U.N. human rights body approves investigator on Iran
GENEVA (Reuters) -The U.N. Human Rights Council established a special investigator on Iran Thursday, a move spearheaded by Washington that will subject Tehran's record to U.N. scrutiny for the first time in nearly a decade.
Activists welcomed the move as historic, underlining the need for a focused investigation into widespread allegations of abuse, including arrests of political opponents and torture.
The 47-member forum, overcoming Iran's objections to a resolution brought by Sweden and the United States, approved it by 22 votes in favor, 7 against and 14 abstentions.
"What we've just witnessed is a real seminal moment for this body with the establishment of a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran," U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters.
"Today we've seen the Council able to respond to a chronic, severe human rights violator, which is Iran," she said.
The lack of an investigator on Iran had been a "glaring omission" at the Council, which has rapporteurs for countries with poor records including North Korea and Myanmar, she added.
This is the first special rapporteur on a specific country that the U.N. Human Rights Council has set up since its creation nearly five years ago.
Britain, France and the United States were among those approving, joined by Brazil for the first time in years. China and Russia were among those rejecting the text.
In Washington, Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama's National Security Adviser, said the appointment reaffirmed "the global consensus and alarm about the dismal state of human rights in Iran."
The Human Rights Council voiced concern at Iran's crackdown on opposition figures and increased use of the death penalty, and called on the Islamic Republic to cooperate with the U.N. envoy to be named to the independent post.
POOR TRACK RECORD
U.N. officials and diplomats say Iran has not allowed U.N. human rights experts to visit since 2005, when hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president, defeating the relatively moderate Mohammad Khatami.
Even if the new rapporteur is not allowed into Iran, he would still be expected to contact the government frequently about allegations and produce an annual report incorporating testimony from activists and alleged victims of abuse.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said this month Iran had intensified its crackdown on opponents and executions of drug traffickers, political prisoners and juvenile criminals.
In a report, he also cited cases of amputations, floggings and the continued sentencing of men and women to death by stoning for alleged adultery.
Iran's ambassador, Seyed Mohammad Sajjadi, had called for the resolution's rejection, saying Tehran was committed to upholding human rights but believed in "self-monitoring."
He accused the United States of being "the main organizer of this campaign" and said Washington's membership in the council had proved to be a "great setback."
Pakistan's ambassador, Zamir Akram, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which links Muslim countries, said: "As a matter of principle, the OIC does not support country mandates, which we believe politicize the debate and are in fact counter-productive."
But the Baha'i religious minority, which had seven leaders in Iran sentenced to prison last year for alleged espionage after a trial it said was unfair, welcomed the vote as historic.
The now defunct U.N. Human Rights Commission had special rapporteurs on Iran from 1984 to 2002.(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)