Status of minorities




1.                In his last several reports the Special Representative has been urging the Government to establish a national minorities policy.  In this report he wishes to place this initiative within the international context.  To begin with, the Special Representative would refer to Commission resolution 2001/55 of 24 April 2001,which “reaffirms the obligation of States to ensure that persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities may exercise fully and effectively all human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities”.  The Special Representative notes that this resolution was adopted without a vote.  In this regard, he would also draw attention to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 2 November 2001.


2.                The Special Representative believes there can be no doubt that the treatment of minorities in Iran does not meet the norms set out in the Declaration on Minorities or in article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  See in this regard the concluding observation of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, following its examination of the initial report of Iran, that the treatment of minorities in Iran is one of its “principal subjects of concern” (E/C.12/1993/7 of 9 June 1993).  The Special Representative takes note of the writings on this subject of one distinguished Iranian legal scholar that the Iranian Constitution, in articles 15, 19 and 20 and elsewhere, in part expressly, in part implicitly clearly establishes the right of all Iranians to equality and fair treatment, and that this right has not been implemented in practice.  The Government must commit itself to addressing urgently the status of minorities in Iran as a whole and to bringing the conduct of Iran in this regard into line with recognized international standards, as well as with the Iranian Constitution.


3.                The Special Representative hears frequent reference to what is described as the Government’s implicit policy of assimilation.  It is asserted that such a policy was introduced first by Reza Shah, prior to which time Iran had been in practice a multicultural society.  The Special Representative has earlier observed that the original draft of the 1979 Constitution did acknowledge that Iran was a multicultural nation in naming the main ethnic groups that made up the country.  He would also note that as seen in the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration of the World Summit for Social Development, the right to be free from attempts at assimilation is emerging as an international norm.


4.                The Special Representative believes that at the first level the rights of minorities consist not only in the right to be free from discrimination but, put more positively, that there is now an obligation upon Governments to protect minorities against discrimination and procedural unfairness.  At a second level are certain positive rights, such as the use of minority languages in education and the media, and basic civil and political rights such as fair trial, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and of association.  The Special Representative draws particular attention to the provisions of the Declaration on Minorities in this regard.


5.                Information reaching the Special Representative suggests that very little meaningful action is being undertaken by the Government to this end.  The use of minority languages in the media is sporadic rather than substantive; the use of minority languages in the educational system seems minimal.


6.                Finally, the Special Representative has referred to the need to involve the minorities themselves in the preparation of a national minority policy, a right articulated in the Declaration on Minorities.  Whether or not it is accurate to characterize the prevailing atmosphere as one of Persian chauvinism, as some minority activists suggest, it is clear that the situation is discriminatory in many respects, as well as being incompatible with existing and emerging international norms.  The Government necessarily bears heavy responsibilities in this regard and needs to make an urgent start on a national minority policy.  For his part, the President is quoted as declaring that “Iran belongs to all Iranians”.


                                        Ethnic minorities


The Kurds


7.                The Special Representative has in several reports discussed the status of the Kurds.  He recognizes the difficulty of capturing the real situation in such matters as the treatment of minorities without access to the regions concerned.  The challenge of distinguishing local incidents from broader trends may be also more formidable in this context. 


8.                In his interim report to the General Assembly (A/56/278, paras. 82‑84), the Special Representative identified a number of indictors that conditions may be improving for the Kurds.  More recent information suggests that on balance, discrimination and repression continue to exist.  A number of specific allegations are set out in annex IV.


9.                In the political sphere, perhaps the most dramatic event was the attempted, and in the event withdrawn, collective resignation in October 2001 of all six members of the Majilis from the province of Kurdistan.  In a letter to the Interior Minister, the six said “unfortunately, Kurdistan province and the Kurds, especially Sunnis, are denied their legitimate rights, and executive officials are turning their backs to calls for justice on the political, economic, cultural and social issues they have brought out”.  Late in 2000, a Kurdish member of the Majilis had publicly alleged the existence of “a campaign of repression and serial killings” against the Kurdish community.



Representations concerning the status of the Kurds


The following is a list of specific complaints received by the Special   Representative:


Violent deaths of individual Kurds, apparently the result of reckless or intentional acts of the law enforcement forces;


the recent kidnapping and death of a popular local cultural figure;


Death sentences imposed and in most cases carried out against Kurdish activists;


The continuing refusal of the authorities to allow Kurdish to be taught at any level in schools in Kurdistan;


The limited use of Kurdish in the print and electronic media and, even then, usually a translation of Farsi material; the air time for Kurdish programming is “drastically shorter” than it was before 1979;


Various forms of economic discrimination, including access to jobs in general; in the case of the Piranshehr Sugar Company, the discharge in May 2001 of 80 per cent of the Kurdish employees by a non-Kurdish president and their replacement by workers of other ethnicities, “and those who collaborate with the Pasdaran”;


The use of Kurdish territory, particularly Kermanshah province, as a “resting place” for drug addicts, criminals and other difficult groups from around the country;


The disallowance of the election to the Majilis of two Kurds representing Orumieh and Naghade districts;


The gross underrepresentation of Kurdish districts in the Majilis, as also perhaps other districts dominated by other ethnic groups, as seen for example in the failure to add any new seats for Kurdish districts in the latest 5th Majilis redistribution.




10.           The Government of Iran is now openly recognizing the extent of the social problem generated by drugs in the country.  Official estimates are that 2 million persons out of a population of 65 million are now addicts.  Press reports suggest that over 100,000 persons in prison are there for drug‑related reasons (see para. 23).


11.           Iran also remains a major transit point for narcotics.  The extent of smuggling has reportedly made soft drugs as accessible as cigarettes, especially in border cities.  The efforts of the Iranian authorities to stop this traffic have been internationally recognized, but Iran is paying a high price in terms of human life and budgetary resources in this struggle.  The Iranian authorities have sought regional and international cooperation, cooperation which, according to the experts, is fundamental if real success is to be achieved As pointed out by the Special Representative in earlier reports, poverty and unemployment are major factors in the rise of drug trafficking and abuse.  Sistan va Baluchistan, a major transit area, is one of Iran’s poorest provinces.  As stated by one Tehran academic, those in the narcotics trade have few economic alternatives to smuggling.  The best job for local residents in some areas is working as a guard on a drug‑smuggling caravan.


12.           From the demand side, addiction is increasingly seen as an illness.  It is reported that this year a new Outpatient Clinic for the Treatment of Addictive Behaviour at the Zahedan Psychiatric Hospital has started experimenting with methadone treatment.




Economic, Social and Cultural Rights




13.           In the period under review the scarcity of jobs and the treatment of workers continued to draw public attention.  While a senior government official declared that unemployment had declined to 13.7 per cent between March and July 2001, the press was sceptical.  In June, one paper declared that, given the immense number of hidden, seasonal or unregistered jobless people, “independent experts believe the unemployment rate to be over 25 per cent.”  The press continues to carry frequent stories of unpaid salaries, sometimes stretching over many months.  Other stories report workers being laid off, in some cases in very large numbers, and sometimes being replaced by workers from contract companies.  There were also reports that some employers were resorting to short‑term contracts in order to avoid making worker insurance payments.  In October, the press carried a report of a demonstration of some 10,000 unpaid textile workers in Isfahan worried that a recent bill passed by the Majilis would reduce the number of textile enterprises and thus the need for textile workers.


14.           ILO is planning to conduct an assessment mission in February 2002 to develop a project in the area of employment creation for women.


15.           The President, for his part, continues to express concern about the employment situation.  In October 2001 he told the Majilis that 42 per cent of the mostly young people seeking jobs could not find them.  The Special Representative is concerned at the Government’s generally modest efforts to address what is one of Iran’s most serious economic problems, one that carries a devastating social and human cost.   


Religious Minorities





16.           In earlier reports, the Special Representative has described the complaints of the Sunnis about the discrimination they face (see for example his interim report to the General Assembly A/56/278, paras. 74‑75).  He would recall his earlier comment that underdevelopment seems to coincide with those areas of the country in which Sunnis are in the majority. 


17.           The Special Representative has now received an allegation of Government control over Sunni theological teaching in Kurdistan through an organization called “Great Islamic Centre in the West”, located in Sanandaj.  All Sunni students reportedly have to register with the Centre and the Government determines the place of teaching, the subjects, the number of students and the salaries of the teachers.  Such matters should clearly be in the hands of the Sunnis themselves.





18.           In the south of the area inhabited by the Kurds, there is a little known community called variously the Yaresan or “Al Haq”.  According to one scholarly writer, the Yaresan are Kurds who practise an apparent form of Zoroastrianism or Yezidism (the only uniquely Kurdish religion), but are labelled Muslems because they adopted several superficial features, including veneration of Ali, the fourth Caliph.


19.           The Special Representative has received representations from members of this community concerning local discrimination, both official and social, apparently based on their religion.


20.           The Special Representative has received only limited first‑hand evidence of the treatment of this community.  However, its existence seems to be widely accepted and its treatment to be consistent with the evidence he has received from other non‑Shi’ah communities.  The Special Representative urges the Government to recognize the existence of the Yaresan, to prevent discriminatory practices against them and to include their representatives in the National Religious Minorities Commission.


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