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“Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping, Stigmatization, Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence against Persons, based on Religion or Belief”

Input for the U.N. Secretary General’s Forthcoming Report on General Assembly Resolution 67/178:

“Combating Intolerance, Negative Stereotyping, Stigmatization, Discrimination, Incitement to Violence and Violence against Persons, based on Religion or Belief” – Focus on the Baha’i Community in Iran

Introduction

Resolution 67/178 adopted by the General Assembly (the “Resolution”) makes clear that states are under an obligation to prohibit discrimination and violence on the basis of religion or belief and must ensure equal and effective protection of the law. Despite the fact that states are bound by international treaties to adhere to this principle, states continue to violate their obligations under such international treaties. This submission will analyze how the Iranian government’s treatment of the Baha’i community violates the underlying principles and obligations set forth in Resolution 67/178 by the General Assembly. This submission will place particular emphasis on how the Iranian government’s education policy and policies toward religious sites and burial grounds as these policies relate to Baha’is clearly violate the resolutions set forth in Sections 8 and 9 of the Resolution.

Obligations under International Law

The Iranian government is a signatory to several international treaties that relate to the right to expression, to association and assembly, and right to education. These international obligations prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

ICCPR

Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) provides for the right to religious freedom and Article 27 of the ICCPR provides the right for religious minorities to practice their own religion.[1] Iran signed the ICCPR in 1968 and ratified the agreement in 1975 without reservations.

ICESCR

Article 13(c) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”) provides the right to higher education and Article 2 of the ICESCR provides that this right shall be guaranteed regardless of religion.[2] Iran signed the ICESCR in 1968 and ratified the agreement in 1975 without reservations.

UDHR

Article 26(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) provides that “everyone has a right to education.”[3] Iran signed the UDHR in 1948.

Violations of International Obligations

Members of the Baha’i faith constitute Iran’s largest religious minority with an estimated 300,000 members.[4] Bahai’s have faced persecution since the inception of the faith in the mid-19th century.[5] Since the 1979 revolution, Iranian authorities have killed more than 200 Baha’i leaders and more than 10,000 Baha’is have been dismissed from government and university jobs.[6] According to Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur for Iran, the Baha’i community is the “most persecuted religious minority in Iran.”[7]

This submission will analyze how the Iranian government’s education policy and policies towards religious sites and burial grounds violate Iran’s international obligations, institutionalize discrimination, and suppress the religious freedoms of the Baha’i community.

Education Policy

The Iranian government employs discriminatory practices against members of the Baha’i faith which was bolstered by the so-called “Golpaygani Memorandum.” The Golpaygani Memorandum was a confidential circular issued by the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council in February 1991, which contained specific recommendations that Baha’is be expelled from universities.[8]

As a result of these policies, members of the Baha’i faith who openly practice their faith are prohibited from attending Iranian state universities. Iranian Baha’i youth are barred from attending undergraduate and graduate studies, as the government does not formally recognize their religion.[9] In an attempt to circumvent such restrictions, members of the Baha’i faith have been forced to create the Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (“BIHE”).[10] BIHE essentially functions as a decentralized college and is run by Baha’i professors who lost their teaching positions at Iranian universities due to their faith.[11]

The Iranian government has cracked down on BIHE, raiding homes and arresting and sentencing BIHE participants to prison. For example, in 2011, thirty members of BIHE were detained for activities relating to BIHE[12] and their books, documents, computers and other materials were confiscated.[13] While several of the detainees were released, seven BIHE members were sentenced to four-five year prison sentences on charges of being members of a deviant sect conspiring against Iran’s national security.[14]

Such violations are relevant for purposes of Section 8(a) of the Resolution which calls upon all states “to take effective measures to ensure that public functionaries, in the conduct of their public duties, do not discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion or belief.” Iranian state backed initiatives such as the Golpaygani Memorandum and state sponsored actions such as crackdowns on BIHE are clear examples of public functionaries discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion or belief.

Such violations are also relevant for purpose of Sections 8(b) and 8(c) of the Resolution. Section 8(b) calls upon all states “to foster religious freedom and pluralism by promoting the ability of members of all religious communities to manifest their religion and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.” Section 8(c) calls upon all states “to encourage the representation and meaningful participation of individuals, irrespective of their religion or belief, in all sectors of society.” By barring entry to Iranian universities and making participation in BIHE illegal, the Iranian government has essentially prohibited members of the Baha’i faith from receiving an education beyond high school. Elise Auerbach, an Iran specialist for Amnesty International indicates that because Baha’is are prohibited from obtaining higher education they are prevented from numerous professions and cannot become doctors, lawyers, professors or scientists.[15] By prohibiting Bahai’s from having access to higher education, the Iranian government is prohibiting the ability of Baha’is to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society and is also prohibiting Baha’is from representation and meaningful participation in all sectors of society.

Policies toward Baha’i Religious Sites and Burial Grounds

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is an American government agency that focuses on religious discrimination, indicates that Baha’i holy places and cemeteries are often seized or desecrated.[16]

Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, numerous Baha’i holy places and religious monuments were confiscated or destroyed. For example, Baha’i holy site Siyah-Chal in Tehran was confiscated, as was another holy site in Isfahan referred to as the “House of the King of Martys and Beloved of Martyrs.”[17] Additionally, the home of the founder of the faith, Baha’u’llah was destroyed in 1981.[18]

Baha’i burial grounds have also been targeted. Since 2007, there have been more than 30 attacks in Baha’i owned cemeteries or other burial arrangements organized by Bahai’s.[19] These attacks have also included actions such as arson, vandalism, toppling gravestones, uprooting landscape, spray painting anti-Baha’i graffiti on cemetery walls and exhuming bodies.[20] To provide a specific example of such actions, around February 2, 2005, the Baha’i cemetery of Yazd was entirely destroyed. During this incident, cars were driven over graves, bricks were removed from graves, and gravestones were broken.[21] More recently, in September 2007 a number of unidentified individuals used a bulldozer to demolish 95 graves in a Baha’i cemetery located outside Najafabad in Isfahan province.[22]

Such violations are relevant to Section 9 of the Resolution, which calls upon states to “adopt measures and policies to promote full respect for and protection of places of worship and religious sites, cemeteries and shrines, and to take protective measures in cases where they are vulnerable to vandalism or destruction.” Confiscation and desecration of cultural sites and burial grounds clearly violates this principle.

The Iranian government has institutionalized policies that discriminate against a minority faith by suppressing their identity, thus, abdicating their responsibility to adhere to their international treaty obligations and international human rights law.

[1] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New York, 16 Dec. 1966) 999 U.N.T.S. 171 and 1057 U.N.T.S. 407, entered into force 23 Mar. 1976.

[2] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (New York, 16 Dec. 1966) 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force 3 Jan. 1976.

[3] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 Dec. 1948), U.N.G.A. Res. 217 A (III) (1948).

[4] For Baha’i Educators, a Lesson in Power from Iran, Mitra Mobasherat and Joe Sterling, CNN (June 3, 2011), available at http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/05/31/iran.bahai/index.html.

[5] Id.

[6] Katrina Lantos Swett, Iran v. Its People: Abuses Against Religious Minorities, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs( June 20, 2013).

[7] Id.

[8] Discrimination Against Religious Minorities in Iran, Fedeation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme and Ligue de Defense des Droits d’Homme en Iran (Aug. 2003), available at http://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/ir0108a.pdf

[9] Katrina Lantos Swett, Iran v. Its People: Abuses Against Religious Minorities, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (June 20, 2013).

[10] Jonathan Saunders, A Human Rights Lawyer’s Appeal to Academics, American Association of University Professors, Vol. 85, No. 4, p.38 (July.-Aug., 1999).

[11] Tim Hume Iran bans “underground university,” brands it “extremist cult,” CNN (Nov. 10, 2011), available at http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/10/world/meast/iran-bans-bahai-university

[12]Joint Statement on the Right to Education and Academic Freedom in Iran, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (May 31, 2012), available at http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2012/05/joint-statement/.

[13] Katrina Lantos Swett, Iran v. Its People: Abuses Against Religious Minorities, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs (June 20, 2013).

[14] Id.

[15] Tim Hume, Iran bans “underground university,” brands it “extremist cult,” CNN (Nov. 10, 2011), available at http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/10/world/meast/iran-bans-bahai-university.

[16] Mitra Mobasherat and Joe Sterling, For Baha’i Educators, a Lesson in Power from Iran, CNN (June 3, 2011), available at http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/05/31/iran.bahai/index.html.

[17] A Faith Denied: The Persecution of the Baha’is in Iran, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center(Dec. 2006), http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3149-a-faith-denied-the-persecution-of-the-baha-is-of-iran.html?p=29#Destruction of Religious.

[18] Id.

[19] Even in Death, Iran’s Bahais Face Persecution, Iran Press Watch (January 19, 2012), available at http://www.iranpresswatch.org/post/8709.

[20] Violence with Impunity: Acts of Aggression against Iran’s Baha’i Community, Baha’i International Community (March 2013), available at http://www.bic.org/violence-with-impunity.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

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