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Iran’s Obligations under International Law

T

he idea that education is a fundamental human right was first specified in 1948, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration states, in Article 26:

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The Declaration also establishes the right to freedom of religion, and it declares that:

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Iran was among the 48 members states of the United Nations in 1948 that unanimously adopted the Declaration. Iran also ratified two “covenants” on human rights, which essentially translate the rights spelled out in the Declaration into specific treaties, creating what is known as an “International Bill of Rights.”

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Iran on 3 January 1976, likewise restates each state’s obligation to uphold the right to education. In Article 13, the Covenant also specifically states that this right applies to access to higher education:

Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;

Further, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iran on 23 March 1976, re-states the right to freedom of religion, codifying it as a firm obligation to be upheld by state parties to the Covenant. The Covenant states in Article 18:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

Although these documents were signed before the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they remain in effect. Not only has Iran participated regularly in international reporting processes designed to uphold and reinforce these Covenants, it is a given that UN conventions remain binding on successive governments.

Yet, despite these and other obligations under international law, the government of Iran has persistently pursued its campaign of persecution against Iran’s Bahá’í community.

Fortunately, the international community has responded sympathetically to the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran, expressing concern for the Bahá’ís and condemnation of the Iranian government. The Bahá’í community believes that this outpouring has been a strong restraining force against the government, preventing deprivations on a much greater scale.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has passed more than 20 resolutions expressing concern about human rights violations in Iran, and each has made specific mention of the situation of the Bahá’í community there.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has passed more than 20 resolutions expressing concern about reports of human rights violations in Iran, and each has made specific mention of the situation of the Bahá’í community there.

Following the lead of the Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations General Assembly itself has since 1985 approved some 17 resolutions that have specifically mentioned the situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran and expressed concern over human rights violations there.

Virtually all of these resolutions have called on Iran to stop violating the rights of Bahá’ís and to abide by the various international covenants on human rights that the government has freely signed. UN resolutions have also called explicitly for the “emancipation” of the Bahá’ís of Iran.

Among the most salient features of the United Nations’ attention to the Bahá’í case has been the continuing investigations conducted by a succession of highly regarded human rights specialists. Each was appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights and given the mandate to probe into the human rights situation in Iran. And each has reported extensively on the real and serious nature of the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran, lending unimpeachable credibility to the Bahá’í case.

In their various reports to the Commission on Human Rights, these “Special Representatives” have expressed concern over the Iranian government’s efforts to deny Bahá’ís access to higher education.

In 2001, for example, Special Representative Maurice Copithorne noted that “the Bahá’í community continues to experience discrimination in the areas of, inter alia, education, employment, travel, housing and the enjoyment of cultural activities. Bahá’ís are still, in effect, prevented from participating in religious gatherings or educational activities.” He added that Bahá’ís also continue “to be denied access to higher education in legally recognized public institutions.”

More recently, in 2003, the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, Professor Abdelfattah Amor, a noted Tunisian legal expert, took note of the continuing confiscations, imprisonments, and efforts to block Bahá’í youth from receiving higher education, and concluded:

While noting some promised improvements in treatment of the Bahá’í minority, the Special Rapporteur is of the view that the measures taken by the Iranian authorities to end the persecution of Bahá’ís, including by non-State entities, and to guarantee them the same rights as any other Iranian citizen are still inadequate. He again reminds the Iranian authorities of the need to ensure respect for the relevant provisions of international law, including article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. In addition, as a religious minority, Bahá’ís are entitled to the respect due to all other religious minorities.

 

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