Torture and violence without impunity are among the abuses the Iranian regime has conducted against its own people, according to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 released last week. The report highlighted the turbulence of 2014 with continued unrest across the Middle East and the rise of terrorist groups.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in his approximately 10-minute address on June 25, highlighted the importance of the Human Rights Reports — reportedly the most widely read document the State Department produces each year — and several new global trends: the unique role of technology in combatting and perpetuating human rights violations; correlations between corruption, abuse and authoritarian regimes; and the increased brutality of nonstate actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which the reports referred to as Daesh.
“No development has been more disturbing than the emergence of such groups as Daesh, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab,” said Kerry. “The many, the litany of these human rights crimes for which these terrorists are responsible has become all too familiar and no less shocking — murder, torture, rape, religious persecution, slavery and more.”
Kerry described the reports as “a yardstick by which we can measure life itself.”
The annual document slammed Iran for a litany of human rights abuses, including incitement to anti-Semitism, violence against women, impunity of security forces and lack of an independent judiciary, among other serious charges. The Iranian government reportedly took few steps to investigate and hold officials accountable.
“With respect to Iran, I can’t say that we have seen any meaningful improvement in the human rights situation in Iran,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, who was tasked with answering press questions.
In particular, he referenced: “widespread reports of torture; political imprisonment; repression against ethnic and religious minority communities; government harassment of journalists, bloggers [and] activists.”
The Human Rights Reports was released less than a week before the P5+1 negotiations were set to conclude. Kerry boarded a plane the following day for Vienna for the continuation of negotiations.
Kerry was not made available for questions following his brief address. As he made his way off the podium, however, he did pause to answer one shouted question about his hopefulness on Iran.
Turning on his crutches to face the news media, he said, “I’m always hopeful. Yes, I’m hopeful. I’m not declaring optimism. I am hopeful.”
There was much speculation that the four month delay in the Human Rights Reports release was due in part to not wanting to offend Iran during the ongoing talks. Malinowski, following his own remarks, denied any conspiracy theory.
“At the outset of this process, we decided — the Secretary and I decided that we wanted to release the reports at a time when we would both be here to do it. And that is admittedly not a requirement, but it’s something that we felt was important to demonstrate our commitment, his commitment to this issue.”
With their hectic travel schedules, the date kept getting pushed back, Malinowski said.
“And each time, it was, ‘Well, no big deal, because we’ll do it next week, we’ll do it next week.”
And then Kerry had his injury, which again pushed back the timeline, he said.
Iran’s record on human rights, the assistant secretary insisted, were a “separate concern” from the nuclear talks.
“But we have made it absolutely clear that we — regardless of the outcome of the Iran talks, we are going to continue to speak up and stand out and stand up for human rights in Iran; that if any sanctions are lifted as a result of a nuclear deal, the human rights-related sanctions will remain in place,” said Malinowski.
In its assessment of Israel and “Israeli-occupied Golan Heights,” the country report noted that the most significant human rights issues were terrorist attacks on civilians, politically or religiously motivated violence, discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel, discrimination against women and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Discrimination, both institutional and societal, against non-Orthodox Jews, other religious minorities and intermarried families were addressed.
According to the report, the Israeli government took steps to prosecute officials and implemented reforms to increase accountability.
The report further acknowledged the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza and the discrepancy in the numbers of deaths of Palestinian combatants reported by the United Nations versus those reported by Israel.
A recent report issued by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict, which “gathered substantial information pointing to the possible commission of war crimes by both Israel and Palestinian armed groups,” according to a statement, was roundly criticized by the Israeli and United States governments.
“It is important to understand what happened, to learn the lessons, to apply those lessons. It’s also important to do it in a balanced way,” said Malinowski. “And it’s no secret that we have long felt that that balanced approach has not been a hallmark of the Human Rights Council’s approach to Israel.”
An annex to the Israel report detailed human rights conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.
Abuse and mistreatment of prisoners, restrictions on the press, violence against women, failure to condemn anti-Semitism, child abuse and discrimination against the LGBT community persisted in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.
Human rights abuses in Gaza under Hamas included security forces “killing, torturing, arbitrarily detaining, and harassing opponents, including Fatah members, and other Palestinians with impunity.” Terrorist organizations fired rockets and mortar attacks on Israel near or from civilian locations in Gaza. Public executions without trial, infringement on privacy rights and promotion of anti-Semitism were detailed in the report.
Violence by Israeli settlers, the Israeli Defense Forces restrictions on Palestinian movement to and from the territories, and reports of “excessive use of force against civilians, including killings; abuse of Palestinian detainees,” were noted.
Israeli authorities and the PA “took steps to address impunity or reduce abuses,” though there remained criticism. Impunity remained a “major problem under Hamas.”
Melissa Apter writes for Washington Jewish Week. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.