[PROVISIONAL TRANSLATION FROM PERSIAN]
[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets.]
[Personal information has been redacted.]
[The excerpt below is from the section of the article that pertains to the Baha’i Faith]
[Adapted from website:] Gooya News
[Date:] 4 Farvardin 1385 [24 March 2006]
United Nations Commission and Council on Human Rights, Shahrvand [newspaper] in Conversation With Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Baha’i Community at the United Nations
Last Monday, the UN Commission on Human Rights met in Geneva for the second consecutive Monday. …
The mission of the new Council is to identify and introduce human rights violators and assist countries in drafting human rights laws.
In this regard, Ms. Diane Ala’i, the representative of the Baha’i Community to the United Nations, who participated in the deliberations and the final vote on the resolution, gave an explanation to Shahrvand.
Ms. Ala’i said, “The Commission will hold its meeting on Monday, 27 March, to announce the end of its work”.
Representatives of the Regional Group, which includes representatives from the five regions of Asia, Africa, South America, Western Europe, and representatives of the Eastern Europe region and others (US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand), are debating whether the commission should address human rights issues or reduce their work to formalities.
Q. What are the structural differences between the new Council and the old Commission?
A. First, there were 53 members of the Commission and this number has dropped to 47 in the Council. Another matter is that the number of members of the Commission was not commensurate with the number of countries within the five regional groups; for example, the Asian group, which had more countries, had fewer seats in the Commission. The Council is supposed to resolve this imbalance.
But perhaps the most important difference between the structures of the Commission and the Council is that the 54-member body called ECOSEC elected the members of the Commission, but now the UN General Assembly will elect the members of the Council.
Q. What is the required number of votes to be elected?
A. Formerly, a relative majority of the 54-member body was sufficient, but now an absolute majority of the members of the General Assembly is required. This means that each country that is to become a member must get at least 96 positive votes.
Q. For what period of time are members elected?
A. For a period of three years. Of course, the same was true for the Commission. There is a vote each year and the General Assembly elects one-third of the members. Each country can only be a member for two terms of three years, after which it must not be elected for at least one year.
Q. Those NGOs who wanted to participate in the formal negotiations of the Commission had to get permission from a small committee of 56 countries. In this Committee, with regard to members such as Iran, Egypt, and Cuba―those countries which do not have a proper human rights record―has there been a change in this regard, or is Iran still taking part in decision making, and does an Iranian human rights group have the right to participate in the Commission?
A. No change has been announced in this regard yet. The resolution leaves all decisions regarding dealing with NGOs to the Council. The fact is that according to UN regulations, NGOs are very limited and do not even have the right to contact governments and provide opinions, and only have the right to participate. [Previously,] a tradition was formed according to which NGOs had a much wider scope of action. At the same time, although the Council operates under the auspices of the United Nations, it does not necessarily have to act in accordance with its constitution. In any case, on the subject of your question, the Council will make its decisions.
Q. My point is, will the power of countries with a negative human rights record in the Council diminish?
A. Incidentally, in this regard, the US representative John Bolton voted against the Council resolution. Mr. Bolton said this resolution does not sufficiently limit the powers of human rights abusers. It was on this basis that the United States proposed that for membership in the Council, two-thirds of the votes of the members of the General Assembly will be required.
Q. But the vast majority of countries in the world, especially Europeans, who have a more positive record overall, voted in favour?
A. Yes. Their argument is that whenever the members of the Council are elected by an absolute majority of the members of the Assembly, it will be a step towards refinement. At the same time, two-thirds of the members of the Council can dismiss an elected member of the Council. The criterion for doing so was to expel from the Council any country that was deliberately violating human rights. The Iranian representative took part in the debate and called for a definition of systematic human rights violations so that the clause would not be politically abused. Of course, we know that Iran always raises the issue of political abuse.
The other matter is that the countries that are candidates for membership in the Council must voluntarily promise that they will provide facilities for the control of the human rights situation in their territory; for example, they would allow the presence of a special rapporteur or join the treaties, and so on.
Q. As a final question, let us turn to one of the recent United Nations reports on the Baha’is of Iran. On 20 March, the United Nations religious affairs officer expressed concern over the situation of the Baha’is in Iran in a report. What is the basis for this new concern?
A. As we have been informed and in the report of Ms. Asma Jahangir, recently, in a letter written to the Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards and the Police, during which Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, instructed the Command Headquarters to identify the followers of the Baha’i Faith and to monitor their actions. The letter, which is strictly confidential, instructs its recipients to collect all information about Baha’is.
The special rapporteur’s concern that the information collected may be the basis for further persecution and discrimination against Baha’is is based entirely on facts.
Naturally, we are very worried.
As you probably know, the Tehran-based [newspaper] Kayhan has recently published nearly thirty articles against the Baha’i community and its beliefs. These articles have a provocative tone and have attempted to discredit the Baha’i community. Attacks on Baha’is and their beliefs have intensified on radio and television.
Ms. Ala’i, thank you.
Interview: 21 March 2006