“The plight of the Iranian people is getting worse…there is almost a complete decimation of civil society.”
This is the damning verdict of UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, who is spending the second year of his mandate at the University of Essex.
Dr Shaheed, a Visiting Fellow in the Human Rights Centre, last month published his third report and it paints a bleak picture of human rights violations in Iran.
Despite this, Dr Shaheed believes the Iranian Government is listening to criticism, and is hopeful that drawing on the expertise at Essex will assist his work on what he thinks is “a great nation with tremendous culture”.
It is not just the quality of research at Essex that attracted him – it is the link between research and practice. “Essex isn’t an ivory tower,” he said, “the work done here is closely linked with practitioners and there is a history of UN Special Rapporteurs based at Essex…this is the real draw card for me.”
The University’s commitment to Iran’s situation and the foundation of a new Human Rights in Iran Unit will inform Dr Shaheed’s work. “The situation in Iran cannot be properly addressed just on testimony. I must have access to previous knowledge and research on specific areas such as sharia law,” he explained.
Without being granted access to Iran, it is testimony that has so far shaped his work. For this report Dr Shaheed has conducted 99 interviews, 75 of which were first-hand accounts, with Iranians around the world.
Dr Shaheed’s top priority is the increasing rate of executions, 80 per cent of which are for drugs-related offences, and the absence of fair trial standards.
A revised Islamic Penal Code, which on paper offered some hope of progress, increases the number of crimes punishable by death while the laws relating to stoning are vague and open to abuse.
It is this lack of definition that Dr Shaheed feels is at the heart of Iran’s many human rights violations. He insists the country has the legal framework to meet international standards but without consistency and transparency Iran’s legal system cannot be respected.
This is an extract of an interview with Dr Shaheed in this month's Essex Quarterly magazine. Read the interview in full at: www.essex.ac.uk/essex_quarterly/issues/2012_november.pdf