The U.N. Human Rights Council is where some of the world’s most brutal regimes go to praise each other, whitewash their rights records, and take potshots at democracies—Israel, especially. On Tuesday, the council outdid itself by giving a platform to one of Iran’s leading torturers.
The speech from Justice Minister Alireza Avaei triggered a mass walkout of European diplomats, including Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a strongly worded condemnation. Alas, the U.N. human-rights system and this council, in particular, are beyond shame.
Avaei used his speech to rail against the alleged Western domination of the U.N. Yet the fact that Avaei was permitted to address the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in Geneva is proof that the world’s jackals and despots lord over the council.
The best guide to Avaei’s curriculum vitae comes via the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, a New Haven-based outfit that uses victim interviews and other documentary evidence to meticulously investigate rights abuses in the Islamic Republic.
An IHRDC report on the 1988 massacre of thousands of Iranian dissidents identifies Avaei as an “interrogator and torturer at a prison” in Dezful, in southern Iran. There, Avaei sat on the “death commissions” that carried out Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa ordering the regime to liquidate imprisoned leftists and members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK).
Mohammad-Reza Ashooq had been caught in the dragnet and sent to Avaei’s prison merely because he ideologically sympathized with the MEK. As he later remembered, Avaei was one of three men present at his death commission. After the interrogations were completed,
. . . they took us to the prison office and ordered us to leave our belongings there and sit down. They took each of us to a small room, one by one. [An interrogator told him:] ‘Write your will; you are to be executed.’ I told him that I would not. He said he’d return in 10 minutes and left. When he returned, he saw that I had not written anything down. He said, ‘There is no need.’ He and two or three other individuals blindfolded me and tied my hands and took me outside
[Later, while on a minibus en route to a military base, where the prisoners were to be executed,] they gave us camphor and a shroud. They ordered us to take our clothes off and wear the shroud. We could hear the screams of women who were sent to be executed. I wanted to escape through the bathroom window. I cautiously put on my street clothes again. [An interrogator] entered along with five or six other [guards]. They saw me with my street clothes on. They bound my hands, swore at me and dragged me outside while punching and kicking me. I fell on the floor. Again they loaded us onto the minibus. [An interrogator] ordered them to execute me with my street clothes on.
Ashooq survived by jumping out of the window of the minibus. But some 30,000 others didn’t, including children as young as 13.
Avaei’s career in torture and summary execution didn’t end there. Two decades later, as chief of justice of Tehran Province, he helped oversee the bloody crackdown against the pro-democracy Green Movement. This involved the operation of Kahrizak, a makeshift prison and interrogation camp where young dissidents were raped using batons and soda bottles. Two years later, the European Union sanctioned Avaei for his role in these events.
Now Avaei can boast of having addressed the Human Rights Council, thanks to a bankrupt U.N. system that treats democracies and dictatorships as morally equivalent, entitled to an equal say in human-rights matters.
Years of U.S. “engagement” under the Obama and Trump administrations have failed to improve matters. More than a decade since the council’s founding, 25 of its 47 members are classified as un-free or partly free by Freedom House. These include such human rights champions as China, Cuba, and Venezuela. Meanwhile, Israel remains the only state to be the subject of a permanent agenda item.
Haley, the U.S. envoy, says she is committed to pressing U.N. reform, especially at the council. But the best thing Washington can do is to pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council as it did earlier with UNESCO. Lending American legitimacy to this cruelly misnamed body sets back the noble cause of human rights.