ISTANBUL — Iran has sent its most notorious prosecutor to this week’s
inaugural session of the new UN Human Rights Council, prompting an outcry
from human rights groups and the Canadian government.
Saeed Mortazavi has been the most public instrument of political repression
in Iran since 2000, when he began a crackdown on the media while serving as
As prosecutor general in Tehran, he has been accused of torture, illegal
detention, and other offenses that the UN body was formed to address.
The UN Commission on Human Rights, the body that the new council replaces,
was widely viewed as having lost credibility when it granted its rotating
chairmanship to countries widely regarded as the worst rights abusers.
Iran lost its bid for a seat on the new council, so its delegation in Geneva
this week for the inaugural session had only observer status.
“It’s really . . . hard to interpret his place in the delegation as
anything but an indication of contempt for human rights,” said Hadi Ghaemi,
a researcher at Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, which
called yesterday for Mortazavi’s removal from the Iranian delegation.
“The whole act is very provocative,” Ghaemi said.
Canada issued a statement expressing “disgust” at Mortazavi’s presence in
Ottawa recalled its ambassador from Tehran when one of its citizens was
beaten to death in June 2003 after being detained on Mortazavi’s orders.
“Two official Iranian government investigations found that Prosecutor
General Mortazavi ordered the illegal arrest and detention of Canadian
journalist Zahra Kazemi, which led to her torture and death,” Foreign
Minister Peter MacKay of Canada said in a statement. “He then falsified
documents to cover up his involvement in her case. Mr. Mortazavi has also
been involved in the harsh clampdown on the Iranian press and the arrests of
many Iranian journalists.
“By including Mr. Mortazavi in its delegation, Iran is trying to discredit
the council and deflect attention from the council’s goal of ensuring
greater respect for human rights,” MacKay said.
The International Federation of Human Rights, based in Paris, registered
“profound indignation” over Mortazavi’s presence in a letter to UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, also based in Paris, protested