimbabwe or China. It’s only condemned Venezuela on three occasions, Russia on four and Iran on 13.

In one particularly egregious example of the UHRC turning a blind eye to crimes committed by its members, the body voted last October not to debate the Uyghur genocide.

By contrast, the UNHRC always appears to find the time to debate Israel. Indeed, the Jewish state is the sole member of the UN to which the UNHRC devotes a permanent agenda item, ensuring ongoing fodder for the campaign of demonisation and delegitimisation to which Israel is subjected.

Like all other UN members, Israel should be subject to legitimate scrutiny and examination. However, the fact that Israel has been the target of more condemnatory resolutions, special sessions and commissions of inquiry than any other country suggests that it is being unfairly and disproportionately singled out for opprobrium.

Since 2006, Israel has been condemned in resolutions by the UNHRC a total of 99 times – only Assad’s blood-soaked regime in Syria, which has been condemned in 41 resolutions, comes anywhere close. It’s quite clear that the focus on Israel is nothing but a ploy and a distraction to shift the world’s attention from countries which would rather their own behaviour wasn’t examined too closely.

At present, the UNHRC’s founding resolution – which obliges member states to consider “candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights” in electing members to the UNHRC, who should “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” – is disregarded entirely.

The next Labour government should use Britain’s moral weight to assemble a coalition of democracies who will organise and work to ensure this resolution is strenuously upheld and the UNHRC is thus able to fulfil the vital role for which it was established.”

  • Steve McCabe MP, chair of Labour Friends of Israel 
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