UN urges Iran to investigate deaths, pursue reform
GENEVA, April 18 (Reuters) - The top United Nations rights body called on Iran on Tuesday to investigate killings of political activists and halt torture, including amputations and stoning.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, holding its annual session in Geneva, narrowly adopted a resolution tabled by the European Union and backed by the United States.
The vote by the 53-member state forum was 22 countries in favour with 20 against and 11 countries abstaining.
The EU text also recognised efforts by the government of President Mohammad Khatami to initiate democratic reforms, including the holding of parliamentary elections last February.
But Iran as well as Pakistan, who spoke on behalf of Islamic countries, firmly rejected the resolution as biased. China and Russia were among other delegations voting in support of Tehran.
Portugal, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, introduced the resolution on Iran, saying it reflected the "complex and evolving situation" in the Islamic country.
"The EU has taken into account all noticeable improvements," Portugal's ambassador Alvaro Mendonca e Moura told the forum. He cited progress in freedom of expression.
But the EU expressed concern about alleged violations including executions, torture, absence of due process of law, and persecution of religious minorities including the Baha'i. It also remained concerned about deprivation of women's rights.
The 15-member bloc said it was closely following the trial of 13 Iranian Jews in Shiraz, accused of spying for Israel.
In this regard, the EU stressed that "all trials must be conducted in conformity with international standards and follow due process of law." Defendants must have the right to choose the counsel of their choice, Portugal said on behalf of the EU.
INVESTIGATOR STILL SEEKING VISIT
The EU remained disappointed about the country's lack of cooperation with the U.N. special investigator on Iran, Canadian jurist Maurice Copithorne. The resolution extended the mandate of the independent investigator, who is seeking a visit to Iran.
Pakistan's ambassador Munir Akram, speaking on behalf of Islamic countries, denounce the EU resolution as political.
"We are deeply resentful of the targetting of several Islamic countries in proposals, statements and resolutions submitted especially by the EU," he declared.
Iran's ambassador Ali Khorram pointed to "positive developments and trends" in Iran's rights situation and dismissed the EU resolution as "politically-motivated.''
On the spy trial of eight Moslems and 13 Jews in Shiraz, he told the forum: "For this case due process of law is underway; nothing has happened illegally and there is no room for concern.
"All suspects have lawyers of their own choice, who in accordance with law will defend them. I hope that we will witness their acquitence (acquittal)," Khorram said.
"The government is committed to protect the human rights of all Iranians. Hence, politicisation and utilisation of any pressure leverage in order to affect the fair trial of Jews charged with espionage irrespective of the law in my country are questionable and highly counter-productive," he said.
Iran was limiting capital punishment to only the most serious crimes and pursuing judicial reforms, Khorram added.
"...regardless of any position which the Commission may eventually take vis-a-vis the draft resolution, my government is firmly committed to continue its reform policies..." he said.
In a statement, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran said that the EU resolution did not go far enough in condemning the regime in Tehran. "The unjustified and unwarranted commendation in the resolution and its optimism toward bogus changes in Iran do not in any way bring about improvement in the situation of human rights in Iran."
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