When the UN convenes, it is imperative to hold Iran accountable for the murder of Mahsa Amini

The first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder on Sept. 16, 2022, couldn’t come at a better time: It coincides with the commencement of the UN General Assembly’s 78th session— the perfect time to hold Iran’s feet to the fire.

One year ago, Iran’s morality police arrested 22-year-old Mahsa simply because a few strands of her hair were flowing free of her hijab.

Three days later, she was dead.

Her death sparked a women-led revolution, despite the high levels of state repression in the country.

A full year of mass protests against the mandatory hijab law and unequal treatment of women.

A year of merciless executions, sham trials and widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions.

And most important, a year of the Iranian people bravely determined to oust Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. 

The eerie timing of the anniversary of Amini’s murder as UNGA gathers to discuss human rights and global issues serves as an important reminder of what we in the human-rights world see every day: The United Nations isn’t doing its job.

Then again, it’s hard to do one’s job — to discuss, debate and make recommendations on subjects pertaining to international peace and security — when you hand the very people committing the horrors a seat at the table. 

The UNGA is now largely a space for dictatorships and human-rights violators to discuss and voice their opinions on how best to protect them.

Those in attendance include Vladimir Putin, who’s waging war crimes in Ukraine; the Chinese Communist Party, which is engaged in genocide against the Uyghur people; the Cuban regime, which continuously cracks down on any slight dissent; and many other serial human-rights violators.

These dictators sit smugly alongside democratic leaders at the place where human-rights treaties were born. 

It’s a tragic joke, really. And no one’s more pleased than the Islamic Republic.

In a complete slap in the face to the Iranian people, the regime was elected as one of the vice presidents of the UNGA.

Heidar-Ali Balouji, the first counselor of the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic to the UN, was elected as the rapporteur of the first committee, where he is to lead conversations on disarmament and global threats to international security.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic arms some of the biggest war criminals in the world, including Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, not to mention the violence it commits against its own people. 

It takes foreign hostages, promotes terror abroad and seeks nuclear weapons.

And the situation in Iran isn’t improving.

Quite the contrary. 

Late last year, 290 schools across 28 provinces saw mass poisonings of school girls in an attempt to stifle dissent.

In July, news broke that the morality police were employing mass surveillance tactics, including CCTV, to target 1 million women for not wearing headscarves.

The regime declared that it will deny medical care to women who refuse to wear hijabs.

Recently, Iranian actress Afsaneh Bayegan was ordered to visit a psychological center once a week to “treat her anti-family personality disorder” after she posted photos of herself unveiled on Instagram. 

Effectively countering regimes like Iran is the reason the UN Declaration of Human Rights was passed and the ultimate reason the UN was created.  

By giving the Iranian regime a spotlight on the global stage, the UNGA legitimizes human-rights abusers and, in turn, their abuse — while ignoring the millions who’ve risked their lives demanding human rights, democracy and equal treatment of women and men.

Rather than giving the dissidents, protesters and those in exile a voice, their oppressors get the stage. 

While Iran and other dictatorships sit at the United Nations as equals to their democratic counterparts there, the women of Iran can’t leave their houses without a hijab, for fear of not returning home alive.

The men know singing a song could land them in prison for life.

Children know if things don’t change, their futures will not look much brighter than that of their parents.

When will the UNGA live up to the human rights the body claims it promotes?

When will it support those living in dictatorships like Iran and hold their unelected leaders accountable?

How many more times do we have to ask?

How many more people have to die?

Claudia Bennett is a legal and program officer at the Human Rights Foundation.

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