United Nations submission alleges “constant cruelty” towards dual nationals held in Iran

  • Date

    Thu 2 May 19

Students at the Essex Human Rights Centre Clinic have provided support for a legal submission filed at the United Nations (UN) on behalf of seven dual and foreign nationals held in Iran, accusing their captors of “constant cruelty” and “a systemic practice of arbitrary detention”.

The seven detainees named in the submission include Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held since her arrest in April 2016 and subsequently sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on spying charges.

The submission describes the current practice in Iran as “hostage-taking” and argues that the detainees’ “fundamental human rights are being violated as part of a concerted effort by Iran to use them for diplomatic leverage.”  

It calls on Iran to investigate the abuses detailed and to release all dual and foreign nationals who have been arbitrarily detained.

The students have been working with Dr Carla Ferstman, of our School of Law. Dr Ferstman has been working with some of the detainees’ families for over three years.

Dr Ferstman said: “While some of these names are already well known, this submission makes clear that they are not isolated cases. The Iranian state has a pattern of behaviour in relation to dual and foreign nationals involving arbitrary detention, mistreatment and the attempt to use them as bargaining chips when negotiating with their governments. Recognition and condemnation, by the international community, of this behaviour would be an important step in bringing it to an end.”

Five postgraduate students were involved in background research for the submission. They looked at relevant international human rights law, previous UN decisions and the Iranian prison system, helping Dr Ferstman to draft the final 5000 word submission.

The students involved also met with Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband. Floriane Borel, who is studying for an MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights, said: “Meeting Richard Ratcliffe was an emotional experience. Nazanin has been in prison for three years. She was initially held in solitary confinement. Her daughter was one year old when her mother was taken away. Hearing the impact on that family made the situation really tangible.”

The submission, which was supported by the UK-based Centre for Supporters of Human Rights, founded by Nobel Prize winner Dr. Shirin Ebadi, and the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a non-profit based in the USA, has been delivered to the UN as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The UPR reviews the human rights of all 193 UN Member States every five years. It will consider the submission as part of its review of the human rights situation in Iran, on November 8.

The charges levelled against Iran include fabrication of evidence, the staging of ‘sham trials’ and the filming of forced confessions, which are then broadcast on state television. 

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are, the submission claims, failing to disclose evidence and denying prisoners basic rights in terms of health, family contact and legal representation.

The submission is made on behalf of family members of the seven dual nationals. Its claims are based on testimony from the families and research published since the last UPR, in 2014. The detainees named in the submission represent about a quarter of the 30 or so foreign or dual nationals known to have been detained in Iran since 2014, although the actual total is believed to be considerably higher.

Floriane Borel said: “The UPR process provides for greater accountability, so participation in it is really important. This process is still quite new, so helping to draft this submission has been a really valuable experience.”

“The United Nations has, in the past, responded strongly where systematic abuses have been identified. Dealing with Iran is complicated but our hope is that the international community will stand with the detainees and call out these practices.”

The University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre Clinic was founded in 2009. It enables students to apply their human rights knowledge to practical situations, working in partnership with a range of external organisations and governments.