Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity to speak about Iran. I would like to repeat how Iranians have welcomed the lifting of sanctions, particularly since it has enabled them to produce medicine and vaccines locally, at a lower price, which saves lives. For that, I am most grateful.
However, for many of us there remains a deep concern about the continuing human rights transgressions in Iran. Iran signed the Geneva conventions in 1957 and voted in favour of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a signatory, there is an expectation that the Government would respect human rights across the board. Sadly, this is not the case: detainees and prisoners report acts of torture and other ill treatment, particularly during primary investigations when “confessions” and other incriminating evidence are extracted without their having a lawyer to help them.
A new code of criminal procedures, which entered into force in June, introduced some safeguards, including a central electronic register of detainees held in each province. However, the new code does not provide adequate protection against torture and fails to bring Iranian law into conformity with international law. The code does not even guarantee individuals adequate access to an independent lawyer from the time of arrest, even though this is a legal requirement for protection against torture and other ill treatment. No specific crime of torture is defined in Iranian law, and the new code does not establish detailed procedures for investigating torture allegations. While, according to the code, statements obtained through torture are not admissible evidence, that remains a general objective without any detailed provisions to secure it.
The UN Human Rights Committee has confronted the Iranian Government with grave violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. According to the special rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly and Human Rights Council, the Islamic penal code continues to justify serious human rights violations perpetuated by Iranian officials, including members of the judiciary. Many provisions of the penal code violate Iran’s international human rights obligations by criminalising the peaceful exercise of fundamental rights. Given these serious shortcomings, surely it would be helpful, at this time of rapprochement, for the Government to raise these fundamental concerns.
I would like to focus in particular on the case of Iranian-born Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella. Nazanin was seized by Iranian revolutionary guards on 3 April at the Imam Khomeini Airport as she was travelling back to Britain after a trip to visit her family. She was detained in a secret location and, after a secret trial where she was unable to apply for advocates to defend her, Nazanin was given a five-year sentence and imprisoned. Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed its concerns for Nazanin’s welfare and urged the UK Government to secure her freedom. In the meantime, Nazanin’s health has gravely deteriorated. The British Government’s apparent inability to secure her release gives cause for concern.
We know that the Iranian Government are seeking to carve a better relationship with the West and are likely to take note and react positively to interventions by western Governments. This was the case in September this year when the combined efforts of the Canadian, US and Oman authorities facilitated the release of Professor Homa Hoodfar, an Iranian-Canadian colleague of mine who had been detained since June in Tehran’s Evin prison. She had travelled to Iran in February to see her family and continue her research working with Iranian women. I urge the Government to take a similar approach and ask them what discussions they have had with the Government of Iran concerning the treatment of human rights campaigners in general. In the light of the recent resumption of consular relations between Britain and Iran, surely it is fair to expect that the Government will make full use of those services. They should begin by securing consular rights for all British citizens, to stop this happening to innocent families in the future. But the specific circumstances surrounding Nazanin’s prosecution require immediate attention, not only to save her life but to enable academic researchers, journalists and human rights activists to report on conditions in Iran and help safeguard the rights of Iranian and British visitors to the country.
Having spoken truth to power all my life, I find that in this country I am invited to apply to join your Lordships’ House. I fear that in my own birthplace I would be put in prison and maybe the UK Government would not be able to help.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Afshar has set the scene powerfully and eloquently for today’s important debate, not least because her own deep personal experiences and knowledge of Iran equip her so admirably to do so.
On 17 November, a symposium was held in your Lordships’ House, looking at the human rights situation in Iran. It was organised by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. During that symposium, I pointed out, as my noble friend has just done, that Iran had been one of the 48 countries that voted for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—although notably, not least in the light of the Foreign Secretary’s recent speech, Saudi Arabia did not. But, by 1982, Iran’s representative to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, said that Iran had come to see the declaration as a,
“secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition”,
which Iran could not implement without being in conflict with sharia law.
Today, Iran is in breach of most of the declaration’s 30 articles. But here is the hopeful thing: many Iranians do not want these egregious violations of human rights to continue. A 10-point manifesto published by the NCRI’s president, Maryam Rajavi, sets out a programme which would transform Iran. In it she states her commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to other international instruments. She calls for the abolition of the death penalty, the creation of a modern legal system and the independence of judges. The manifesto says:
“Cruel and degrading punishments will have no place in the future Iran”.
Madam Rajavi would end Tehran’s funding of Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups and is committed to peaceful coexistence, relations with all countries and respect for the United Nations charter.
All this matters because it is clear that this ancient nation, a cradle of civilisation, should not be caricatured as being wedded to the fanaticism, intolerance and hatred promoted by many of Iran’s present leaders. An Iran that upheld respect for difference and promoted toleration, democracy, diversity, equality, human rights and the rule of secular law would be an Iran respected and honoured throughout the world, instead of which, let us be clear about the nature of a brutal regime, which last year executed 1,000 people.
The Home Office country guidance published in March is a damning indictment. It says:
“Human rights defenders in detention are subject to solitary confinement, denied access to adequate medical treatment, face harassment, interrogation and torture … Freedom of speech is limited … and those critical of the government may be subject to arrest, harassment, monitoring, detention, unfair trials, death threats and torture”.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office report notes that:
“Hundreds of human rights defenders and political prisoners continued to be … detained in Iran”.
In February 2015, the United Nations Secretary-General reported that:
“Human rights defenders, lawyers, students and women’s rights activists, journalists and trade unionists … continue to face restrictions, arrest, conviction and imprisonment for exercising their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and opinion”.
In October, Ban Ki-moon delivered a further damning assessment, highlighting the “alarming rate” of executions, and saying that little progress had been made under President Hassan Rouhani. The US State Department’s annual report on human rights practices notes:
“The law limits freedom of speech, including by members of the press”,
and that individuals were not permitted to,
“criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion”.
Freedom House says in its 2016 annual report:
“The judicial system is used as a tool to silence critics and opposition members”.
The position of LGBT and women’s rights activists, who are treated as “enemies of the state”, is downright appalling. In August, it was reported that the Iranian authorities had intensified their repression of women’s rights activists in the country, carrying out a series of harsh interrogations and likening any collective initiative relating to women’s rights to criminal activity. Women in Iran are subject to pervasive discrimination in both law and practice, including in areas concerning marriage, divorce, child custody, freedom of movement, employment and access to political office. Women and girls are inadequately protected against domestic and other violence, including early and forced marriage and marital rape. Compulsory “veiling”—hijab—laws empower police and paramilitary forces to regularly target women, including through harassment, violence and imprisonment.
In October, the Independent reported on the case of Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, a young female Iranian author and human rights activist who has been jailed for six years for writing an unpublished novel about stoning. Then there is the case of Maryam Akbari Monfared, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. She is being denied access to medical treatment and is facing reprisals after filing a formal complaint that seeks an official investigation into the mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings, in the summer of 1988, evidence of which has been seen by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Simultaneously, the human rights defender Mansoureh Behkish is facing trumped-up national security charges for peacefully defending the right to truth and justice concerning those mass killings of political prisoners, including her siblings and brother-in-law.
Think, too, about the massive violations of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief. On 30 November, a group of 19 human rights organisations called on the international community and United Nations to particularly protect the rights of Christians in Iran. This reinforces the findings of the Westminster all-party inquiry into Article 18 issues in Iran, in which I participated last year. After taking evidence and witness statements, the committee concluded:
“Sadly, we have been disappointed that”,
“positive promises and moderate language have not translated into any meaningful improvement”.
Many of the report’s recommendations apply to Iran’s other suffering religious minorities, such as the Baha’is, Sufi dervishes and Sunni Muslims.
That the situation has not improved in the intervening 12 months is illustrated by the cases of Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Mohamad Dehnay, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary and Amir Sina Dasht. During the summer they went fishing and to have a picnic with their wives and friends. Security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security raided the picnic and arrested the five men, detaining them in the notorious Evin prison. One is an ethnic Assyrian but the other men are Iranian converts from Islam, and it is believed that their arrest and detention relates to their Christian faith. Vast sums of money are required for bail and two of them remain incarcerated awaiting trial, unable to raise the bail money.
Take also the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and three others, all arrested on charges of action against national security. Three of them face charges related to consumption of alcohol for drinking wine during a communion service. After a court hearing on 10 September, they were each sentenced to 80 lashes—a barbaric and inhumane punishment. Their appeal hearing is scheduled for 9 February.
Take, too, the position of Baha’is. Repression against them has accelerated in the past few months, not least during the celebration of their religious festivals. The Iranian state has recalibrated its long-standing tactics in pursuit of its ideological goal of extirpating a viable Baha’i community in the land of its birth through economic means. Can the Minister comment when she comes to reply on the closure of Baha’i businesses and on the hate crimes that led in September, in an appalling act of violence, to Farhang Amiri, aged 63, being murdered outside his home? A Baha’i, he was stabbed to death by two men, who admitted they had attacked him because of his religious beliefs.
Finally, what about the case that my noble friend raised of the Iranian-British charity worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? In September, the Iranian regime sentenced her, as we heard, to five years’ imprisonment. On 6 September, I raised her case on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. Indeed, many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Beith, who is in his seat, the noble Lords, Lord Cotter, Lord Bruce and Lord Campbell, have also made representations on her behalf. I ask again today about her physical and mental health and that of her little daughter and, as my noble friend Lady Afshar asked, about consular access. Can the Minister tell us what progress we are making in securing her release and say something more generally about the position of dual nationals in Iran?
To conclude, contrary to promises of reforms and a more open society made by Hassan Rouhani when he took over the presidency almost four years ago, the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate on very many fronts. Britain has restored diplomatic relations with Iran. My noble friend’s question enables us to ask today: how are we using that leverage, and what priority are we giving, to promote human rights in this deeply repressive country?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, for providing us the opportunity to discuss human rights issues in Iran and recent negotiations on lifting sanctions, two days before International Human Rights Day.
I am neither a Shia nor a Persian but I speak as a friend of Iran, who has visited this beautiful country on many occasions. During my visits to Iran, I had the pleasure of meeting many senior politicians in recent years, and I must be one of the very few British parliamentarians who has met with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. His eminence very warmly welcomed me to Iran, acknowledging the fact that I am a British parliamentarian of Muslim heritage and he extended his greetings.
I will touch upon the subject of human rights violations and the imprisonment of human rights activists in Iran, and the question of how we address some of these problems and deal with specific issues. However, it is important to have an understanding of Iranian culture and the country’s proud history. Sadly, there are human rights violations and problems around the world, and Iran is not the only country where Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists have campaigned in relation to individuals and groups.
The human rights situation in some other parts of the world, including Middle Eastern countries, is growing worse day by day. We can see brutality from Indian forces in Kashmir, where the UNHCR has been refused entry to investigate human rights violations, and where there have been court cases against Amnesty International, which has been ordered to close its offices in India. We have seen children being bombed by their own Government in Syria, and children in Yemen being bombed by Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday just this week, 15 people were sentenced to death for espionage in Saudi Arabia, allegedly for spying for Iran, and 15 others were sentenced to long prison sentences.
In the United States, Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Harvard University graduate of Pakistani heritage, was sentenced to 86 years in prison for allegedly being involved with a terrorist organisation and with non-state actors working against the US in Afghanistan. She is not mentally fit to undergo this sentence and has been under a psychiatrist for many years. We are aware that President-elect Donald Trump is openly supporting waterboarding and other forms of torture. We also know that political opponents have been badly treated in central Asian republics, as well as in many other parts of the world, under the guise of “terrorism”.
I recently agreed to sign a letter in relation to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe—the wife of Richard Ratcliffe, whom I had the pleasure of meeting yesterday in Parliament—Mr Kamal Foroughi and Ms Roya Nobakht. This letter has been signed by 160 parliamentarians so far. I have raised the issue of Mr Kamal Foroughi at the request of his son, who asked me to make representations on his behalf. My friends in Iran had assured me that Mr Foroughi would be released, and I am confused as to why this has not happened. He is an old man and all his family live in the UK. There is no evidence of spying or of being in breach of any Iranian law.
The noble Lady Baroness, Lady Afshar, has a much better understanding of Persian culture and the political situation in Iran than do many of us. We are aware that the Iranian Government do not like any criticism or open campaigning against the state and its laws, and therefore there are sensitivities in relation to some of our concerns. I am aware that many in the Iranian Government believe that sanctions are like a blockade and that a blockade is like a declaration of war. They believe that for the last 10 years Iran has been in a state of war. Reporting anything about certain issues is seen as sharing information and hence as espionage. We can all disagree with them but that is the situation.
I am sure that threats of abandoning the nuclear deals or imposing new sanctions and continued pressure on the Iranian authorities could have the opposite effect and cause relations in certain quarters to worsen. We have already seen co-operation between Iran and Russia in Syria, with Iranian airbases being used by Russia to bomb the Syrian Opposition. A new regional alliance emerging between Turkey, Russia, Iran and Pakistan could create new challenges.
We have to accept the importance of Iran as a growing regional player and a country that has huge influence on Shia Muslims around the world. We can try to improve our relations with Iran in order to find solutions for Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Afghanistan. We also need to help reconcile the two major regional Islamic powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to find peace and prosperity in the region and in those countries that are under their influence. I held these views long before Boris Johnson’s recent speech, reported in the Guardian this morning.
In conclusion, I want to pay tribute to our diplomats around the world, who work hard to free human rights defenders and raise the difficult issue of human rights. However, will Her Majesty’s Government review their policy of not representing dual nationals in countries such as Iran, where that country does not recognise the dual nationality and individuals cannot abandon their nationality of heritage because it would be very difficult for them to obtain a visit visa and claim property rights from their family? Can the Minister say whether there has been any dialogue between the Iranian authorities and Her Majesty’s Government to secure release for our citizens, and whether there is a dialogue with the Iranian authorities on long-term solutions for Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain?
My Lords, I beg the House’s indulgence that I might speak briefly in the gap. I do so as the co-chair of the International Bar Association’s Institute of Human Rights. I want to say first that I too am concerned about the position of Nazanin Ratcliffe, and would like to hear from the Minister to what extent we are making intercessions on her behalf. I hope that there might be some news on that front from the Government.
In the light of the speech made by my noble friend Lord Ahmed, I start by saying that those of us who are committed to creating a world that adheres to human rights standards and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights do not pick and choose. We have to be absolutely clear that we are criticising abuses wherever we see them. I know that everyone who has spoken tonight does that without regard for who is involved. Where we see abuses, it is our responsibility to speak out. That is why we have got to our feet today. We should not pussyfoot around the horrors that we see, even when we are trying to draw some nations in to a greater proximity around peacekeeping.
I greatly support the nuclear negotiation and am very glad to see that we have re-established a connection with Iran. I believe it is very important that we are involved in closer dialogue, because Iran’s role in this region is vital. However, it is also imperative that in our discussions with Iran, we talk about the responsibilities that adherence to the rule of law brings. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Alton, describe the circumstances in which people end up in Evin prison, without having had a proper trial or access to lawyers and so on, and that is something that we must not allow to go unremarked upon in our discussions about ending sanctions.
The International Bar Association is only too aware of the fact that, too often, people have what very clearly does not conform to the idea of a fair trial: people do not know fully what the evidence against them is, people do not have lawyers to represent them and so on. I remind the House of Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer who was given the Nobel Peace Prize not that long ago. I happen to know her now because she came to speak at the School of Oriental and African Studies and was given a degree when I was the president there, and I have met her on a number of different occasions since then. Her life is now wretched. It is wretched because of the way she was treated having received this accolade from the world for being a lawyer who championed the human rights of women, was seeking to interpret sharia law in a fair and more just way, and was advocating the rights of children. Because she was doing that, she was given this acknowledgement by the world, and it made her an even greater enemy of the people. She had been in prison and is now unable to return to her country. She has written about it. This has destroyed her marriage with her husband, from whom she is now divorced because he was forced to publicly condemn her. She is suffering a most wretched existence now, as a result of what has happened to her, and it was because she was a human rights lawyer. She had been a judge, but had to step down.
I remind this House that we have a duty to speak out. That is one thing that we can do during the course of these negotiations about sanctions.
I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, for initiating this debate. It is now one and a half years since the Iran nuclear deal—a big step forward, as we have heard in the debate, in bringing Iran back into the international community, with all the obligations and responsibilities that that entails. I put on record my appreciation of the excellent work that my noble friend Lady Ashton undertook in achieving this landmark agreement to deliver greater stability in an ever-fragile world.
I suspect, however, that the challenge we now face is how the deal will hold. In the US presidential campaign, President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly dismissed the joint comprehensive plan of action and the nuclear deal. His view was that it gave too much away in offering sanctions relief and was too generous, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said. Some of the policies he espoused could have the complete opposite effect that we seek in this debate. Of course, as the deal is not a treaty ratified by the Senate, it is not binding on any Administration, so in January, a Trump Administration could render it null and void simply by declaring it so. What assessment have the Government made of the potential effects of a Trump presidency on the current arrangements and our future relationship with Iran?
We all know, especially after hearing the secret recordings of the Foreign Secretary, that any solution in Syria will involve Iran. There is no doubt that this will also apply to tackling the long-term problems of Daesh and al-Qaeda. Have the improved diplomatic relations with Iran strengthened the UK’s approach to tackling security concerns around al-Qaeda and Daesh? I also emphasise what the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, said: whatever the gains of such an improved relationship, they must not be at the expense of our responsibility to challenge Iran’s obligations under international law on human rights. As we have heard, sadly, the truth is that since July 2015, opponents of the regime have continued to be executed. Religious minorities continue to be persecuted. LGBT people have been victimised and murdered with impunity.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted, according to the UN, at least 966 people were sent to the gallows last year. Most of their cases related to drug offences. However, that hides some really perverted forms of jurisdiction. As my noble friend pointed out, there are no fair trials, certainly not to international standards of fairness.
The Leader of the Commons, David Lidington, acknowledged in the other place the appalling human rights record of the Iranian Government. He took the view that, generally, it is sensible, even when we have the most profound disagreements with the Government of another country, to have diplomatic channels so that there is a means by which to communicate with that Government. We also have the assurance from the Foreign Secretary that he is determined to ensure that human rights remains a key element in the United Kingdom’s foreign policy. This debate is absolutely about that. We need to hear from the Minister the steps the Government are taking in our improved relationship constantly to highlight abuses of human rights. That is vital.
As we have heard, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has given a damning assessment of human rights in Iran, highlighting the “alarming rate” of executions and saying that little progress has been made under President Rouhani. In spite of the President’s achievement in reaching the 2015 nuclear deal, his promises of domestic improvements do not seem to have occurred. They seem to have stalled in the face of resistance from the hardliners in Iran. As we have heard, members of the Baha’i community, described as,
“the most severely persecuted religious minority”,
in the country, face discrimination in various areas, including access to higher education or simply to work. I will not go through all the details that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised.
I repeat that persecution and discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is frequently reported in Iran and covered internationally. According to the most recent Department of State country report on Iran, security forces harassed, arrested and detained individuals simply because they were suspected of being gay or transgender. It is not so much the penal code, but the behaviour of those who act in the country with impunity that no civil court seems to have any responsibility over. As we have heard, security forces are raiding houses and taking action against civil rights defenders.
I too highlight the point that my noble friend Lady Kennedy raised. The regime persistently attacks and harasses lawyers who act in defence of political activists or those fighting for minorities. There is a tendency for the regime to harass activists through indirect means, such as the persecution of family members, spouses and children, often with anonymous phone calls and text messages against them and their family. This form of collective intimidation is one of the most pernicious aspects of the repressive paranoia the regime expresses.
We need to understand what steps the Government will take to ensure the Secretary-General and special rapporteurs on freedom of religion and human rights in Iran will be able to monitor effectively and report extensively on these violations of freedom of religious belief for the people in Iran, and to work in accordance with their mandates before the United Nations. We need constantly to expose these violations and make sure people understand what is going on.
Finally, I too ask the Minister what further steps the Government are taking to help bring Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back home from Iran. We heard the circumstances of her arrest, the situation with her daughter, and that she is being held in Evin prison. We have heard from her family that her physical and mental health have deteriorated recently to such an extent that they are incredibly worried about her welfare.
It is really important that the noble Baroness updates us on any action. We have heard that the Prime Minister has raised strong concerns about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe with the Iranian President in August and that Tobias Ellwood met Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family on 8 September. We need to hear the reassurances that the Government have given about their intention to continue to raise her case. We also need to hear about any specific action that has been taken. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, said, other dual nationals are in prison in Iran. We need better to understand what the Government will do to represent our country’s citizens. Even though Iran does not acknowledge dual nationality, they are British citizens. In accordance with our proper traditions, we need to give the fullest support to them in these circumstances. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, for tabling today’s important debate and welcome the contributions of noble Lords from all sides of the House. The Government welcome the re-engagement with Iran following the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions. The deal was a major achievement and we are committed to ensuring that Iran sees the benefit of sanctions relief. However, we are not complacent, and we remain focused on the issue of human rights. It is crucial that we continue to hold the Iranian Government to account for their human rights record, a point made repeatedly by your Lordships. This is why sanctions relating to human rights remain in place. Continued engagement with the Government of Iran by the UK and our international partners is key to achieving change on this agenda.
On a bilateral level, that means developing stronger diplomatic ties and trade links. I want to be very clear about one point, because the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, alluded to it: we do not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights; they can and should be complementary. The noble Baroness expressed legitimate concerns about the significance of law, the rights of women in law and the consequences for women of upholding these freedoms. Those sentiments were strongly echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Collins.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly raised concerns about the treatment of the LGBT community in Iran. I reassure him that the UK is profoundly concerned by the continued persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Iran. We repeatedly call on Iran to fulfil its international and domestic obligations to protect the human rights of all Iranians, including members of that community.
Since we reopened our embassy in Tehran last year and upgraded our diplomatic ties to ambassador level, we have seen the relationship grow stronger, but we want more progress on human rights—let me make that crystal clear. That is why the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has designated Iran one of its human rights priority countries. There is now a diplomatic conduit which did not exist previously. We use it as best we can to urge respect for human rights. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the important issue of the impact of this improved communication with reference to terrorism. All that I would say in response is that we now have a line of communication which we did not have before. That can only be regarded as an improvement. We continue to monitor closely the threats to which he referred. Interestingly, the noble Lord also raised the prospect and consequence of a Trump presidency. I do not have before me a crystal ball; I am not a prophet. We will have to wait and see how the presidency unfolds, but we hope that it would be an influence for recognition that regard must be had by the international community to that fundamental issue of respect for and enforcement of human rights.
Our effort to improve human rights is not limited to our bilateral relationship; we also continue to take action multilaterally. I welcome the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the resolution on human rights in Iran last month. The resolution passed with an increased number of votes compared to last year, in large part due to United Kingdom lobbying efforts. Likewise, at the last Human Rights Council, in March, the UK strongly supported the renewal of the mandate of the United Nations special rapporteur. I am pleased that the mandate was renewed and I strongly urge Iran to allow the rapporteur to visit.
The special rapporteur’s latest report highlights the causes for concern. From freedom of religion or belief to freedom of expression and women’s rights, it is clear that Iranian citizens do not enjoy all the rights and freedoms to which they are entitled. Progress has been slow—as noble Lords highlighted—and in some areas, tragically, the situation has actually deteriorated. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, addressed in her early remarks the worrying issue of torture. We take such issues very seriously, at both bilateral and multilateral levels. We endeavour to ensure that these issues are kept very much before everyone and are prominent in demanding attention.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised specifically the persecution of the Baha’i community and referred to the closure of businesses. We are deeply concerned because the Baha’i faith in Iran is subject to mounting persecution. We are also concerned by state efforts to identify, monitor and arbitrarily detain Baha’is. We have repeatedly expressed concern about the treatment of that community. That is what we continue to do. It is all we can continue to do. I reassure the noble Lord that it is a matter of which we are acutely aware.
On the broader issue of what the lack of human rights may mean, we are particularly concerned about the number of executions that continue to take place in Iran, especially of those who were minors when convicted. In particular, Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran, who remains on death row, is a tragic example of this. Her case epitomises how the rule of law is failing Iranian citizens. We have taken action with our EU partners on her behalf and called on the Iranian Government to stop her execution. Sadly, I fear that her case is just the tip of the iceberg as, simply, we do not hear about every one.
Yet Iran is a signatory to international conventions that prohibit the use of the death penalty on juveniles. Again, we continue to advocate the need to have regard to these international obligations. That underlines the importance of continuing to work with our international partners, including the United Nations and the EU, to ensure that human rights in Iran continue to be given prominence in discussions and to maintain pressure on Iran to abide by its international obligations. We continue to work hard to do this. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised these issues with eloquence and passion.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of the dual UK-Iranian nationals currently detained in Iran. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, specifically raised the matter of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as did the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord Ahmed and Lord Collins. I can reassure noble Lords that we have been engaged in this. My right honourable friend Tobias Ellwood, the Minister, met Mr Ratcliffe on 28 November to discuss Nazanin’s case. Her family also met with officials in person on several occasions and have spoken regularly to consular staff since her arrest in April. Consular officials are ready to assist Mr Ratcliffe with any support he requires. In response to the question why we have not brought Nazanin and Richard’s daughter back to the United Kingdom, families in such consular cases are entitled to follow their own wishes on how to deal with these particular situations. I reassure noble Lords that we stand ready to assist both Mr and Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the family to bring their daughter back to the UK should they wish to achieve that end.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who raised the question of Mr Foroughi and his family. We are very concerned for his health and have raised this with the Iranian authorities. We have urged them to provide regular medical assistance and access to a lawyer, and we are in regular contact with Mr Foroughi’s family. The Middle East Minister, my honourable friend Tobias Ellwood, has met his son to discuss the case.
The consular situation remains very difficult. As your Lordships will be aware, the Iranian Government do not recognise dual nationality and on that basis continue to reject our repeated requests for consular access to the detainees. We have therefore not been able to assess their welfare or health or the conditions in which they are being held. Recent reports have given us further cause for concern. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is in regular contact with their families. We continue to raise their cases with the Iranian Government at every possible opportunity and we will continue to provide the families all the support we can.
As I said at the beginning, this has been a very important debate. It is one of the great functions of a parliamentary democracy that in a Chamber such as this there is such an opportunity for your Lordships, with an amazing repository of knowledge, experience and expertise, to not only contribute to these discussions but constantly, as I observed earlier, keep them on the radar so that they do not slip away from either human or political awareness.
The human rights situation in Iran remains dire, and that is an adjective one hesitates to use. Upholding their citizens’ human rights is not only the basic duty of the Government of Iran but an essential part of their engagement with the wider world. The Iranian Government’s willingness to engage internationally is, in turn, linked directly to the country’s future security and prosperity. It is therefore vital that the Iranian Government make progress on human rights. It is likely to be slow, but we will continue to encourage progress, to improve the rights and freedoms of all Iran’s citizens.
House adjourned at 5.32 pm.