Human Rights News
EU-Iran Conference Must Set Human Rights Benchmarks
Backgrounder on Human Rights Dialogue
HRW Backgrounder: EU-Iran Benchmarks Dialogue
Human Rights Watch recognizes that the proposed dialogue between the European Union and Islamic Republic of Iran will create significant new opportunities to press for improvements in human rights. But this potential will only be fully realized if the European Union adapts the lessons learned from previous dialogues over human rights between the E.U. and third countries, and fully applies the EU Guidelines for Human Rights Dialogues adopted by the Council in December 2001.
The guidelines provide that "any decision to initiate a human rights dialogue will first require the defining of the practical aims which the Union seeks to achieve by initiating dialogue with the country concerned, as well as an assessment of the added value to be gained from such dialogue." In defining these aims in the Iranian context it is important that consultation should take place with a broad range of political leaders in Iran, especially those in the parliament, intellectuals and representatives of civil society and the press who have pressed the case for human rights reform.
As a starting point, the European Union should revisit all resolutions on Iran of the UN General Assembly and Commission on Human Rights, as well as recommendations made by UN special procedures and treaty bodies on Iran as the basis for its own dialogue on rights. In particular, the E.U. should fully integrate the content of the resolution on Iran it tabled at the last session of the Commission on Human Rights, even though it was not eventually passed, as an expression of ongoing concerns.
In devising its strategy, the European Union should pay careful regard to the potential for UN special procedures and experts to also engage with Iran following the standing invitation issued by the government in August 2002. The European Union should obtain confirmation of this standing invitation, which the Government of Iran has yet to put in writing. While this announcement was a very welcome development, the European Union should adopt a wait-and-see approach before initiating its own dialogue, requesting the government of Iran to initiate visits by at least four special rapporteurs (violence against women, freedom of expression, torture and freedom of religion) and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; assessing their freedom of access to all parts of the country, individuals and groups; and monitoring concrete progress on implementing their recommendations. In developing its own dialogue, the European Union should fully integrate visits, findings and recommendations by the UN special procedures on Iran.
According to the guidelines, "As far as possible, the European Union will ask the authorities of countries involved in the human rights dialogue to include in their delegations representatives of the various institutions and Ministries responsible for human rights matters, such as the Justice and Interior Ministries, the police, prison administration etc." This will be especially important in the case of Iran, where moderate and reformist elements in the Presidency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs or legislature are frequently thwarted and undermined by hardline conservatives in the Council of Guardians, judiciary, the Revolutionary Guard and the office of the Leader of the Islamic Republic. The test for any EU human rights dialogue with Iran will not be simply the participation of a broad range of ministries and officials, but the ability of the dialogue to impact on these entrenched sources of power within the Iranian system.
The guidelines also envisage that "civil society could become involved under the most suitable arrangement in the preliminary assessment of the human rights situation, in the conduct of the dialogue itself (particularly by organizing meetings with civil society at local level in parallel with the formal dialogue), and in following up and assessing the dialogue." Taking into consideration the weakness of local civil society organizations, an inclusive dialogue may be achieved by involving independent activists, parliamentarians, lawyers, and intellectuals. Further, "the European Union undertakes to include human rights experts in the EU delegations." These experts may be drawn from academic institutions and independent non-governmental organizations.
Most importantly, the guidelines require the European Union to "on a case-by-case basis, establish criteria for measuring the progress achieved in relation to the benchmarks and also criteria for a possible exit strategy." Human Rights Watch suggests the following issues as critical tests of good faith by the government of Iran and substantive progress in any human rights dialogue. They should provide the basis for clear and measurable benchmarks, which could be made public and used to evaluate progress after an initial period of twelve months.
In the first twelve months of dialogue, the government of Iran should:
This commitment will face a critical test in the coming weeks at the UN General Assembly, where the European Union has traditionally sponsored a resolution on Iran. The European Union moved such a critical resolution at the last session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, but this was defeated by the narrowest of margins. Despite the positive moves made by the Iranian authorities since that time, it is too early for the European Union to back off from this approach, as this would send a mixed signal before Iran has even begun to deliver substantive results on its promised new opening on human rights. Since Iran is already actively lobbying other countries to vote against a possible Iran motion in the GA, the EU cannot afford a "wait and see" approach on this matter. It needs to start its own lobbying activities for a possible resolution with key partners worldwide now. Experience with the China dialogue shows that the pressure generated by the prospect of resolutions at the Commission has been a key factor in moving the process forward, despite Chinese threats to the contrary. It will be extremely important at this formative stage of the dialogue with Iran that the European Union does not relax the sustained pressure that has produced this opening in the first place. It would be preferable for the European Union to offer incentives to Iran for delivery of substantive progress on the substantive issues above during the first phase of the dialogue.
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