40/67 Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Human Rights Council Fortieth session
25 February–22 March 2019 Agenda item 4
Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in
the Islamic Republic of Iran*
The present report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 37/30,
comprises two parts.
In the first part, the Special Rapporteur describes how the protests in the Islamic
Republic of Iran reflect long-standing grievances related to human rights. An amendment to
the drug trafficking law has led to a decline in executions. Nevertheless, increasing economic
challenges have intensified grievances, which may be exacerbated following the
reimposition of unilateral sanctions. Discontent has been expressed through disparate
protests by different groups across the country. The Government has introduced some
measures aimed at addressing economic challenges, but the arrests of lawyers, human rights
defenders and labour activists signal an increasingly severe State response.
In the second part, the Special Rapporteur describes how the execution of child
offenders in the Islamic Republic of Iran has continued over decades in violation of the
country’s international human rights obligations. Girls can be sentenced to death as young
as 9 and boys as young as 15. Despite amendments to the Penal Code and practical efforts
aimed at reducing the executions, at least 33 child offenders have been executed since 2013.
The Special Rapporteur makes a number of targeted recommendations to the Parliament and
the judiciary with a view to ending such executions.
* Agreement was reached to publish the present report after the standard publication date owing to circumstances beyond the submitter’s control.
United Nations A/HRC/40/67
1. The present report, submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 37/30, is
divided into two parts. The first part describes a number of pressing human rights concerns
in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The second part examines the execution of individuals who
were children (persons below 18 years of age1) at the time of the alleged commission of the
relevant offence (hereinafter referred to as “child offenders”2) in the country.
2. Since his appointment, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the
Islamic Republic of Iran has met with numerous victims of alleged violations, relatives of
victims, human rights defenders, lawyers, and representatives of civil society organizations,
including in Germany and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The
Special Rapporteur travelled to Geneva and to New York to present his most recent report3
to the General Assembly. During these missions, he met with representatives of the
Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations and other
interlocutors. The Special Rapporteur has reviewed written submissions and information
submitted, and government statements and reports, legislation, media reports, and reports of
international human rights mechanisms. The Government has provided comments on the
Special Rapporteur’s reports. The Special Rapporteur thanks all interlocutors and officials
for the cooperation extended and information submitted.
3. In 2018, special procedures of the Human Rights Council issued 14 communications,
3 of which were replied to by the Government. In order to further engagement, the Special
Rapporteur reiterates his request to visit the Islamic Republic of Iran.
II. Human rights situation
4. The current human rights situation has been characterized by the Government’s
response to increasing economic challenges, sanctions, and long-standing human rights
concerns. Widespread protests in December 2017 and January 2018 morphed into disparate
protests driven by falling living standards, high inflation, perceived misallocation of public
funds, delays in the payment of salaries, and challenges in accessing water, among other
issues. The reimposition of sanctions heightened tensions.
5. The Special Rapporteur is disturbed by indications of an increasingly severe response
to the protests, amidst patterns of violations of the right to life, the right to liberty and the
right to a fair trial. An increasing number of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and
labour activists are being arrested or harassed. The Head of the Judiciary publicly described
the protests as “sedition” aimed at “dragging people to the streets to target the very foundation
of the Islamic Republic”.4
A. Right to life
6. The Special Rapporteur remains concerned at the extensive use of the death penalty,
despite positive developments. From January to October 2018, 207 persons were reportedly
executed, in comparison to 437 for the same period in 2017.5 The decline largely resulted
from an amendment to the drug trafficking law in November 2017, which reduced executions
related to drug offences. As a result, punishments for certain drug offences were retroactively
amended from the death penalty or life imprisonment to a maximum prison term of 30 years.
The quantity of drugs required for a death sentence to be imposed was also increased.
1 The Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently recommended that States make necessary
legal amendments to establish the definition of the child as persons below the age of 18 years. See
CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, para. 28.
2 This terminology is in line with Committee on the Rights of the Child general comment No. 10
(2007) on children’s rights in juvenile justice.
3 See A/73/398.
4 See www.mizanonline.com/fa/news/472402.
5 See https://iranhr.net/en/articles/3514/.
Following the adoption of the amendment, the judiciary was instructed to review the cases
of those already sentenced to death for drug-related offences. The lack of transparency on
death penalty cases has made it difficult to assess the review process, but in October 2018,
the Deputy Chairman of the Islamic Consultative Assembly Judiciary Commission
reportedly stated that the death sentences of 15,000 individuals had been commuted. 6
Concerns remain, however, about the availability of legal assistance to those eligible for
review, the lack of opportunity to appeal the outcome of the review, and the retention of the
mandatory death penalty for some drug offences.
7. Other concerns persist. According to article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has ratified, States parties that have
not yet abolished the death penalty should only impose it for the “most serious crimes”, a
term confined to crimes involving intentional killing.7 However, the Islamic Republic of Iran
continues to apply the death penalty for numerous acts that do not entail intentional killing.
Concerns were raised following the establishment of special courts in August 2018 to try
“economic crimes” which carry the death penalty.
8. A further long-standing concern relates to the execution of individuals convicted of
murder in the context of qisas (retribution in kind). In such cases, the application of absolute,
equivalent retaliation in the form of the death penalty is available to the next of kin of the
victim. Such executions accounted for nearly three quarters of reported executions in 2018.8
As an alternative, the next of kin of the victim can pardon the defendant with or without
accepting diya (compensation known as “blood money”). Qisas is an offence which entails
a mandatory punishment. No consideration can be given to mitigating factors such as the
offender’s age or character or the circumstances of the crime.
9. In 2006, the then Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary
executions observed, inter alia, that while diya saved lives to the extent that it avoided
executions, it could violate the guarantees of non-discrimination, because the request to pay
diya discriminated against those who were not in a position to buy their freedom.9 The Penal
Code also stipulates that diya for murdering a woman is half that of a man. Furthermore,
while Iranian law has been amended to provide the equal application of qisas punishments
and diya for the murder of Muslims and constitutionally recognized religious minorities, this
does not apply to non-recognized groups. Additionally, when a pardon in exchange for diya
has not been granted, it leads to violations of the right to seek pardon or commutation from
10. Reports indicate that ethnic and religious minority groups constitute a
disproportionately large percentage of persons executed or imprisoned.11 Many are also on
death row. Concerns have been raised, for example, about the situation of Hedayat
Abdollapour, a Kurdish Iranian, whose death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court
upon its second review in October 2018 amidst reports that he had been subjected to torture
in detention and had been denied access to a lawyer of his choice.
11. The right to life has been violated by non-State actors. On 22 September 2018, an
attack on a military parade in Ahvaz led to the death of at least 24 persons and injury to
numerous others.12 Another attack in December 2018 in the city of Chabahar reportedly led
to the death of two people and numerous injuries.13 The Special Rapporteur expresses his
deepest condolences to the victims and their families, and to the Government and people of
the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Special Rapporteur unreservedly condemns the attacks, and
recalls the State’s obligation to hold the perpetrators accountable, in compliance with
international human rights law, including the right to a fair trial. Following the Ahvaz attack,
6 See http://kerman.farsnews.com/news/13970725000810.
7 See Human Rights Committee, general comment No. 36 (2018) on the right to life.
8 See https://iranhr.net/en/articles/3514/.
9 A/61/311, para. 60.
10 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 6 (4).
11 See https://ipa.united4iran.org/en/prisoner/.
12 See Security Council press statement available at www.un.org/press/en/2018/sc13523.doc.htm.
13 See www.irna.ir/en/News/83125141.
the Special Rapporteur received reports indicating that at least 300 members of Ahwazi Arab
minority groups had been detained incommunicado.14 The authorities later confirmed that 22
people had been arrested, 15 and then later denied that they had been executed. 16 In its
comments, the Government stated that investigations were continuing. The Special
Rapporteur reiterates the right to a fair trial of those detained, and the need for information
on their whereabouts.
B. Right to a fair trial and liberty
12. The extensive use of the death penalty is alarming given the numerous reported cases
of violations of the right to a fair trial. Many cases highlight violations of the right to defend
oneself through legal assistance of one’s own choosing and the right to not to be compelled
to testify against oneself or to confess guilt, which are guaranteed under article 14 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the Islamic Republic of Iran has
13. According to article 35 of the Constitution and article 48 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure, individuals are guaranteed the right to be represented by their chosen lawyer.
However, in articles 48 and 302 of the Code of Criminal Procedure it is stated that if
individuals are accused of offences punishable by death, life imprisonment or amputation, or
of “political or press crimes”, their choice of legal representation during the investigation
stage is restricted to lawyers on a list approved by the Head of the Judiciary. The Special
Rapporteur is particularly disturbed by these restrictions, given the reports received and
information obtained during interviews indicating a pattern of torture and other ill-treatment
conducted to compel confessions during the investigation stage. The Special Rapporteur
notes that according to the Penal Code, confessions extracted under duress or torture are
prohibited and inadmissible before the courts,17 and perpetrators are subject to punishment.
However, in article 171 of the Penal Code it is also stated that “if an accused person confesses
to the commission of an offence, his or her confession shall be admissible and there is no
need for further evidence”. Furthermore, it is stated in article 360 of the Code of Criminal
Procedure that convictions can be issued on the basis of voluntarily given confessions alone.
As such, the Special Rapporteur is concerned that there is a strong institutional expectation
to extract confessions, which does not facilitate an environment conducive to fair trials. In its
comments, the Government described the conditions that must be met before – under the
Penal Code – a confession can be introduced, which include that the accused must be
“recognized to be reasonable, mature, and impartial and free during confession”.
14. Discrimination in the administration of justice has been illustrated by the
disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of members of minority groups. The
Special Rapporteur received numerous reports in this respect, consistent with information
obtained during interviews conducted with members of the Baha’i, Azerbaijani Turkish,
Kurdish and Baloch communities among others. The Special Rapporteur also reviewed a list
of 83 imprisoned members of the Baha’i community. In February 2018, special procedure
mandate holders noted that they were aware of several reported cases in which members of
the Christian minority had received heavy sentences after being charged with threatening
national security, either for converting people or for attending house churches.18
15. The Special Rapporteur reviewed reports of violations of the right to a fair trial and
liberty of dual and foreign nationals detained in the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the basis of
ongoing reports, information reviewed and interviews conducted, the Special Rapporteur
considers that there is a pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals
and foreign nationals in the Islamic Republic of Iran, as identified by the Working Group on
14 See www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/11/iran-fears-mounting-for-detained-ahwazi-arabs-amid-
15 See https://bit.ly/2EZ3MWK.
16 See www.irna.ir/fa/News/83096589.
17 See arts. 168–169.
18 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22629&LangID=E.
Arbitrary Detention.19 The Special Rapporteur concurs with the Working Group’s assessment
that many of the cases follow a familiar pattern, which includes, inter alia, arrest and
detention outside of legal procedures, lengthy pretrial detention, denial of access to legal
counsel, prosecution under vaguely worded criminal offences with inadequate evidence to
support the allegations, torture and ill-treatment, and denial of medical care.20 The patterns
identified point to an urgent need for the Government to address the situation of all dual and
foreign nationals detained in the Islamic Republic of Iran, including Ahmadreza Djalali,
Kamran Ghaderi, Robert Levinson, Saeed Malekpour, Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Xiyue
Wang, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Nizar Zakka. The Working Group has issued opinions
calling for the release of a number of the aforementioned individuals,21 including Ahmadreza
Djalali who has been sentenced to death. The Special Rapporteur is further alarmed by reports
indicating that a number of them need urgent and appropriate medical care, and calls upon
the Government to address such concerns. In its comments, the Government denied that Mr.
Levinson was detained and stated it had “initiated investigations, on the basis of its legal
obligations toward the missing allegation, and the case is still open and under further
investigation”. The Government further described national security-related charges against
the other aforementioned individuals.
C. Right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
16. Reports received indicate a curtailment on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of
association and assembly over the year, which has affected various groups, including workers,
teachers, students, minority groups, and women.
17. Workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar mill protested about unpaid wages in July 2017,
August 2018 and November 2018. In November 2018, the authorities reportedly detained
approximately 18 workers and labour activists.22 Twelve persons were reportedly released,
while protests calling for the release of the remaining detainees continue at the time of writing.
18. In March 2018, 10 workers at the Iran National Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz were
detained for several days owing to their alleged involvement in a strike over wages and work
conditions.23 In June, “dozens” more were reportedly arrested after protesting about unpaid
wages.24 A strike resumed in November in the absence of a response to their demands.
19. Truck drivers have conducted strikes across many provinces since May 2018 in protest
against low wages in light of increasing inflation. Over 150 drivers were later reportedly
detained after they resumed their strike in September,25 including in Qazvin Province.
20. Teachers protested against low wages and underfunding in October and November
2018. Some were detained or summoned to courts.26 In May 2018, Mohammad Habibi, a
member of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association of Tehran, was arrested. He was
convicted on national security-related charges in August27 amidst concerns that he had been
denied medical care despite sustaining injuries caused by ill-treatment during his arrest.28 In
its comments, the Government stated that Mr. Habibi had received 27 visits for medical
reasons and had been sent to medical centres three times.
21. Protests related to access to water have been reported, with demonstrations in
Khuzestan Province, Bavi, Khorramshahr, Abadan, Kut-e-Abdollah and Ahvaz. Fifteen
19 See the Working Group’s opinions No. 49/2017, para. 44; and No. 52/2018, para. 82.
20 See the Working Group’s opinion No. 52/2018, para. 86.
21 See the Working Group’s opinions Nos. 52/2018, 92/2017, 49/2017, 50/2016 and 28/2016.
22 See www.tuc.org.uk/tuc-writes-iranian-ambassador-regarding-arrests-haft-tapeh-sugar-workers.
23 See www.industriall-union.org/iran-10-detained-after-protests-over-unpaid-wages-of-4000-steel-
24 See www.hra-news.org/2018/hranews/a-15727/.
25 See www.itfglobal.org/en/news-events/press-releases/2018/october/itf-statement-on-iran-truckers-
26 See www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/22/iran-mounting-crackdown-teachers-labor-activists.
28 See www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/uaa17418.pdf.
farmer representatives were arrested when 200 farmers protested against water diversions to
the Governorate of Kohgiluyeh va Boyer Ahmad Province.29
22. Consistent with the pattern of discrimination observed, minority groups have been
affected. In July 2018, 80 persons from the Azerbaijani Turkish community were reportedly
arrested before and during a cultural celebration at Babak Fort in East Azerbaijan Province.30
Most were released amidst reports that those detained had been subjected to ill-treatment. In
August, 40 persons from the community were temporarily detained during a gathering in
Meshgin Shahr in Ardabil Province amidst reports of excessive force by security forces.
Concerns have also been raised about the fate and whereabouts of eight Gonabadi dervishes
who allegedly held a sit-in protest in August 2018 at the Great Tehran Penitentiary.31 In its
comments, the Government stated that the aforementioned persons were imprisoned with
access to telephone calls.
23. The Special Rapporteur is further troubled by the arrests of women protesting against
compulsory veiling (the hijab). While most were released on bail, some were sentenced to up
to two years in prison on the charge of “encouraging moral corruption”.32 Women who do
not wear the hijab can be sentenced to up to two months in prison or fined, in violation of
their right to take part in cultural life without discrimination.33
D. Right to freedom of expression and opinion
24. The Special Rapporteur observes increasing limitations placed upon the rights to
freedom of opinion and expression. In April 2018, popular social media website Telegram
was banned for allegedly “disrupting national unity” and “allowing foreign countries to spy”
on the Islamic Republic of Iran.34 In November, the Government proposed a bill which
introduced new offences associated with the use of banned online applications. 35 In its
comments, the Government stated that active social networks such as Telegram “are obliged
to register only with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance”.
25. The Special Rapporteur is further disturbed by the trend of human rights defenders,
including women human rights defenders, being arrested and imprisoned in connection with
their activities, and the increasing numbers of arrests of lawyers and labour activists.
26. In June 2018, prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested. Hoda
Amid, a lawyer who had represented women in vulnerable situations, was arrested in
September and subsequently released on bail pending trial.36 Lawyer Zeinab Taheri was
arrested and later released on bail pending charges.37 In one welcome development, human
rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani was released on conditional parole in November.38
27. In November 2018, special procedure mandate holders raised concerns about the
arrest of Nasrin Sotoudeh, her husband Reza Khandan, and Farhad Meysami, following their
advocacy in support of women’s rights.39 Women’s rights defenders Najmeh Vahedi and
Rezvaneh Mohammadi were arrested and then reportedly released on bail in November
29 See www.ilna.ir/fa/tiny/news-628251.
30 See www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE1388892018ENGLISH.PDF.
31 See https://iranhumanrights.org/2018/10/great-tehran-penitentiary-imposes-information-blackout-on-
32 See https://bit.ly/2EV0xzs.
33 A/72/155, para. 76.
34 See https://rsf.org/en/news/iranian-court-imposes-total-ban-telegram.
35 See www.isna.ir/news/97082813960/.
36 See www.en-hrana.org/womens-rights-activist-hoda-amid-released-on-bail.
37 See www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/release-on-bail-of-zeinab-taheri.
38 See www.irna.ir/fa/News/83108418.
39 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23947&LangID=E.
40 See www.iranhumanrights.org/2018/09/three-detained-womens-rights-activists-should-be-
28. Other individuals remain imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of opinion
and expression. Alternative health practitioner Mohammad Ali Taheri was imprisoned
following a conviction for “spreading corruption on earth”. The Special Rapporteur reiterates
the call of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for his release.41
29. The Special Rapporteur is alarmed by the health situation of numerous imprisoned
human rights defenders. Farhad Meysami began a hunger strike in August 2018 in protest at
his lack of access to a lawyer of his choice and the charges against him. Arash Sadeghi is in
need of specialist medical care and remains imprisoned despite calls for his release from the
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in April.42 Soheil Arabi is in urgent need of medical
attention. He was due for release in 2018, but was instead charged with additional offences
and was sentenced to 10 years and 8 months of additional imprisonment. In November,
concerns were raised about the worrying health situation of Narges Mohammadi, who is in
need of appropriate medical care. She remains imprisoned despite the call of the Working
Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2017 to release her.43 The health situation of prisoners was
highlighted in December 2018, following the death of Vahid Sayyadi-Nasiri, a prisoner who
had begun a hunger strike in November. The Special Rapporteur urges the Government to
conduct a prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation into the circumstances
of the death of Mr. Sayyadi-Nasiri, and to ensure that all those detained in need of medical
attention are afforded it urgently. In its comments, the Government stated that Mr. Sadeghi
was under the continuous supervision of a specialist and had access to medical clinics outside
of the prison.
30. The Special Rapporteur received reports of arrests and intimidation of journalists and
media workers within the country. Journalists outside of the country have also been targeted,
such as the staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Persian Service. A collective
criminal investigation and a purportedly temporary asset-freezing injunction initiated in 2017
against over 150 staff still remains in place. In some cases, staff members’ families based in
the Islamic Republic of Iran have been interrogated and harassed. Staff have also been
threatened and defamatory news stories have been circulated on social media about them.
The Special Rapporteur reiterates his predecessor’s concerns at such actions and calls upon
the Government to cease all legal actions44 and harassment against journalists, including the
BBC Persian Service staff. In its comments, the Government stated that a number of BBC
staff had been acquitted with respect to the asset-freezing injunction while other cases
E. Impact of sanctions
31. The violations of civil and political rights described must be examined in the context
of renewed economic challenges for the Islamic Republic of Iran. These challenges
intensified with the reimposition of sanctions in 2018 following the decision by the United
States of America to cease its participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the
32. In October 2018, the International Court of Justice indicated provisional measures
pending further proceedings and its final decision on proceedings brought by the Islamic
Republic of Iran against the United States on the alleged violation of the Treaty of Amity,
Economic Relations and Consular Rights between the two States. 46 It considered that
assurances by the United States regarding humanitarian exemptions were “not adequate to
address fully the humanitarian and safety concerns raised” by the Islamic Republic of Iran,
and therefore it is of the view that there remains a risk that measures adopted by the United
41 See www.ohchr.org/FR/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16292&LangID=E.
42 See the Working Group’s opinion No. 19/2018.
43 See the Working Group’s opinion No. 48/2017.
44 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22314&LangID=E.
45 See www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/ceasing-u-s-participation-jcpoa-taking-additional-
46 International Court of Justice press release dated 3 October 2018, available at https://www.icj-
States may entail irreparable consequences.47 The Court’s provisional measures mandate the
United States to ensure that sanctions allow for humanitarian exemptions, including
medicines and medical devices; foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and spare parts,
equipment and services necessary for the safety of civil aviation. 48 The United States
announced it was terminating the Treaty.49
33. In October 2018, the United States Secretary of State said “existing exceptions,
authorizations, and licensing policies for humanitarian-related transactions and safety of
flight will remain in effect”.50 The United States Department of the Treasury has issued
guidance in this respect, including for third-country financial institutions.51 In the guidance,
it is noted that United States sanctions law “contains explicit exceptions that allow foreign
financial institutions to conduct or facilitate transactions for the sale of agricultural
commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices” to the Islamic Republic of Iran “without
penalty, as long as the transaction does not involve a designated entity or otherwise
proscribed conduct”.52 Given that most Iranian banks are on the Department of the Treasury’s
Specially Designated Nationals List, financial transactions – even for non-sanctionable trade
– might prove difficult in practice. Furthermore, given the ambiguity around the application
of secondary sanctions and the complexity of applying them as part of the exemptions,
foreign companies and banks are likely to remain cautious in fear of repercussions by the
United States.53 According to reports,54 companies exporting medical supplies to the Islamic
Republic of Iran face challenges in accessing non-sanctioned banking services as well as
shortages of foreign currency in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which limit the possibility of
payments to foreign companies.
34. Following declarations 55 that the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial
Telecommunication (SWIFT) could be subject to sanctions, SWIFT indicated its decision to
suspend some Iranian banks. Non-sanctioned Iranian financial institutions were allowed to
remain on SWIFT to conduct limited transactions involving food and medicine.56
35. The Special Rapporteur is concerned that by preventing financial transfers to the
Islamic Republic of Iran, the aforementioned secondary sanctions, which target third parties,
are likely to hinder the production, availability and distribution of essential medical and
pharmaceutical equipment and supplies, which could potentially increase mortality rates.
Similar concerns were expressed in the context of previous sanctions.57 In September, the
Syndicate of Pharmaceutical Industries noted that the Islamic Republic of Iran imported more
than half of the raw material required for the production of medicines. 58 According to
members of the Parliament’s Health Commission, the Islamic Republic of Iran was short of
80 pharmaceutical items59 and hospitals were experiencing shortages of medicines, medical
equipment and consumer goods. 60 The Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of
unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights stated: “The current system
47 International Court of Justice, Request for the indication of provisional measures, Order,
paras. 91–92, dated 3 October 2018, available at https://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/175/175-
49 See www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/10/286417.htm.
51 “Clarifying guidance on humanitarian assistance and related exports to the Iranian people”, 6
February 2013, available at www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/
52 Ibid., p. 4.
53 See www.economist.com/business/2018/11/08/european-companies-will-struggle-to-defy-america-
54 See www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_iran_the_case_for_protecting_humanitarian_trade.
55 See www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2018/11/287090.htm.
56 See www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-11-02/trump-s-iran-bank-cutoff-from-swift-will-
57 See A/67/327.
58 See http://fna.ir/a0ws79.
59 See www.isna.ir/news/97061105121/.
60 See www.ilna.ir/fa/tiny/news-673055.
creates doubt and ambiguity which makes it all but impossible” for the Islamic Republic of
Iran to import “these urgently needed humanitarian goods. This ambiguity causes a ‘chilling
effect’ which is likely to lead to silent deaths in hospitals as medicines run out, while the
international media fail to notice.”61
III. Execution of child offenders
36. The execution of child offenders is prohibited by international law, regardless of the
age of the accused when the execution takes place. This prohibition is enshrined within the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights and customary international law. In 2003, the Commission on Human Rights affirmed
that international law established that the execution of child offenders was in contravention
of customary international law.62
37. Numerous human rights mechanisms have called upon the Islamic Republic of Iran to
stop sentencing children to death, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child,63 the
Human Rights Committee, 64 the General Assembly, 65 the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights 66 and special procedure mandate holders. 67 Successive
Secretaries-General of the United Nations have raised this issue, in 10 previous reports on
the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as in public statements.68 During universal periodic
reviews, numerous States have recommended that the Islamic Republic of Iran end the
executions. In 2010, the recommendation to “consider the abolition of juvenile execution”
was supported by the Government,69 and in 2014 the recommendation to “ban executions of
juvenile offenders, while at the same time providing for alternative punishments in line with
the new Iranian Penal Code” was partially supported. 70 The Islamic Republic of Iran
explicitly accepted the obligation to prohibit such executions through its ratification of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political
38. The Special Rapporteur deeply regrets, however, that the Islamic Republic of Iran
continues to sentence children to death “far more often than any other State”.71 Girls as young
as 9 and boys as young as 15 can be sentenced to death. Information received indicates that
at least 61 child offenders have been executed since 2008.72 At least six child offenders were
executed in 2018. All were aged between 14 and 17 at the time of the alleged commission of
the crime, and all were executed on the basis of qisas for the crime of murder. According to
previous reports, 5 child offenders were executed in 2017,73 5 in 2016, 74 4 in 201575 and 13
in 2014.76 Credible information received indicates that there are at least 85 child offenders
61 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23469&LangID=E.
62 See Commission on Human Rights resolution 2003/67.
63 CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, para. 36.
64 CCPR/C/IRN/CO/3, para. 13.
65 See General Assembly resolution 73/181.
66 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23689&LangID=E.
67 See www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23216&LangID=E.
68 United Nations, “Secretary-General, concerned at worrying trend of executions in Iran, reaffirms
United Nations opposition to death penalty”, 19 October 2015, available at
69 A/HRC/14/12, para. 90 (40).
70 A/HRC/28/12, para. 138.156; and A/HRC/28/12/Add.1, para. 7 (b).
71 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22664&LangID=E.
72 Six executions were documented in 2018. Fifty-five executions were reported from 2008 to 2017. See
Iran Human Rights and Ensemble contre la peine de mort, annual report 2017, p. 27, available at
73 See A/HRC/37/68, para. 19.
74 See A/HRC/34/40, para. 18.
75 See A/71/418, para. 21.
76 See A/HRC/28/70, para. 15.
currently on death row in the Islamic Republic of Iran and that 21 children have been
sentenced to death since 2013.
39. In 2013, the Government amended the Penal Code to give judges the discretion to
exempt children from the death penalty if the judge assesses that the child did not realize the
nature of the crime or if there is uncertainty about his or her mental development. It stated
that its policy was to seek to avoid executions through mediation when possible. In comments
provided, it also highlighted the importance of restorative justice and juvenile rehabilitation.
The Special Rapporteur encourages the Government to continue to review existing policies
with a view to prohibiting the execution of child offenders, in line with its international treaty
commitments. The present report seeks to support such efforts.
B. Legal framework
1. International legal framework
40. In 1975, the Islamic Republic of Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights without reservation. In article 6 (5) of the Covenant, it is stated that the
“sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen
years of age …”. In 1994, the Islamic Republic of Iran ratified the Convention on the Rights
of the Child, which stipulates in its article 37 (a) that “neither capital punishment nor life
imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by
persons below eighteen years of age”. In both cases, the explicit and decisive criterion is the
age at the time of the alleged commission of the offence. The Human Rights Committee has
stated that if there is no reliable and conclusive proof that the person was not below the age
of 18 at the time that the crime was committed, he or she will have the right to the benefit of
the doubt and the death penalty cannot be imposed.77
41. Upon ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Islamic Republic
of Iran made a reservation stating that it “reserves the right not to apply any provisions or
articles of the Convention that are incompatible with Islamic Laws and the international
legislation in effect”. Article 19 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, of 1969,
provides that reservations should not be incompatible with the object and purpose of the
treaty. In 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the Islamic
Republic of Iran withdraw it accordingly,78 in the light of article 51 (2) of the Convention in
which it is specified that “a reservation incompatible with the object and purpose of the
present Convention shall not be permitted”. In response, the Government noted that the
provisions of the Convention are “legally binding in the country”.79
42. The prohibition of imposing the death penalty on children is widely considered to
form part of the jus cogens category of norms of international law. No derogation or deviation
from such peremptory norms is permissible. This jus cogens character is reflected by almost
complete unanimity in calls to end the practice, which continues in only a few States. In its
comments, the Government disagreed that the prohibition formed part of jus cogens.
2. National legal framework
(a) Age of criminal responsibility
43. Substantial inconsistencies exist within Iranian legislation and the Iranian justice
system which mean that girls aged 9 and boys aged 15 can be sentenced to death for certain
crimes, whereas children aged up to 18 are sentenced to correctional measures for other
77 See the Committee’s general comment No. 36 (2018) on the right to life.
78 CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, paras. 9–10.
79 Supplementary response of the National Body on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, para. 1,
available from https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/
44. According to the Civil Code, the age of “maturity” for girls is 9 lunar years, and for
boys 15 lunar years.80 Maturity in this context is assessed according to the child’s physical
development according to some traditional rulings in Islamic jurisprudence. Articles 146 and
147 of the 2013 revised Penal Code also specify the age of criminal responsibility at 9 lunar
years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys.
45. Criminal responsibility for crimes punishable by hudud (punishments fixed by God)
or qisas is maintained at the same age of maturity, that is, 9 lunar years for girls and 15 lunar
years for boys. These crimes carry mandatory punishments such as death, flogging and
amputation, giving no discretion to the court as to what sentence is appropriate based on
individual circumstances, age, and mitigating factors. All child offenders executed in 2018
were executed on the basis of qisas.
46. In contrast, the age of responsibility for the frequently less serious ta’zir crimes
(crimes for which the judge has discretion as to the sentence imposed) is 18 years for all
children. In such circumstances, convicted children are sentenced to correctional measures.
47. The Special Rapporteur notes further inconsistencies within the legal framework. In
the 2017 amendment to the drug trafficking law, the death penalty was retained for any
individual who “has exploited children or juveniles under the age of 18 … for the commission
of the crime”.81 Article 35 continues to sanction “anyone who forces children and juveniles
under the age of 18 … to use drugs”. These provisions indicate a clear acknowledgment that
individuals below the age of 18 years have less “maturity” or “mental development” than
those above the age of 18 years.
48. Other legislative provisions reflect a similar understanding. Article 1 of the Protection
of Children and Adolescents Act, of 2002, defines a child as every human being below the
age of 18 years old. Furthermore, only an individual over 18 years old can obtain a passport,82
vote,83 or obtain a driving licence.
49. In the light of the inconsistencies described, the Special Rapporteur reiterates the
recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to the Islamic Republic of Iran
to revise its legislation to increase the age of maturity to 18 years.84 In its comments, the
Government noted that “the minimum age for criminal liability has been determined through
taking into account of the mental and psychological development of children and juveniles,
and considering of geographical, cultural, social, religious and racial conditions. When an
age is recognized as the minimum age for criminal liability, it indicates that the juvenile, at
this age, has reached the level of emotional, mental and psychological maturity that may
recognize his/her liability against his/her behaviours. Therefore, the recognition of the
minimum age is associated with consideration of the mental maturity of juveniles.”
(b) Legislative developments
50. In 2013, the Penal Code was amended. Article 91 of the amended Code exempts
children aged below 18 years and above the age of maturity from the death penalty if it is
assessed that they “do not realize the nature of the crime committed or its prohibition, or if
there is uncertainty about their full mental development, according to their age”. Article 91
also stipulates that “the court may ask the opinion of forensic medicine or resort to any other
method that it sees appropriate in order to establish the full mental development”.85 Following
the amendment, child offenders on death row began to apply to the Supreme Court for retrials.
Some applications were successful but others were refused. This led to the issuance of a
“unifying judicial precedent” by the Supreme Court in 2014 which confirmed that
applications for retrials were admissible. In submissions to the Committee on the Rights of
the Child, the Islamic Republic of Iran noted that “the retrial of all adolescents who were
80 Article 1210, note 1.
81 Art. 45.
82 Passport and Immigration Law, sect. 1, art. 18.
83 Election Law, art. 36.
84 CRC/C/15/Add.254, para. 23; and CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, paras. 27–28.
85 See https://iranhrdc.org/english-translation-of-books-i-ii-of-the-new-islamic-penal-code/.
under 18 at the time of committing the crime is accepted and their previous verdicts have
been annulled by the Supreme Court”.86 However, as will be elaborated on, child offenders
face numerous hurdles in relying upon the provisions of article 91 and the executions
C. Efforts and position of the State
51. A number of measures have been put in place relating to child offenders. Most
recently, a bill on the protection of children and adolescents was approved by Parliament. It
is pending approval by the Guardian Council. The Code of Criminal Procedure provides for
the establishment of children’s and adolescents’ courts, comprised of a specialist judge and
a qualified adviser with knowledge of child development.87 However, if children above the
age of maturity (9 lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys) are accused of qisas or
hudud crimes or certain ta’zir crimes, they instead face the First Criminal Court’s special
adolescents’ division.88 Credible information received indicates that in practice this means
that the child is tried in the same physical courtroom in which adults are tried.
52. All child offenders executed in 2018 were executed pursuant to a conviction for
murder on the basis of qisas. In comments received, the Government stated that extensive
efforts were made to satisfy the next of kin of the victim through mediation in order to convert
qisas to diya. It further noted that its “principled policy … is to encourage compromise even
with … cash assistance to realize the payment of the diyeh” and “this is the prevailing trend
and main course of dealing with this group of offenders”. The Government also referred to
the establishment of a reconciliation commission, and a task force consisting of officials,
psychologists, social workers, corrections officials, lawyers, and members of civil society
which supports mediation with the next of kin of the victim. In addition, conflict resolution
council branches and the Women and Children and Protection Office of the judiciary
intervene in cases. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also support mediation and
fundraising for payments of diya. Notwithstanding such efforts, the Special Rapporteur has
received reports that relevant actors are reluctant to intervene in cases of hudud crimes such
as adultery, same-sex relationships, or murder crimes also involving rape.
53. In comments received, the Government justified the continuing executions, on the
basis that “the duty of the State in this case is merely to examine and deliberate the murder,
and execution of the sentence is only possible on the basis of the request of the owners of the
blood”. In 2009, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
noted that no other State in which Islamic law was applicable saw the need to make such an
argument to justify the executions of child offenders.89 He further noted that article 37 (a) of
the Convention on the Rights of the Child and article 6 (5) of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights bound the Government to extend the abolition of execution of child
offenders to qisas crimes.90 Furthermore, as noted, this practice deprives the child of his or
her right to seek pardon or commutation from the State as enshrined in article 6 (4) of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
D. Vulnerability and treatment of children in the criminal justice system
54. Child offenders continue to be executed in the Islamic Republic of Iran amidst
violations concerning the right to a fair trial, torture and other ill-treatment, and a lack of
consideration given to each child’s individual circumstances.
86 See CRC/C/IRN/3-4/Add.1.
87 Code of Criminal Procedure, arts. 289 and 408.
88 Ibid., art. 315.
89 A/HRC/11/2, paras. 35–36.
1. Patterns of convictions based upon confessions
55. The sentencing of children to death is particularly alarming, given their specific
vulnerability as children amidst documented patterns of violations related to the lack of
access to a lawyer and the reliance on confessions obtained through coercion or torture in
judicial proceedings.91 The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights require that a child cannot be compelled to confess
guilt or acknowledge guilt.92 The Committee on the Rights of the Child further states that
children may be led to a confession that is not true because of their age, their development,
the length of the interrogation, their lack of understanding, the fear of unknown consequences,
or the suggested possibility of imprisonment, as well as the promise of possible release or
lighter sanctions.93 The inherent vulnerability of children is further increased because if they
are charged with crimes involving the death penalty they cannot choose their own lawyer
during the initial investigation phase. They are instead limited to a lawyer approved by the
Head of the Judiciary. Information received indicates that numerous children have been
convicted on the basis of confessions compelled during this phase. In 2018 for example,
Zeinab Sekaanvand was reportedly coerced into confessing that she had killed her husband
when she was 17 years old.94 She recanted her confession but was nevertheless executed.
Alireza Tajiki was executed in 2017, after confessing to murder at the age of 15 after
reportedly being tortured. He also later recanted his confession but no investigation was
undertaken into his claims.95
2. Practices amounting to torture and other ill-treatment
56. The treatment of children on death row is of deep concern. Government
representatives have claimed that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not execute children.96 In
practice, this means that the State imprisons the convicted child on death row for years until
they reach the age of 18 and executes them thereafter. Reports received also indicate that the
executions of numerous child offenders were repeatedly postponed, often at the last minute.97
In this respect, in June 2018 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights raised
the case of Abolfazi Chezani Sharahi, a child offender whose execution was postponed four
times before his eventual execution.98 Similarly, the executions of Alireza Tajiki and Omid
Rostami were postponed four times. They were executed in 2017 and 2018 respectively after
spending numerous years on death row. The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the
combination of circumstances, with respect to repeated postponements, the practice of
waiting until the child reaches the age of 18, and the inherent vulnerability of the child given
his or her age, inevitably leads to severe mental trauma and physical deterioration.99 The
Special Rapporteur accordingly contends that the policy and practice of sentencing children
to death in the Islamic Republic of Iran amounts to a pattern of torture and other cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Islamic Republic of
Iran is a party. The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that the way to address this is to
immediately prohibit the sentencing of children to death and to commute the death sentences
of all child offenders on death row.
3. Circumstances of children sentenced to death
57. Reports received indicate that many children sentenced to death on the basis of qisas,
along with their families, have lower levels of economic and social standing, education, and
91 See para. 13 above.
92 Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 40; and International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, art. 14.
93 See the Committee’s general comment No. 10 (2007) on children’s rights in juvenile justice, para. 57.
94 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23689&LangID=E.
95 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21958&LangID=E.
96 See the statement made by the Head of the Judiciary in 2014, available at https://bit.ly/2LE4dGY.
97 A/67/279, para. 48.
98 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23279&LangID=E.
99 See A/67/279, pp. 9–14 on the “death row phenomenon”.
support networks. 100 Girl child offenders have in some cases faced extreme situations,
including forced marriage and domestic violence. However, there is no legislative scope that
allows the court to take into account mitigating factors related to the background and
circumstances in which the child is living or the conditions in which the offence has been
allegedly committed. Two individuals who had married as children were executed in 2018.
Mahboubeh Mofidi, who was married at the age of 13, allegedly murdered her husband when
she was aged 17. 101 Zeinab Sekaanvand, who was married at the age of 15, allegedly
murdered her husband when she was aged 17.102 Ms. Sekaanvand was executed despite no
investigation being undertaken into allegations of domestic violence during her marriage.
The Special Rapporteur reiterates the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the
Child that the minimum age of marriage of 13 years for girls and 15 years for boys should be
increased to 18 years.103
58. The Special Rapporteur notes that the background of the accused child and the
circumstances in which the offence was allegedly committed are critical, not only because
they should be taken into account by the court, but also because they can hinder attempts to
avoid execution by paying for diya. Children who have grown up in poverty, for example,
are unlikely to be able to afford the diya requested (which has no upper limit for qisas crimes).
The child’s life therefore depends upon his or her family being able to attract the attention of
NGOs that can help to raise enough money. Such organizations are not present in every
province, and poorer families in more remote provinces with less influence, education and
awareness face serious challenges. The Special Rapporteur contends that these factors
explain why most executed child offenders originate from poorer backgrounds and
economically less advantaged provinces.
59. In its comments, the Government stated that according to article 286 of the Code of
Criminal Procedure, the preparation of a “personality file” which considered the conditions
at the time of offence was mandatory at the time of issuing the verdict. It also stated that the
file was prepared separately from the criminal file and included a social worker’s report on
the defendant’s physical, family and social status, as well as medical and psychiatric reports.
It further noted that for the purposes of paying diya, the “destitution” of the accused was
taken into consideration, and that NGOs and social institutions contributed financially.
E. Implementation of article 91 of the Penal Code
60. As noted, the enactment of article 91 of the Penal Code in 2013 allowed judges to
exempt children from the death penalty if the judge assessed that the child did not “realize
the nature of the crime committed or its prohibition, or if there is uncertainty about their full
mental development, according to their age”. In its submission to the Committee on the
Rights of the Child in 2015, the Islamic Republic of Iran stated that the previous verdicts of
all child offenders would be annulled, pending retrials.104 In its comments on the present
report, the Government stated that “the provisions of the Islamic Penal Code have been
effective in reducing the execution of adults under the age of 18 years”. Recent reports
indicate that the sentences of at least six child offenders were commuted in 2017 following
retrials.105 Executions have however continued. Since article 91 entered into force in 2013,
the Special Rapporteur estimates that at least 33 child offenders have been executed,106 and
according to credible information received at least 21 children were sentenced to death on
the basis of qisas. In 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child deplored the fact that
100 See, for example, Amnesty International, Growing Up on Death Row (2016), p. 53, available at
101 See www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/07/iran-three-child-offenders-executed.
102 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23689&LangID=E.
103 CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, paras. 27–28.
104 CRC/C/IRN/Q/3-4/Add.1, para. 33.
105 A/72/322, para. 68.
106 See para. 38 above.
the executions had continued despite the amendment107 and in 2017 some special procedure
mandate holders described ongoing executions as “conclusive proof of the failure of the 2013
amendments to stop the execution of individuals sentenced to death as children”.108 In the
present section, the Special Rapporteur seeks to explain why article 91 has not been effective
in stopping the executions.
2. Inconsistent and arbitrary assessments
61. In 2016, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed “serious concern” that
decisions to exempt children from death sentences on the basis of article 91 assessments “are
under the full discretion of judges”, and strongly urged the Islamic Republic of Iran to remove
such discretion from the courts.109 The discretion given is particularly problematic because
the criteria used for assessing “mental development” is undefined and subjective. In some
cases, judges reportedly asked simple questions focused on whether the child knew that it
was wrong to kill. In other cases, judges considered the child to be “mentally developed” as
long as there was no evidence of mental health issues. Judges have also used measures such
as assessing whether the defendant has grown body hair to confirm mental development.110
62. In its comments, the Government stated that “the lack of understanding on the side of
the defendant, of the nature of the committed crime or existence of doubt in his/her maturity
and wisdom are stipulations and the terminology referred to in article 91 shall be carefully
observed at the time of the judicial proceedings …”. The Government further noted that “the
legislator, in article 91, approached the acceptance of criminal liability maturity and in a way,
it has admitted that adolescent people under the age of 18 could have not reached mentally
maturity and do not understand the nature of their act; there is doubt on their growth and
perfection of mind; and thus, they may not be subject to hadd or qisas. Therefore, the
reference of the law [to] those terms is important, because it helps the judge to reason on this
basis and, instead of imposing severe penalties, such as hadd or qisas, determine, as per case
and their age, the prescribed punishments.”
3. Inconsistent use and provision of expert advice
63. Article 91 of the Penal Code provides that “the court may ask for the opinion of
forensic medicine or resort to any other method it sees appropriate in order to establish the
full mental development”. The Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed serious
concern that judges “are allowed but are not mandated to seek forensic expert opinion”.111 In
some cases where expert opinion has not been requested, the child has been assessed by the
judge as being mentally developed. For example, Omid Rostami, who was convicted of
killing someone when he was 16 years of age, was executed in 2018 despite the failure of the
District Court and the Supreme Court to request an expert opinion to assess his mental
64. When expert advice has been requested, an opinion has been sought from doctors
working for the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization, a State institution. On numerous
occasions, the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization has undertaken the assessment long after
the crime was allegedly committed. Fatemeh Salbehi was convicted of killing her husband in
2008, when she was aged 17. She was sentenced to death and then afforded a retrial pursuant
to article 91 in 2013. During the retrial, the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization concluded
that she was mentally developed at the time of the crime, which had taken place five years
earlier. She was executed. Similarly, child offender Abolfazl Sharahi was assessed as being
mature one year after the alleged commission of the offence, and was subsequently executed.
The Special Rapporteur suggests that it is impossible for a credible assessment to be made in
such circumstances. The Special Rapporteur observes that there is a need to highlight the
107 CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, para. 35.
108 See www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21547&LangID=E.
109 CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, paras. 35–36.
110 Joint alternative report by civil society organizations, “Rights of the child in Iran”, March 2015,
available at https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CRC/Shared%20Documents/IRN/
111 CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, paras. 35–36.
extensive evidenced-based research supporting the view that individuals under the age of 18
have a lower level of mental development than adults. Further evidence is available to support
this view in Iranian legislation itself, as already noted. 112 The Special Rapporteur also
observes that article 91 allows for a child offender to be exempted from the death penalty if
there is “uncertainty about their full mental development”. This indicates that if there is any
doubt whatsoever then the child cannot be sentenced to death.
4. Inconsistent follow-up
65. In some cases, even when the judge has assessed that there is uncertainty as to the
mental development of the child, the assessment has been overturned upon appeal and the
child has been subsequently sentenced to death. For example, Mohammad Kalhori was
initially assessed as not mentally developed at the time of the crime and was sentenced to
imprisonment. However the Supreme Court later overturned his sentence and he was
sentenced to death during a retrial.113
5. Inconsistent implementation of retrials
66. Information received by the Special Rapporteur indicates that article 91 has not been
effective in sparing children already on death row from execution. One reason for this is that
article 91 does not provide for an automatic review of cases. Child offenders on death row or
their families must instead submit an application for retrial. As noted, many have lower levels
of economic and social standing, education, and support networks, and lower levels of
familiarity with their legal rights. In such circumstances, they may not be aware of the
possibility of applying for a retrial or may not have the means to do so. In other cases,
applications for retrials have been rejected. This trend was highlighted by the predecessor to
the current Special Rapporteur, who described how the requests of Zeinab Sekaanvand and
three other child offenders had been rejected by the Supreme Court without explanation.114
67. Even when requests for retrial have been accepted, some child offenders have been
resentenced to death. The Committee on the Rights of the Child and the predecessor to the
current Special Rapporteur expressed concerns in this respect in 2016 115 and 2017 116
6. Assessment of the implementation of article 91
68. The Special Rapporteur has described some fundamental and serious limitations
related to the implementation of article 91, while acknowledging that in some cases child
offenders have been exempted from the death penalty. The assessment of mental
development at the time of the crime is arbitrary and inconsistent, and at the sole discretion
of the judge, who can choose whether to seek medical advice or not. The credibility of such
assessments is further undermined by the use of inconsistent criteria, particularly when they
were conducted years after the crime in question. In some cases the findings of the assessment
have been overturned upon appeal in any event. Some requests under article 91 for retrials
for child offenders on death row have been rejected. In other cases where retrials have been
granted, the child offender has been found to be mentally developed and the death sentence
has been upheld.
IV. Conclusions and recommendations
A. Human rights situation
69. The Special Rapporteur observes that the protests in the Islamic Republic of Iran
which began in December 2017 reflect long-standing grievances related to human rights,
112 See paras. 46–49 above.
113 See www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23216&LangID=E.
114 A/72/322, para. 67.
115 CRC/C/IRN/CO/3-4, paras. 35–36.
116 A/72/322, para. 68.
in particular the enjoyment of economic, cultural and social rights. Positive
developments have been noted, such as the amendment to the drug trafficking law
which led to a substantial decline in executions. Nevertheless, increasing economic
challenges have intensified the grievances. These grievances may be further
exacerbated due to the recent reimposition of unilateral sanctions. Discontent has been
expressed through disparate protests by different groups across the country. The
Government has introduced some measures aimed at mitigating the economic impact
but has also increased the limits placed upon the rights to freedom of opinion,
expression, assembly, and association. In parallel, ominous developments signal an
increasingly severe State response, illustrated by the arrests of lawyers, human rights
defenders and labour activists. Their imprisonment undermines the protection of all
rights, including the right to a fair trial. This is worrying, given the pattern observed of
ill-treatment to coerce confessions during the initial investigation stage and the denial
of access to a chosen lawyer during this stage for serious offences. In the meantime, the
death penalty continues to be used extensively, including for crimes that do not entail
70. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government and Parliament:
(a) Pending abolishment, remove from the scope of the death penalty any
offence other than the “most serious crimes”, which are confined to intentional killing,
and ensure that all those sentenced to death for other offences have their sentences
commuted. Amend legislation to ensure that any person sentenced to death, including
on the basis of qisas, can seek pardon or commutation from the State;
(b) Ensure that prisoners are protected from all forms of torture and other
ill-treatment. Ensure that confessions obtained through such treatment are never
admitted as evidence against the accused;
(c) Amend the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to ensure that
confessions alone are not sufficient for admission of guilt;
(d) Ensure that medical care is urgently provided to those individuals in
detention who need it, including those identified in the present report, in light of the
imminent threat to life or serious deterioration of their health. Ensure that all
individuals in custody receive adequate, prompt and regular health care, including
specialist care as needed, on the basis of their informed consent;
(e) Ensure that deaths in custody, and allegations of violations of due process
and of ill-treatment are promptly, independently, impartially and effectively
investigated by an independent competent authority with a view to bringing those
suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in compliance with their right to a fair
(f) Ensure that all persons accused of any crime are assured access to a
lawyer of their choosing during all stages of the judicial process, including during the
initial investigation and interrogation stage, and are provided with legal aid as needed;
(g) Ensure that all prisoners with health conditions for whom staying in
prison would mean an exacerbation of their condition are not detained in prison, and
issue alternative sentences if there is no prospect of recovery through the full
implementation of article 502 of the Code of Criminal Procedure;
(h) Protect the rights of all persons belonging to religious and ethnic
minorities and address all forms of discrimination against them, and release all those
imprisoned for having exercised their right to freedom of religion or belief;
(i) Ensure that all those arrested for the peaceful exercise of their rights to
freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and association are released. Promptly report
to the families the whereabouts and situation of individuals taken into custody;
(j) Ensure that human rights defenders, including women human rights
defenders, and lawyers and journalists are not threatened with or subjected to
intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrest, deprivation of liberty or other arbitrary
sanction, and release all those detained in connection with their work;
(k) Implement the recommendations reflected in the opinions of the Working
Group on Arbitrary Detention, and address patterns of violations highlighted by the
Working Group with respect to dual and foreign nationals;
(l) Take all measures necessary to mitigate some of the effects of economic
sanctions, and to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights, including on the protection of vulnerable groups. Establish
a transparent financial mechanism to ensure that trade in medicines and other essential
humanitarian items continues.
71. The Special Rapporteur recommends that sanctions-imposing countries take all
steps to ensure that sanctions in the Islamic Republic of Iran do not undermine human
rights, including by ensuring that humanitarian and procedural safeguards and
exemptions prevent a harmful impact on the enjoyment of human rights.
B. Execution of child offenders
72. The Special Rapporteur notes that the execution of child offenders has continued
over decades in violation of the international human rights obligations of the Islamic
Republic of Iran. Girls as young as 9 and boys as young as 15 can be sentenced to death.
The Government’s support for mediation efforts to obtain forgiveness for qisas crimes,
and the enactment of article 91 of the Penal Code, have meant some children have
avoided the death penalty. Despite this, at least 21 children have been sentenced to death
and 33 child offenders have been executed since the enactment of article 91. These
numbers confirm that the content of article 91 is not sufficient and its implementation
has not been effective. In numerous cases, the assessment of mental development
provided for by article 91 has been conducted years after the crime in question was
allegedly committed. Information reviewed indicates that many children sentenced to
death have lower levels of economic and social standing, education, and support
networks, and in some cases have faced extreme situations including forced marriage
and alleged domestic violence. However, the legislation does not allow the court to take
into account mitigating factors when considering the death sentence. Furthermore, if
diya is agreed, children whose families are not as wealthy are less able to “buy” their
freedom and depend upon others to find the money to save their lives. Hence the
executions continue unabated.
73. The Special Rapporteur recommends that Parliament:
(a) Urgently amend legislation to prohibit the execution of persons who
committed a hudud or qisas crime while below the age of 18 years and as such are
children. Urgently amend the legislation to commute all existing sentences for child
offenders on death row;
(b) Withdraw the general reservation to the Convention on the Rights of the
Child given that such a general reservation is not compatible with the object and
purpose of the Convention;
(c) Amend the Penal Code to increase the age of criminal responsibility for
qisas and hudud crimes to 18 years for all children, and ensure that all children are
treated equally and without discrimination within the criminal justice system.
74. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the judiciary:
(a) Urgently halt the planned execution of all child offenders, and commute
the death sentences imposed on the basis of qisas and hudud crimes for all child
(b) Pending legislative review, urgently issue a circular which requires all
judges not to sentence children to death on the basis of qisas or hudud crimes, and which
requires presiding judges to order retrials for all child offenders on death row without
recourse to the death penalty.
75. Pending implementation of the aforementioned recommendations, and without
prejudice to the binding obligation enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to not sentence
children to death and to not execute child offenders, the Special Rapporteur
recommends that the judiciary:
(a) Require courts to comprehensively assess mental development in all cases
in line with article 91 of the Penal Code, and to always seek expert advice from the
relevant child development, psychology, psychiatry, and social service fields as well as
from the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization, with a view to ensuring that the child is
exempted from the death penalty;
(b) Ensure that any article 91 assessment is conducted on the prima facie basis
that there is uncertainty about the mental development of the child, and as such a death
sentence cannot be imposed. Ensure that the burden of proof is always on the
prosecution to establish complete certainty about the full mental development of the
child, in line with article 91. Furthermore, ensure that the child is afforded the benefit
of the doubt if the assessment is not undertaken immediately after the crime;
(c) Undertake a prompt, effective and transparent review of all child
offenders on death row and ensure that they are afforded legal representation and
financial and other needed support to exercise their right to a retrial as provided for by
article 91 of the Penal Code;
(d) Ensure that children who have been detained or arrested are interviewed
only in the presence of their chosen lawyer, are immediately granted legal aid if needed,
and are granted access to a family member of their choice at all times regardless of the
offence they are accused of;
(e) When assessing the quality and veracity of testimony or confession offered
by the child, ensure that the judge considers all circumstances of interrogation,
especially the age of the child as well as the length of detention and interrogation and
the presence of legal or other representatives and parents during questioning;
(f) Require that all those who deal with children in the criminal justice system,
especially judges, prosecutors, medical examiners, police interrogators and other law
enforcement professionals, undergo specialist, ongoing and systematic training on the
rights of the child. Such training should inform participants about how to take into
account the child’s physical, psychological, mental and social development in a manner
consistent with the obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran under international
human rights law;
(g) Establish specialist and separate child courts to consider cases involving
children, for all crimes including qisas and hudud crimes, in the first instance and on
appeal, in all provinces. Ensure that the judges who preside over such courts, and the
prosecutors who are able to bring cases before such courts, have a minimum level of
professional qualifications and expert training in child sociology, child psychology and
(h) Ensure that the court takes into account the circumstances in which the
child is living and the conditions in which any offence has allegedly been committed,
including through the preparation, introduction and full consideration of pre-sentence
reports. Ensure that the court is informed about all relevant facts about the child, such
as social and family background, wealth, education and circumstances of marriage.
Ensure that adequate social services capacity has been established to be able to provide
such reports and is mandated to provide such advice;
(i) Ensure that detention pending trial is only used as a measure of last resort
and for the shortest possible period of time for children accused of any crime, including
qisas and hudud crimes;
(j) Provide the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights and the Special Rapporteur with a list of all child offenders on death row.
76. Pending abolition of the death penalty for child offenders, the Special
Rapporteur recommends that the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization, and other
expert bodies called upon to conduct article 91 assessments:
(a) Conduct assessments that provide a scientific, evidence-based assessment
as to whether there is total certainty about the mental development of the child offender
at the time of the offence in line with article 91 of the Penal Code. Ensure that such an
assessment reflects the findings of assessments by experts from all relevant fields,
including the relevant child development, psychology, psychiatry, and social service
(b) Afford the child offender the benefit of the doubt and deliver a finding of
uncertainty when absolute certainty cannot be scientifically established, including if the
assessment is not conducted immediately after the alleged offence. Establish and
publish a methodology to conduct the assessment.