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Updated On: Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Security Council Discusses Deadly Protests across Iran amid Accusations of Abusing Entity’s Platform to Meddle in States’ Internal Affairs

Content by: UN News Centre

Recent protests sweeping Iran had resulted in more than 20 deaths, a top United Nations political official told the Security Council today, as the body met for an emergency session on the matter despite objections from some representatives who argued that the Council was not the proper forum for such a debate.

Demonstrations began on 28 December 2017 with hundreds of Iranians initially gathering in a largely peaceful manner, chanting slogans against economic hardships, said Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in a briefing to the Council.  Subsequently, rallies spread to other urban centres, as well as rural areas, where protesters expressed disappointment at slow or limited change in social structures and political freedoms, and criticized what they viewed as the privileged position of the clergy and elements of the country’s security establishment.

As the protests escalated, some turned violent, said Mr. Zerihoun, who added that videos posted on social media platforms showed the beating of protesters, as well as the burning of Government offices, banks and religious centres.  More than 1,000 protesters were said to have been detained although many may have since been released.

With a very limited United Nations presence on the ground, the Secretariat could not confirm or deny the authenticity of the images that had been broadcast, nor the extent of the violence, he said, adding:  “However, we have received reports that the police, rather than military forces, were responding to the protests.”

The representative of the United States said the demonstrations taking place in Iran were a fundamental expression of human rights, and a powerful exhibition of brave people who were so fed up with their oppressive regime that they were willing to risk their lives in protest.  The Iranian regime’s contempt of the rights of its people had been widely documented, she stressed.

The proper role of human rights in the Council had been debated, and some colleagues believed it had no place in the Council, she noted, yet, human rights were not the gift of Governments, but rather the inalienable right of the people themselves.  Every United Nations Member State was sovereign, but that could not be used as a shield when a State denied its people human rights and fundamental freedoms, she emphasized.  The Iranian people were rising up and asking for something no legitimate Government could deny them.

Iran’s representative said that there was a long history of United States bullying at the United Nations and the case of the Iranian protest was a preposterous example of interference in the purely internal affairs of a nation.  “This is nothing but another desperate attempt by the United States Administration to escape, as it has lost every shred of moral, political and legal authority and credibility in the eyes of the whole world,” he said.

“It is unfortunate that despite the resistance on the part of some of its members, this Council has allowed itself to be abused by the current United States Administration in holding a meeting that falls outside the scope of its mandate,” he stressed.  While the United States accused Iran of “suppressing” protesters, one could only gasp at the hypocrisy when recalling that Occupy Wall Street protesters were beaten and dragged by United States policemen, or when National Guardsmen fired on and killed peaceful student protesters at Kent State University in 1968, as well as other examples.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that the United States was abusing the Security Council platform and questioned why it was undermining the authority of the Council as the main body for maintaining peace and security.  The real reason to convene the meeting was a veiled attempt to use the current moment to undermine the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, he underscored.

The references heard today regarding Article 34 of the Charter were completely inappropriate and it was unacceptable to use bogus pretexts to include internal issues in the Council’s agenda, he said, stressing that the Council should not be involved in destabilizing Iran.  Following the current logic, it should have held a meeting after the events in the United States city of Ferguson, Missouri.

Other delegates shared that sentiment, including Bolivia’s representative, who said that the Council was witnessing a blatant attempt to push forward issues that did not fall within its purview.  China’s representative stressed that the Council’s primary responsibility was maintaining international peace and security and that the body should not be the venue for discussing the human rights situation of any country, while the representative of Equatorial Guinea added that issues related to human rights must be dealt with in the relevant forums established by the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the General Assembly.

However, the representative of the United Kingdom stressed that no one had forced Iran onto the agenda, rather, the Council was empowered through Article 34 to investigate any dispute that might give rise to international friction.  Too often, Iran’s security interests were pursued in a way that destabilized others, he said, pointing out that those regional activities threatened international peace and security.

Sweden’s representative underlined that although her country had reservations about the convening of the meeting, human rights violations in Iran must be separated from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, whose continued implementation was crucially important for ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and for strengthening the global non-proliferation architecture.

Also speaking today were the representatives of France, Kuwait, Peru, Netherlands, Poland, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.

The meeting began at 3:08 p.m. and ended at 4:47 p.m.

Briefing

TAYÉ-BROOK ZERIHOUN, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that protests in Iran started on 28 December 2017 when hundreds of Iranians gathered, in a largely peaceful manner, in Mashad, chanting slogans against economic hardships.  Over the following days, protests took place in other urban centres, including Tehran, as well as many rural areas, where protesters expressed disappointment at slow or limited change in social structures and political freedoms, and criticized what demonstrators decried as the privileged position of the clergy and elements of the country’s security establishment.  As the protests escalated, some turned violent.  Videos posted on social media platforms showed the beating of protesters, as well as the burning of Government offices, banks and religious centres.  According to reports carried by official Iranian media, more than 20 Iranians died during the protests, while more than 1,000 protesters were said to have been detained, although many may have since been released.

With a very limited United Nations presence on the ground, the Secretariat could not confirm or deny the authenticity of the images that have been broadcast, nor the extent of the violence, he said, adding:  “However, we have received reports that the police, rather than military forces, were responding to the protests.”  On 3 January, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced the end of the anti-Government protests, while from 3 to 5 January, large pro-Government rallies were reportedly held across the country, with participants expressing support for the Supreme Leader and condemning violence.  On 31 December 2017, President Hassan Rouhani told a Cabinet meeting that the Iranian people should be allowed “space” to protest and criticize the Government, while also stressing that violence would not be tolerated.  On 2 January, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei accused Iran’s enemies, without naming them, of “stirring” the unrest.  On 3 January, the Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations wrote to the Secretary-General, accusing the United States of stepping up “its acts of intervention in a grotesque way in Iran’s internal affairs under the pretext of providing support for sporadic protests” in Iran.

The outbreak of protests in Iran had focused attention on events in the country, he noted, pointing out that a number of world leaders had expressed support for the Iranian protestors.  “Yet, more have supported the Government of Iran calling the protests an internal matter,” he emphasized.  On 3 January, the Secretary-General issued a statement deploring the loss of life in the protests and urging respect for the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.  On the same day the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also issued a statement, which was followed by the release of a statement from four United Nations Special Rapporteurs on 5 January.

Statements

NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said that the world must take note of what had happened in Iran over the past week.  It was a fundamental expression of human rights, and a powerful exhibition of brave people who were so fed up with their oppressive regime that they were willing to risk their lives in protest.  The proper role of human rights in the Council had been debated, and some colleagues believed it had no place in the Council.  But, human rights were not the gift of Governments, but rather the inalienable right of the people themselves.

The Iranian regime’s contempt of the rights of its people had been widely documented, she said.  The Iranian people understood that their lack of voice in their Government had allowed the regime to ignore them.  The regime in Iran had spent $6 billion every year propping up the regime in Syria.  The people of Iran were telling their Government to let go of Syria and think of them instead.  The Iranian regime also gave funds to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.  Meanwhile, the average Iranian family was 15 per cent poorer than it was 10 years ago.  Every United Nations Member State was sovereign, but that could not be used as a shield when a State denied its people human rights and fundamental freedoms.  The Iranian people were rising up and asking for something no legitimate Government could deny them.  The Iranian regime was now on notice, and the world would be watching its actions.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that there were several agenda items within the Security Council that allowed it to deal with various matters on peace and security in the Middle East.  In that context, its role was to do all it could to find a solution to the flashpoints and crises in that region.  The Council must commit to upholding the nuclear agreement on Iran and to promoting its implementation to the letter.  The agreement was one of the cornerstones of stability for the Middle East, and to lose that hard-won ground would be a major setback for the international community and the non-proliferation regime.  Open discussions should be held with Iran to address the concerns pertaining to its influence in the Middle East and its role in regional crises.  It was up to the Iranians alone to pursue the path of peace, and however worrying the recent events were, they did not constitute a threat to international peace and security.  Change in Iran would not come from the outside, it would come from the Iranian people themselves.

PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) stressed that the holding of the meeting was not a welcome initiative and said that the Council was witnessing a blatant attempt to push forward issues that did not fall within its purview.  He rejected attempts by some delegations to push forward issues that did not constitute a threat to international peace and security, and rejected efforts to use the Security Council as a political tool to be exploited.  It was clear that the situation in Iran was not an issue that belonged on the Security Council’s agenda.  As had been seen time and again, unilateral action, political interventionism and regime change would only led to dramatic and negative consequences.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said that his delegation had been following the events in Iran and regretted the loss of life that had taken place, as well as the various acts of violence that had occurred.  It was important to respect the right of free expression and the right to peaceful demonstration.  Further, it was important to engage in preventive diplomacy and strengthen the Council’s role to prevent conflict and “nip crises in the bud” before they degenerated, based on the principles defined that relations between States and those contained in the United Nations Charter, including sovereignty and non-interference.  In recent years, there had been several cases of demonstrations and movements that were peaceful at first, which eventually became violent and undermined the stability in the region.  He noted that Iran was a neighbour to Kuwait, and his country was keen on maintaining friendly relations with its neighbours, based on sovereignty and non-interference.  The stability and security of Iran was linked to the stability and security of the region and the world.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that his Government was watching events in Iran closely, and called for an end to the violence and for the Government to comply with its international human rights obligations regarding the protests.  He noted that no one had forced Iran onto the agenda.  Rather, the Council was empowered through Article 34 of the Charter to investigate any dispute that might give rise to international friction.  The United Kingdom’s concerns regarding the human rights situation in Iran extended beyond the protesters, and included the death penalty and the weak rule of law in that country.  Iran should respect the rights of individuals to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.  It also had legitimate security interests in the region, and had suffered during the Iran-Iraq war.  Too often, however, its security interests were pursued in a way that destabilized others.  Those regional activities threatened international peace and security.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that he regretted the loss of life in Iran and highlighted that the freedom of expression and assembly were inalienable rights.  The Iranian authorities were duty bound to protect the human rights of individuals.  From the point of view of international peace and security, he believed that the Council should always be able to contribute to the prevention of conflicts.  To be credible, the actions of the Council should be based upon the unanimous consensus of Member States.  Persevering with non-proliferation was essential regarding Iran.  The root causes of conflict also needed to be dealt with that were long-standing and regional in nature, he said, noting the link between peace and security and development and human rights.

IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden) said the Council should constantly consider means to constructively follow-up on early warnings, although Sweden had reservations on the format and timing of today’s meeting.  Sweden expected the Iranian authorities to respond to protests in full compliance with Iran’s obligations under in international human rights law.  It also expected all concerned to refrain from excessive and disproportionate use of force, and for freedom of expression — including on the Internet — to be ensured and respected.  She added that human rights violations in Iran must be separated from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, whose continued implementation was crucially important for ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and for strengthening the global non-proliferation architecture.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), emphasizing that the Council had a responsibility to act early and decisively when fundamental freedoms were under threat, called upon the Government of Iran to exercise restraint when reacting to people exercising their human rights, to lift restrictions on fundamental freedoms, and to uphold the rule of law by holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable.  Dialogue was crucial, he added, both within Iran to address existing grievances, but also between Iran and the broader international community.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) emphasized that basic human rights and fundamental freedoms must be respected in line with international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran was a party to.  Based on its own historic experience, Poland encouraged all sides in Iran to engage in a peaceful dialogue as the best way to address the challenges faced by Iranian society.  He went on to invite the Iranian authorities and other States in the region to work towards de-escalating growing tensions and to avoid actions that might contribute to violence, sectarianism and polarization.

BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed that there had been a progressive return to calm on the ground in Iran, and called on the parties involved to continue down a path of dialogue to reach a peaceful resolution.  His country hoped that every effort would be made by the Iranian authorities to restore calm among the people and to continue in a spirt of dialogue and cooperation to implement the necessary economic reforms that should foster the country’s development.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said that his Government recognized the right of citizens to protest and underscored that such protests must be peaceful, people-led and lawful.  The human rights situation in Iran was not on the Security Council’s agenda and did not constitute a threat to international peace and security.  Issues related to human rights must be dealt with in the relevant forums established by the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) of the General Assembly.  Equatorial Guinea believed that any dispute that arose must be addressed through peaceful means, including consultation and dialogue, and believed that frank and inclusive dialogue was the only way the current situation in Iran could be resolved.  The Iranians themselves should be capable and entrusted with finding solutions to their own problems, making use of their democratic institutions with scrupulous respect for the rule of law.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) doubted whether the Council was the proper forum for a debate on the latest developments in Iran.  He found it troubling as it might not enhance the unity of the Council at a time when unity was critical.  The Middle East was an area where there was great need of taking advantage of whatever opportunities there were for diplomacy to work.  Everything should be done to ensure that Iran contributed to regional peace and stability.  That was critical for the developing world and Africa, particularly for the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

WU HAITAO (China) said that recent developments in certain parts of the Middle East were worrying.  Terrorist forces were rampant and spreading and posed serious challenges.  He hoped that countries of the region would work with the international community to improve the situation to achieve peace and development.  The principles of the Charter should be respected, as should the sovereignty of countries in the region.  The Palestinian issue was the core of the Middle East issue and the international community should adhere to the two-State solution.  The Council’s primary responsibility was maintaining international peace and security. It should not be the venue for discussing the human rights situation of any country.  The Iranian situation did not pose a threat to international peace and security, and discussing its domestic situation was not part of the Council’s responsibilities as outlined in the Charter.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the United States was abusing the platform of the Security Council.  He questioned why it was undermining the authority of the Council as the main body for maintaining peace and security, as it was obvious that the topic did not fall within the prerogatives established by the Charter.  The references heard today regarding Article 34 of the Charter were completely inappropriate, and it was unacceptable to use bogus pretexts to include in the agenda internal issues.  He regretted the loss of life in Iran due to the demonstrations that were not peaceful, but said that Iran should be allowed to deal with its own problems.  The Council should not be involved in destabilizing Iran.  Following the current logic, it should have held a meeting after the events in Ferguson, Missouri.  History was full of attempts to replace undesirable regimes, but people preferred not to remember that.  The real reason to convene the meeting was a veiled attempt to use the current moment to undermine the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, saying that his country considered the developments in Iran to be a domestic issue that did not fall under the mandate of the Security Council.  Nevertheless, he reiterated the importance of maintaining global stability worldwide, and in the Middle East, in particular, by reducing violence and preventing the emergence of new tensions.  Disputes should always be resolved by peaceful means to prevent the further escalation of violence, and in that context, Kazakhstan called on the Government of Iran to restore trust and mutual respect within its society, among all social groups involved.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said that the United States’ effort to bring before the Security Council the issue of the protests in Iran was an abuse of its power as a permanent member of the Council.  “It is unfortunate that despite the resistance on the part of some of its members, this Council has allowed itself to be abused by the current United States Administration in holding a meeting that falls outside the scope of its mandate,” he stressed.  It was a mistake for the Council to take up a matter that was of a purely domestic nature, while abjectly failing to lift a finger when it came to genuine issues, such as the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories, as well as the conflict in Yemen.

“This is nothing but another desperate attempt by the United States Administration to escape, as it has lost every shred of moral, political and legal authority and credibility in the eyes of the whole world,” he said.  There was a long history of United States bullying at the United Nations, and the case of the Iranian protest was a preposterous example of interference in the purely internal affairs of a nation.  The Iranian Government had peacefully addressed the protestors with the utmost respect, despite violent infiltrators and direct encouragement by foreign forces.  The United States had a long history of intervening in the internal affairs of Iran, including a continuous pattern of disruption in the democratization process in Iran.

In every country, security forces — whether they were police, gendarmes or national guardsmen — were present to ensure that protests remain peaceful, and Iran was no exception, he said.  However, while the United States accused Iran of “suppressing” protesters, one could only gasp at the hypocrisy when recalling that Occupy Wall Street protesters were beaten and dragged by United States policemen, or when National Guardsmen fired on and killed peaceful student protesters at Kent State University in 1968, as well as other examples.  Further examples of countries stifling protests could be found in recent years in France and the United Kingdom.  Yet, he did not recall any country bringing any of those reactions to protesters to the Council’s attention, let alone convening a debate on the issue.

There was hard evidence of the violence in Iran by a handful of the protestors being clearly directed from abroad, he said.  Elements from outside Iran, including instigators based in the United States and Europe were visible, including through the incitement of violence, the encouragement and training of people to use Molotov cocktails, the seizure of ammunition depots and the staging of an armed uprising.  United States President Donald Trump and other United States politicians had joined Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and its patrons in the region to openly incite and encourage violence.  Iran should demand a debate and investigation into how and why foreign elements were allowed to encourage and support unrest and violence in another sovereign country and founding member of the United Nations, without impunity.

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