How NATO corrupted the UN’s Human Rights Council, to help drive a ‘regime change’ war against Iran

It is a defining feature of the contemporary era that the great power which has slaughtered millions in its invasions, proxy wars and sieges uses ‘human rights’ arguments as a weapon to advance or cover up its great crimes.

This acrobatic exercise involves a lot more than just the obvious double standards. In the case of the ‘human rights’ campaign against Iran, it has involved mass deception, the corruption of judicial principles, and the installation of deeply compromised political agents, posing as independent arbiters and pompous saviours.

Washington has relied on a network of states and individuals willing and able to sell themselves to help in this political targeting, an assault which damages the credibility of multilateral institutions – in this case, the Human Rights Council, just as the USA threatened and compromised the International Criminal Court over US crimes in Afghanistan as well as over Russia, and corrupted the UN’s chemical weapons agency the OPCW over fake chemical weapons claims against Syria. On the odd occasion, when such agencies speak against the interests of Washington – as with the ICJ ruling that the USA had illegally seized about $2bn of Iranian assets – those agencies are usually just ignored.

Jurists have convincingly argued that selective justice is not justice at all, but rather a process which weakens systems and undermines the rule of law. That is the first problem with the targeting of Iran. In normal circumstances, a UN expert deserves to be heard; however, in the case of the HRC campaign against Iran, the ‘extraordinary’ circumstances cited demand greater attention to detail of the deceptions and political motivations.

Some background. In 2006, with a near unanimous vote, the UN changed its old Human Rights Commission into the Human Rights Council. The main changes were a more equitable way of electing state members and a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of human rights in every country, rather than power politics at the UN singling out particular countries for vilification. Only the USA, “Israel” and two US-dependent island states objected to this reform.

The Cuban representative told the UN that the creation of this new Council had been driven by the need to end the “huge discredit” that had befallen the Commission, due to the “political manipulation, hypocrisy and double standards imposed on its work by the United States and the European Union”. Cuba had been one of the victims of HRC targeting. Human rights themes (such as freedom of religion, the protection of cultural heritage, or unilateral coercive measures posing as ‘sanctions’) and the UPR, applied to all countries, were to be the main mechanisms of the Council, except in extraordinary circumstances.

It didn’t take long for the NATO bloc, led by the USA, to invent those ‘extraordinary’ circumstances and aim a new propaganda offensive at the Islamic Republic of Iran, a permanent target of Washington since the 1979 Revolution expelled a US-installed tyrannical monarchy. Iran remains an obsession for Washington and the Israelis because it supports the armed resistance in Palestine and Lebanon and the independent governments in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Resort to the ‘human rights’ weapon against Iran followed the failure of a ‘colour revolution’ called ‘the Green Movement’ at the time of the 2009 Presidential elections, opposition demonstrations which turned violent and which the Iranian government called “US-backed riots”. A report critical of Iran’s treatment of these protests/riots was prepared for the UN General Assembly, which endorsed it by a narrow margin, with 74 in favour, 49 against, 59 abstaining and 10 not voting.

In early 2011, the matter ended up at the HRC, which adopted special mandate 16/9 to appoint a special rapporteur to investigate the “situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran”. The resolution was supported by 9 NATO states and 13 others, opposed by seven states, and there were 14 abstentions. Seven years later in 2018, a similar mandate was renewed by similar numbers, except that abstentions had grown to 19. Targeting Iran was always a political exercise where Washington could count on its loyal minions while inducing and threatening others.

Iran never accepted this targeted campaign, understanding full well that it was a political maneuver by its enemies. In 2018 Mohammad Javad Larijani, the Secretary of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, said that the appointment of any UN ‘human rights’ special rapporteur for Iran was “unjustifiable and unacceptable”. The result has been that none of the appointed special rapporteurs have been given permission to visit Iran.

In late 2022, following widespread demonstrations, including violent riots which followed the death in police custody of the young woman Mahsa Amini, ‘extraordinary’ circumstances to target Iran were again cited in a motion by NATO members Iceland and Germany. That motion called for another special mandate to target Iran. No such motion had been presented after the hundreds of deaths in police custody that take place every year in the USA, some of them subject to public campaigns (such as ‘Black Lives Matter’); Washington and the NATO states had chosen Iran as their target.

The Mahsa Amini campaign was massive. At one stage there were said to have been over 274 million tweets on the Persian version of the MahsaAmini hashtag in just a few weeks. In contrast and for perspective since mid-2013 the BlackLivesMatter hashtag had 63 million tweets across a decade. The MahsaAmini campaign was closely linked to US-backed calls for a color revolution in Iran, using the IranRevolution hashtag. Later, opposition sources boasted that there had been 500 million MahsaAmini tweets.

The MahsaAmini campaign was closely linked to NATO-backed ‘regime change’ campaigns. One petition called for direct intervention by the US government in Iran. A British-based campaign site ‘Women Life Freedom’, seeking to expel Iran from rights-related UN bodies, attracted support from UK, US and Canadian politicians and other public figures. The US state media agency Voice of America (VOA) presented Washington and other ‘Western’ governments as independent agencies which had to “respond” to the popular demand for ‘regime change in Iran; as if those governments were not funding and driving these campaigns.

Lebanese commentator Mona Issa has written about the MahsaAmini campaign, which tried to link mandatory hijab rules to regime change through opposition figures such as Masih Alinejad, paid by US state agencies, and supported by politicians like Mike Pompeo who threatened to starve the Iranian people with ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions if they did not comply with US demands.

Washington has used several methods to disempower Iran. First, there was the mythical threat of non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons, and the Mossad’s assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Then, there has been US-sponsored terrorism from several client groups like the MEK (Mojahedin-e-Khalq), listed as an armed terrorist group until 2012 by Washington, but now safely housed in Albania, plus US and Saudi-backed ISIS terrorists and separatist Kurd and Balochi groups. Then came the anti-hijab campaign.

Mona Issa points out that Western claims to act for the rights of women and girls has become a staple of the architects of US-led wars in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, with “no regard for Palestinian, Yemeni, Iraqi, Libyan or Syrian women, when the US either bombed or funded weaponry to bomb [their] societies back into the stone age”.

It is very clear that armed and violent agents of the US, NATO and “Israel” joined in the ‘protests’ of late 2022. We know, for example, that the MEK claimed responsibility for ‘leading’ the protests and attacking Iranian officials. The terror group wrote that “one of the major characteristics of these protests is the direct and indirect role of the Resistance Units affiliated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) in organizing and, more importantly, working to prolong them.”

The involvement of the MEK, the CIA and Mossad clearly has nothing to do with the hijab or women’s rights. Nevertheless, US state media argued that the protests and riots after Mahsa Amini’s death were focused on women going ‘hijabless’ and that this was a movement for the ‘freedom’ of Iranian women. Yet MEK women are regimented in uniforms with hijab and some of the group’s women defectors have complained of forced sterilisation and torture.

Into this context came the latest HRC intervention, through its 35th special session. If we include mandates under the earlier Human Rights Commission, the HRC’s Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman, a British-Pakistani lawyer, was the sixth and latest appointed legal expert. Britain itself has consistently backed the HRC mandates targeting Iran while Pakistan has consistently opposed them.

So who is Javaid Rehman? The British-based lawyer was appointed to report on ‘human rights in Iran’ and he produced a report titled Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in April 2023.

UN rapporteurs are supposed to be independent, judicious characters. However Rehman has previously involved himself in political campaigns against Iran, working with political groups like the International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR), which oppose and propagandise against Iran. In February 2023 Rehman spoke on a panel titled ‘How to Stop the Global Threat of the Iranian Regime’. His image was also used to promote the IOPHR on its website, a website which spreads propaganda about Iran, including the baseless claim that the Iranian military and civil defence (Basij) had poisoned Iranian schoolgirls; in fact, Iranian authorities have made hundreds of arrests over these criminal incidents, blaming them on Iran’s enemies including some of those involved in the 2022 riots.

At the HRC in November 2022, as part of the political campaign, President Federico Villegas Beltrán introduced the HRC’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk (Austria), and rapporteur Javaid Rehman (Britain) on a live telecast to address what they called the “human rights situation in Iran”. Both Türk and Rehman presented scathing political diatribes against Iran, where allegations of state crimes (from opposition sources and the media) were presented as “findings” yet, after that, Javaid Rehman called for an “impartial and prompt investigation” into those same allegations. This was a gross breach of the judicial principles of disavowing crude prejudice and separating allegations from findings.

Having debauched those common standards, both Türk and Rehman denounced Iran’s own internal process (with little detail) as “inconsistent with international standards”, which “failed to meet international standards of fairness, impartiality and transparency” (Türk); or “lacking even the most minimal standards” (Rehman) of due process.

Türk and Rehman dismissed Iran’s statements that foreign agents had orchestrated violence. “That’s a convenient narrative .. the typical narrative of tyranny” Türk claimed, as though the notorious and ongoing terrorism against Iran deserved no consideration. By doing this he turned a blind eye to notorious MEK bombings, Mossad assassinations of Iranian scientists and, of course, Washington’s assassination of Iran’s national hero Qassem Soleimani. Pretending that Iran had no enemies prepared to murder officials and civilians was tantamount to covering up the reality of these various murders and condoning future attacks, under the cover of “peaceful protests”, a tactic several NATO states practiced against Syria back in 2011.

Since much of the political propaganda campaign made use of the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, it was notable that there was little indication in his report that Javaid Rehman had even read the Coroner’s report on her death. He makes no specific citations of the coroner’s findings.

For example, there was no recognition of the coroner’s findings that the young woman had cranial surgery for a brain tumour several year earlier, that she had been left with an underlying disorder that was under treatment. When she fainted in the police station (recorded on CCTV and made public) on 13 September 2022 her body was unable to recover, developing a disorder in heart rhythm and a fall in blood pressure. Cardio-respiratory resuscitation by paramedics “proved ineffective, and in the first critical minutes, she suffered from severe hypoxia and brain damage”.

The report goes on, “respiratory support proved ineffective, and despite her admittance to the hospital and efforts invested by the medical staff of Kasra Hospital, the patient was pronounced dead on 16 September 2022 given multiple organ failure caused by cerebral hypoxia.” Rehman’s report mentions none of this but rather, based on media and opposition claims, asserts she was beaten to death. Yet the published CCTV evidence shows no one had hit her prior to her collapse. Nevertheless, Rehman tries to make ‘findings’ based on what others later said about her appearance, with supposed bleeding from her ears.

Even if one saw some substance in Rehman’s claims that Iran’s ‘morality police’ engage in gender discrimination (as no dress code on men is applied in the same way) by their occasional interventions, it is not possible to credit his “findings” given his breach of basic procedures, in particular his failure to separate allegations from findings. Given his political advocacy against Iran he should never have been appointed HRC rapporteur. That he was illustrates how the HRC is happy to promote the pompous hypocrisy of western ‘regime change’ propagandists, dressed up as independent arbiters of ‘human rights’.

The November 2022 presentations of Türk and Rehman, and Rehman’s April 2023 report, also make use of death penalty examples to attack Iran. Here, there might be less room for complaint if the HRC had addressed the death penalty in the more than 50 states in which it still applies taking, say, examples from Saudi Arabia, the USA, Iran, China and others – but this was a targeted operation against Iran.

Türk and Rehman claim the death penalty was imposed for “vague” offences, with trials behind closed doors – even though detailed evidence of some of the most serious trials was reported in the Western media and by Iranian opposition sources.

Javaid Rehman collapses the hundreds of deaths during the riots into those he blames on the state; there was no difference between the two, according to this expert. He indulges in rhetorical nonsense, saying the numbers of deaths “speak for themselves”. Yet in so doing he ignores, for example, the 15 people killed and 40 injured by the October 2022 bombing of the Shiraz mosque (likely an MEK or ISIS operation) and the publicly reported murder of several security officials in the disturbances of September 2022.

At p.3 of his April 2023 report Rehman cites two young men who were sentenced to death – Majidreza Rahnavard and Mohsen Shekari – as “protesters”. In fact, as was reported in December 2022 by both the BBC and the Australian ABC, Rahnavard was sentenced for “the fatal stabbings of two security officials”. Opposition sources note that the sentences imposed on Shekari and several others (while claiming the trials were unfair) were for the murder of security officials, crimes which Rehman’s report suggests were simply a fiction of Iranian ‘tyranny’. Denying these killings and calling those accused and convicted of murder simple ‘protesters’ is a seriously deceptive act.

Consistent with their political motivation, the HRC officials’ presentation of allegations of state crimes as though they were established fact, was followed by a denunciation of Iran’s body politic, which was said to be incapable of delivering any sort of justice. Speaking as though he were a political candidate, or with some sort of political mandate, Türk claimed that “the people of Iran are demanding change .. these protests are rooted in long-standing denials of freedom, in legal and structural inequalities”. “For decades” he claimed, “women and girls have been held back by pervasive discrimination in law and practice”.

It seems Türk had not read the UNDP reports on Iran, which show tremendous advances for girls and women in education and health since the 1979 revolution. Between 1980 and 2020, average life expectancy in Iran rose from 54.1 to 76.2 years, while average years of schooling rose from 2.2 to 10.6, a fivefold increase, almost at gender equity (10.6/10.7). While there is still a gender gap in human development, Iran’s progress in Gender Development is above average and Gender Inequality is average. In his diatribe, Türk ignores such inconvenient facts.

In the UNDP’s human development rankings (human development combines income with education and health/life expectancy) Iran came second only to China in human development progress from 1990-2019 within the ‘high human development’ group. The advances on Iran’s part were due to strong growth in school education and attention to health, particularly in health care for mothers and babies.

While some exiled Iranian opposition sources deny the advances in women’s education, and HRC officials reinforce this disinformation, the Washington-based World Bank confirms the virtual eradication of illiteracy in Iran between 1980 and 2005 and, with that, the elimination of a gender gap in literacy.

While it may be true that there are patriarchal ‘glass ceilings’ in many professions, the higher levels of education are helping Iranian women overcome these. Greater participation by Iranian women and girls in higher education has led to a growth in Iranian women professionals, small business managers and cooperatives. As one report points out, the low level of salaried women workers “3.5 million Iranian women .. compared with 23.5 million men” is offset to some extent by women finding higher paid “gaps”, by creating service industries and entering health and legal professions. In the finance sector, there have been breakthroughs, with the Karafarin Bank having the highest rate (49%) of female employees.

It is clear that general advances in the education of women are the fruit of the 1979 Revolution.

Since 1979, the number of female medical specialists has increased by 933% and the number of female subspecialists has increased by 1700%. Many of these female doctors focus on the particular challenges of women’s health, respond to the demand for women physicians, and help overcome historical prejudice against women professionals.

The Government has not been passive in gender inequity matters. In 2018 it established “a framework for mainstreaming gender equity in the plans, policies, and programs of governmental organizations” through the National Headquarters for Women and Family. So, contrary to the monolithic image of Western agencies, that Iranian women are some variety of perpetually passive victims, waiting for a Western saviour, Iranian women have been creating opportunities for themselves within the Iranian system.

Despite its cynicism, the Western anti-hijab campaign has been quite clever in that it draws on shallow anti-Muslim prejudice to turn crude stereotypes into a political storm which can be used pressure institutions and cultures. Western liberals seem to love the role of being seen to ‘save’ other people from their own cultures; this is a colonial legacy. It does not have much to do with Christianity because, while the US and its NATO allies are nominally Christian, they have seen no problem in purging Christians from Palestine, Syria and Iraq in pursuit of their campaign for a subjugated ‘New Middle East’ region; a campaign which Iran has resolutely opposed.

A cynical banner of fighting for the rights of women and girls was used to justify the 20-year US occupation of Afghanistan, as it is now used in attempts to isolate and weaken a state seen as a key strategic rival. Rather skilfully, US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar (where the status of women is far worse than in Iran) are somehow exempted from the vitriol. As we saw with Libya and Syria, in Western neo-colonial culture, virtually any sort of aggression can be justified by claiming that the targeted ‘regime’ is abusing its own people.

Ignoring the actual role of women in Iran, Türk directed his story at an alleged failure in Iranian democracy and thus the need for political ‘regime change’, arguing “the absence of prospects for any real reforms”. He makes these bald assertions with no attempt at any substantial analysis of Iranian political democracy. At the end he calls for “independent, impartial and independent investigative processes into alleged violations of human rights that are consistent with international standards”. How the HRC could pretend any sort of investigative independence after such a diatribe from its leader is a mystery.

Similarly, Rehman claims that Iran was incapable of delivering justice because of “the structural impunity that now prevails in Iran”, adding ominously that this demands a “forceful response from the international community”. He claims the state is killing children and girls simply for their ‘dreams’, while referring to the alleged general ‘unlawful’ behaviour of security forces and universal unfairness by the courts, mostly without even specific examples. We can almost hear the applause from the warmongers and criminals in Washington and “Tel Aviv”.

Overall the Washington and NATO targeted ‘human rights’ campaign against Iran has made use of mass disinformation and political propagandists as ‘human rights’ arbiters who push the broader ‘regime change’ pretext: that Iran is some sort of ‘failed state’ incapable of justice or decent service of its own people. Demanding a “forceful response” is tantamount to a threat of violence. This is an arrogant and politically motivated deception, one which stokes aggression, undermines international cooperation and makes a mockery of genuine concerns for human rights.

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