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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK
UN criticises Iran's human rights
President Khatami
President Khatami's reforms are being undermined
By the BBC's Eurasia analyst Malcolm Haslett

Iran's human rights record is improving slightly, but this limited progress is being undermined by a serious clamp-down on the independent media, according to a United Nations report.

The findings, published by the UN's special investigator on Iran, Maurice Copithorne, highlight the disappearance and murder of intellectuals, journalists and politicians.

His report says that Iranian prisons remain full and executions are still "suspiciously high", and suggests there is growing evidence of the use of torture by law enforcement agencies.

However, Iran has denounced the report as one-sided. A foreign ministry spokesman says it is "an interference in Iran's internal affairs".

The report is completely one-sided and has been prepared without considering the realities

Hamid Reza Asefi, Iranian spokesman
Mr Copithorne also criticises Iran's institutional framework, particularly the powerful Guardian Council, which he says is a major barrier to a more tolerant society.

Democracy 'growing'

The UN's special rapporteur on Iran, Maurice Copithorne has not been permitted into Iran since 1996.

An experienced Canadian lawyer, Mr Copithorne corresponds with the authorities in Teheran.

On the positive side he reports that "electoral democracy continues to grow".

In recent years Mr Copithorne has welcomed moves by President Khatami to make the government more accountable to citizens.

The parliamentary elections of February were a further important step in this direction, he said.

Disidents 'disappear'

But reformers face formidable opponents.

Khatami supporters
February's elections help to make government more accountable

The most dramatic and far-reaching development this year, the UN special rapporteur says, is the accelerating attack on press freedom.

Mr Copithorne notes that almost the entire reformist press has been shut down.

A promised reform of the judiciary has also not got off the ground.

Mr Copithorne also deplores the fact that the disappearance and murder of prominent intellectuals and dissident politicians are not being properly investigated

This is giving credibility to the view that an open enquiry would lead to persons in high places, Mr Copithorne says.

Barrier to progress

The UN is particularly critical of the powerful Guardians Council, made up of senior clerics and lawyers, which is supposed to ensure strict adherence to the Islamic constitution

According to Mr Copithorne the unelected Council is known for its "capricious conduct".

In his opinion it represents a major obstacle to making the government more accountable to people.

Rejecting the UN's findings, Hamid Reza Asefi, of Iran's foreign ministry says they will be preparing a "detailed and substantive response" to the United Nations.

The report is "completely one-sided and has been prepared without considering the realities and the huge positive changes which have come with the stabilisation of the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said.

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See also:

21 Sep 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
17 Oct 00 | Middle East
Rape and murder on rise in Tehran
29 Sep 00 | Middle East
Conviction of Iranian lawyers condemned
18 Sep 00 | Middle East
Iran's intelligence chief sacked
09 Sep 00 | Middle East
Reformist paper goes national in Iran
21 Aug 00 | Middle East
Khatami criticises press clampdown
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