The UN Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to appoint an independent inquiry into Iran’s deadly crackdown on protests, approving the proposal to cheers from activists amid an intensifying crackdown on Kurdish areas in recent days. Volker Turk, the UN rights commissioner, had earlier demanded that Iran end its “disproportionate” use of force in quelling protests that erupted after the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in custody on September 16.
The protests focused mainly on women’s rights – Amini was detained by morality police for wearing clothes deemed inappropriate under Iran’s Islamic dress code – but also called for the downfall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The unrest represents one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical ruling elite since it came to power in an Islamic revolution in 1979, although authorities have crushed previous rounds of large-scale protests.
The mission, named by Thursday’s rights council vote, will gather evidence of abuses during the deadly crackdown by authorities. Evidence collected by a mission appointed by the same council was later used to prosecute a Syrian former officer in Germany who was accused of war crimes. Tehran’s representative at the Geneva meeting, Khadijeh Karimi, earlier accused Western states of using the Rights Council to target Iran, a move she called “appalling and shameful”.
Thursday’s vote was seen as a test of Western influence in the council with China, which pushed for a last-minute amendment that would have removed the investigation, but ultimately passed easily. The Turk, who said Iran was facing a “full-blown human rights crisis” with 14,000 people, including children, arrested, said Tehran had not responded to his request to visit the country.
Iran has not given any death toll for the protesters, but Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani said on Thursday that about 50 police officers had died and hundreds were wounded in the unrest – the first official tally of security forces. He did not say whether the figure also included the deaths of other security forces, such as Bassij or the Revolutionary Guards.
The crackdown has been particularly intense in the Kurdish areas located in western Iran, with a UN monitor this week reporting 40 deaths in the past week. A member of parliament from the predominantly Kurdish city of Mahabad said he had been repeatedly subpoenaed by the courts over his stance in support of the protesters. “The judiciary filed a complaint against me as a representative of the mourners instead of protecting the legal rights of protesting people and victims’ families in Mahabad and Kurdish cities,” Jalal Mahmoudzadeh wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
Prominent Sunni Muslim cleric Molavi Abdulhamid, a member of the Baluch minority in the southeast, who has been an outspoken critic of the predominantly Shia ruling elite’s treatment of the predominantly Sunni ethnic minority, spoke out against the crackdown. “Dear Kurds in Iran have endured many hardships such as severe ethnic discrimination, strong religious pressure, poverty and economic hardship. Is it just to answer their protest with war bullets? he tweeted on Wednesday.
Several Sunni religious scholars from the northwestern city of Urmia released a video released by the activist news agency HRANA supporting the protests and calling for the release of prisoners and an end to the killing of protesters. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the video. The United States has imposed sanctions on three Iranian security officials over its crackdown on Kurdish-dominated areas, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday.