Introduction to the 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
In the early morning hours of August 21, 2013, artillery and mortar shells equipped with sarin gas exploded amidst the agricultural neighborhoods of Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. Those exposed to the nerve agent foamed from the nose and mouth, convulsing, desperate for air. Rows of victims, covered in white burial shrouds, soon lay motionless on hospital floors. At least 1,429 Syrian civilians, including 426 children, and many of the brave activists who had raced to the scene with video cameras to show the world what had happened, died on that day. The poisonous gas attack, perpetrated by the Syrian army, marked the most lethal chemical weapons attack in decades. It is one of many horrors in a civil war filled with countless crimes against humanity, from the torture and murder of prisoners to the targeting of civilians with barrel bombs and Scud missiles, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
The tragedy that has befallen the Syrian people stands apart in its scope and human cost. But it is not the only major human rights calamity of 2013 – some born of negligence and others of malice, some committed by physical force, and others by legislative abuse.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic republic established after the 1979 adoption of a constitution by popular referendum. The constitution, amended in 1989, created a political system based on the concept in Shia Islam of velayat-e faqih (“guardianship of the jurist” or “rule by the jurisprudent”). Shia clergy, most notably the “supreme jurisprudent” (or supreme leader), and political leaders vetted by the clergy-dominated key power structures. While mechanisms for popular election exist within the structure of the state, the supreme leader directly controlled the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government as well as the armed forces. The supreme leader also indirectly controlled internal security forces and other key institutions. Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite high popular participation in the country’s June 14 presidential election, candidate vetting conducted by unelected bodies based on arbitrary criteria, as well as limitations on civil society, print and electronic media, and election monitoring by credible nongovernmental observers, continued to undermine the freedom and fairness of the electoral system. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces frequently committed human rights abuses.
The most egregious human rights problems were the government’s manipulation of the electoral process, which severely limited citizens’ right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on civil liberties, including the freedoms of assembly, speech, and press; and disregard for the physical integrity of persons whom it arbitrarily and unlawfully detained, tortured, or killed.
Other reported human rights problems included: disappearances; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including judicially sanctioned amputation and flogging; politically motivated violence and repression, such as beatings and rape; harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities, with instances of deaths in custody; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; continued impunity of security forces; denial of fair public trials, sometimes resulting in executions without due process; the lack of an independent judiciary; political prisoners and detainees; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech (including via the internet) and press; harassment of journalists; censorship and media content restrictions; severe restrictions on academic freedom; severe restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, association, and religion; some restrictions on freedom of movement; official corruption and lack of government transparency; constraints on investigations by international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into alleged violations of human rights; legal and societal discrimination and violence against women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity; incitement to anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on the exercise of labor rights.