Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian recently visited Geneva to attend the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on February 27. During his address at the session, several participants and representatives walked out in protest against the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown on protestors. The decision to invite Abdollahian to speak at the UNHRC turned into a point of contention and attracted criticism from various human rights organizations. Abdollahian’s trip to Geneva reflects Tehran’s attempts to change the nature of the discourse concerning its human rights situation.
The timing and context of Abdollahian’s visit also reflects Iran’s attempts to improve its image in front of the international community amid growing criticism from the West. A member of the Swedish Parliament Alireza Akhondi commented on Abdollahian’s presence in Geneva, “It’s a shameful day for the UN that they allowed representatives for a murderous regime to speak here about human rights.” Responding to a question from the press, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that Iran’s human rights record is “deplorable” and the Biden administration thinks that Abdollahian’s appearance in Geneva serves as a “disturbing reminder to the world of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime as it continues to violently suppress peaceful protests and flout the international community’s call for accountability.” UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran Javaid Rehman had earlier described the situation in Iran as a culmination of chronic immunity and “lack of redress for previous violations.”
During his speech Abdollahian said that no country had a perfect human rights record, adding that the idea of human rights is subjective. Abdollahian repeatedly drew parallels with the situation in Palestine in response to questions about the violent crackdown on protests in Iran. During a recent interview he touched upon the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and questioned the “double standards” of the Western media. Via these remarks, Abdollahian attempted to play on the heartstrings of the peoples of the Middle East and beyond by raising emotive issues that are unrelated to Iran’s human rights record. Abdollahian’s address at the UNHRC is reflective of Iran’s recent diplomatic maneuvers to minimize the damage of international isolation. In this context, a few important points can be observed. Firstly, the decision to invite Abdollahian spurred criticism from several human rights organizations. UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk had earlier appealed to respect lives and listen to the grievances of the Iranian people and his office had alerted the international community on how the Iranian regime was weaponizing criminal proceedings and the death penalty. Moreover, ever since the protests spread in Iran, the UN had on multiple occasions expressed concerns over the disproportionate use of violence against the protesters by the Iranian regime. Secondly, the responses from European countries reflect the diverging approaches amid pressure to take stringent measures against the Iranian regime. The public appeal by UN Watch on all UNHRC member states to walk out during Abdollahian’s address led to diverse responses. While some representatives and participants walked out in protest, others expressed their dissatisfaction about Abdollahian’s presence but remained seated throughout his speech. Thirdly, during his trip to Geneva, Abdollahian met several European counterparts as well as UN officials and representatives from other regional countries. It is also important to note that amid Abdollahian’s trip, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran invited IAEA officials to visit Iran amid continuing disagreements. Upon his return from Tehran, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said that Iran had agreed to restore the cameras and surveillance systems it had earlier removed from different nuclear sites. By reaching out to European leaders as well as to the UN and IAEA, Iran intends to open avenues for dialogue and de-escalate tensions as it is facing an extreme economic crisis, hence it is under severe pressure to keep its economy afloat. To conclude, it is quite apparent that the Iranian regime is under intense pressure because of its poor human rights record, which has been in the spotlight since the Iranian protests broke out after the killing of Mahsa Amini in September 2022. In addition, the cases of schoolgirls being poisoned have added further pressure on the regime, with accusations of it turning a blind eye to the cases or even being directly involved in the poisonings. Hence, the regime is in need of public relations stunts to attempt to improve its image in front of the Iranian people and the international community. It is clear that Abdollahian’s visit to Geneva did not achieve the intended aim, instead, there was much criticism of his presence and the Iranian regime’s violations were further highlighted by human rights organizations. The walking out of representatives and participants was a significant blow to the regime’s quest to improve its image as its record was exposed on the international stage. The regime’s violations are clear for everyone to see, with documentary evidence, so its attempts to improve its image are going to be in vain. Furthermore, its violations in Yemen, Iraq and Syria via its militias are also well-known and documented. The Iranian regime’s window dressing will not change the facts on the ground or blind global public opinion from the truth.