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Article Iran: Charter on Citizens' Rights Signed

(Feb. 28, 2017) With the aim of “recovering and promoting citizens’ rights,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, under his constitutional authority to “determine the program and policies of the government,” signed the Charter on Citizens’ Rights in a ceremony on December 19, 2016.  (Rouhani Unveils Charter on Civil Rights; Vagueness Regarding “Enforcement Guarantee, VOA (Dec. 19, 2016) (in Persian); Manshur-e Hoquq-e Shahrvandi [Charter on Citizens’ Rights] (Dec. 2016), Hassan Rouhani website; Charter on Citizen’s Rights (Charter) (Dec. 2016), Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran website (official English translation); Qanun-e Asasi-e Jomhuri-e Islami-e Iran [Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran] (1979), art. 134, Islamic Parliament Research Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran website; Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Constitution), Comparative Constitutions Project website.)

The Charter, which is actually draft legislation that needs to be passed by Iran’s Islamic Consultative Assembly (Parliament), contains no specific enforcement guarantee.  (Rouhani Unveils Charter on Civil Rights; Vagueness Regarding “Enforcement Guarantee, supra; Mehrnaz Samimi, Will Rouhani’s “Charter of Rights” Change Anything in Iran?, ATLANTIC COUNCIL (Jan. 3, 2017).)

The Charter contains 120 articles, which include the right of Iranian citizens “to enjoy a decent life and necessities thereof, such as clean water, adequate food, promotion of health, … appropriate medical treatment, access to medicines, … and safe and sustainable environmental conditions.  (Charter, art. 2.)  The Charter guarantees citizens’ freedom of speech and expression “within the limits prescribed by law,” and affords them the right to access public information, communicate in cyberspace, assemble and participate in demonstrations, and receive due process of law.  (Id. arts. 26, 30, 33, 46 & 57.)  In addition, the Charter provides for a number of women’s rights, guaranteeing women’s participation in formulating policy and legislation and equality of social opportunities (id. art. 11); protection from verbal and physical abuse and violence (id. art. 54); appropriate job opportunities and pay equal to that of men (id. art. 83); and access to public environments and participation in social, cultural, and artistic groups (id. art. 103).

However, according to Iranian-American journalist Mehrnaz Samimi, “[m]any of these rights already exist in Iran’s constitution, but have often not been implemented.  Such a charter was among Rouhani’s campaign pledges when he first ran for president four years ago and the president may have felt the need to unveil the bill before running for re-election this spring.”  (Samimi, supra.)

Reactions to the Charter

Reactions to the issuing of the Charter reflect the divide within Iran between reformists, moderates, and centrists like Rouhani, and traditional and hardline conservatives.  (Kaylyn Wade, 2016 Iranian Elections: Clash of Reform and Revolution, EX-PATT MAGAZINE (Oct. 7, 2016).)  Some conservative commentators and newspapers have criticized the Charter as redundant and full of shortcomings, while Kayhan, Iran’s most prominent conservative newspaper – known as “the mouthpiece of ultra-conservatives” – labeled it a “list of unfulfilled duties of the government” and attacked governmental managers for receiving very high salaries and living in mansions while citizens were suffering from unemployment and inadequate housing.  (Samimi, supra; Rohollah Faghihi, Can Rouhani’s Citizens’ Rights Charter Be Enforced?, AL-MONITOR (Dec. 20, 2016).)  Moreover, the hardline Javan newspaper criticized the Charter for usurping the power of the Parliament and drafting legislation.  (Faghihi, supra.)

In contrast to the conservatives, reformists and moderates in the country welcomed the issuing of the Charter on Citizens’ Rights, but expressed serious concerns about whether it would have any significant effect or was even enforceable.  Writing in the reformist daily Shargh, Iranian lawyer Kambiz Norouzi stated that not only was the Charter clearly not a law, but it was not even possible to determine whether it was binding, government-approved legislation.  Norouzi’s primary concern is that because the Charter merely lists citizens’ rights but ignores the reasons why citizens’ rights already enshrined in existing laws are disregarded and violated, it cannot be effective.  (Kambiz Norouzi, Is the Charter on Citizens’ Rights …, SHARGH RUZNAMEH (Dec. 20, 2016) (in Persian).)

Other commentators trace such violations of citizens’ rights to the primary basis of the Charter – the Iranian Constitution itself, which affords no protection to religious minorities not officially recognized by the Constitution (that is, any minorities besides Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians).  Accordingly, “the effective application of each … of those rights may be compromised by interpretations of ‘Islamic criteria.’”  (Christopher Buck, The Trial of the Yaran Under the Iranian “Citizens’ Rights” and “Legal Procedures for Revolutionary Courts” Standards, IRAN PRESS WATCH (Feb. 20, 2010); U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, International Freedom Report 2005; Bijan DaBell, Iran Minorities 1: Diverse Religions (Sept. 3, 2013), United States Institute of Peace website.)

Finally, despite the Charter’s seven articles calling for various rights and protections for women (Charter, supra), it is silent about “existing laws [that] discriminate against women in a wide variety of areas, including age of criminal responsibility, marriage, inheritance, and veiling.”  (Shahin Milani, Situation of the Bahá’í Minority in Iran and the Existing Legal Framework, 69(2) JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS (June 6, 2016).)

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