Ken Blackwell: Iran Foreign Minister’s Presence Undermines UN Human Rights Council Mission

In September 2022, the Islamic Republic of Iran faced protests that were widely described as the greatest challenge to the theocratic dictatorship since it was established in the wake of the 1979 revolution. Regime authorities predictably responded to the unrest with brutal repression, killing at least 750 people in the space of several weeks and arresting another 30,000. Nine protesters have been executed so far, and dozens more are reportedly facing death sentences.

It is against the backdrop of these executions and the underlying crackdown on dissent that Iran’s Foreign Minister will be taking the podium at the meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday. Granting a platform at the Council, tasked with confronting human rights abuses within its member states, to a representative from a regime notorious for its egregious record as the world’s leading per capita executor of its citizens, including women and, uniquely, children, represents a profound betrayal of the core values the United Nations vows to defend. This decision severely compromises the integrity of the UN’s foundational human rights principles, casting serious doubt on its dedication to fostering justice and upholding human dignity universally.

The foreign minister’s background does not present a more favorable picture. His involvement as an “active member” of the Basij force, part of the IRGC’s paramilitary units known for their harsh suppression of peaceful protests, highlights a concerning history. His close association with Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Qods Force, and his pride in being mentored by him, further compounds the issue.

While appearing at the Council, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian will not be answering for his government’s recent crimes or to face questioning over a preexisting record of severe human rights abuses. Instead, he will evidently be given free rein to speak about anything he wishes, and will no doubt exploit the opportunity to deflect attention from Tehran while also trying to level equivalent accusations against his regime’s critics in the West.

For most of its existence, this has been a key element of the clerical regime’s strategy in international affairs. Sadly, the UNHRC is now poised to provide Amir-Abdollahian a forum to extend that strategy at a crucial moment, when the international community might otherwise remain focused on Tehran’s role in a human rights crisis that is unfolding across the entire region. While most of the Council’s member states will presumably be able to see through the Iranian Foreign Minister’s efforts to derail the proceedings, there can be little doubt that his remarks will be a needless distraction, taking up time that might better be spent discussing a strategy for holding him and his colleagues accountable.

Naturally, Amir-Abdollahian bears unique responsibility for acting as the regime’s apologist regarding human rights matters both historic and recent. But other officials in the current Iranian government have been personally implicated in some of the regime’s worst historic violations of human rights, to say nothing of their role in the recent crackdown and the ensuing executions.

His boss, Ebrahim Raisi, is infamously linked to the “death commission” in Tehran which sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in 1988, mostly members of sympathizers of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK). Since he assumed office, there have been at least 1,778 executions, encompassing a wide array of dissidents and women. The year 2023 alone witnessed 864 executions, and the early months of 2024 have already seen 89 individuals executed.

In spite of these losses, the MEK, remains highly active to this day and is keeping close watch over Tehran’s latest human rights abuses, after having played a leading role in the 2022 uprising and subsequent challenges to ruling system.

These figures stand alongside chilling reports of torture and sexual abuse from Amnesty International and other esteemed human rights organizations. For that matter, Amir-Abdollahian’s time could be reallocated to almost anyone else and it would allow the council the meetings to be focused on a strategy for addressing the human rights crises associated with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

If the meeting’s organizers will not see fit to rescind Amir-Abdollahian’s invitation to speak, then representatives of member states should boycott his remarks. They should make it clear that while the UN itself may provide a platform for all heads of state and government representatives without bias, the UNHRC cannot possibly turn a blind eye to abuses and still expect its mission to be taken seriously.

Ken Blackwell is the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. He is an adviser to the America First Policy Institute and Vice President of the Council For National Policy.

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