Female political prisoners were raped in the 1980s – Rashida Manjoo

Professor Rashida Manjoo, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women (June 2009 – July 2015)

Professor of Public Law in the University of Cape Town, South Africa

Former parliamentary commissioner on the Commission on Gender Equality in South Africa

Eleanor Roosevelt fellow with Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School

Remarks at IWD conference on “Women Force for Change, Iran Uprising and Women’s Role”

Paris – February 17, 2018

Thank you very much.

Distinguished guests, Madam Rajavi, colleagues and friends,

I would like to thank the Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran for inviting me to participate. This is my second time participating and I am very grateful.

The activism, as we’ve seen and heard, of Iranian women against oppression, discrimination and undemocratic regimes is part of a long and proud tradition.

Women’s participation in freedom struggles in both public and private spaces has been inclusive with women across the political and economic divides participating in different activities including peaceful public protests.

As the most recent protests reveal despite the brutality that the Iranian women are experiencing they continue to resist and fight for political, economic, civil and social freedoms.

This has led, of course, to an increase in arbitrary arrests and detention including of large numbers of women.

According to the NCRI, at least 400 women were subjected to arbitrary arrests in the last protest, that we’ve just seen and heard about, but the numbers are unconfirmed and are probably higher.

The wave of protests which started in December 2017, rapidly spread across the country with women playing a remarkable role in these protests and demonstrating courage in standing up to the state and its authorities. The Iranian regime has responded to these extensive protests through massive clampdowns and arrests.

Furthermore, there are reports of women political prisoners who have expressed support and solidarity for the protests and they are being subjected to pressure, punishment and torture for their support.

For example, Atena Daemi writing from prison, said, “If desiring freedom and basic human rights is considered a crime, I stand by you and proudly call myself a criminal.”

This is part of my life experience in South Africa, as well. Protesting against undemocratic regimes, the apartheid system, etc., we were regarded as criminal.

Many countries are experiencing a significantly disproportionate rate of increase of women being incarcerated as compared to men. Women worldwide face similar human rights violations relating to the causes that lead to their imprisonment, the conditions that they face in prison, and the consequences of their incarceration.

My 2013 report to the UN General Assembly highlights that there is a strong link between violence against women and women’s incarceration whether prior to, during or post-incarceration.

In many countries, women’s political activism has given rise to arrest and detentions.  A report on Iran, which I reflected in my report to the General Assembly, reflects interviews with former women political prisoners in Iran who were arrested for a number of reasons. Some reasons included political affiliation which can include affiliation with political opposition groups, women’s rights activists, student bodies, NGOs, members who are defenders of the LGBTI community, human rights defenders, and religious minorities.

Other reasons for incarceration include activities related to journalism, media, blogging and human rights advocacy, participation in demonstrations or other forms of activism and religious crimes including affiliation with unrecognized minorities, and violations that are linked to dress codes including the veiling.

And we see this more and more in different countries not just Iran.

Violence against women, of course, is a reality. It has a disproportionate impact on women who are incarcerated. One study on Iran, as reflected in my report, uncovered rape of female political prisoners in Iran throughout the 1980s including the rape of young virgin girls before execution.

Some forms of forced marriage and other forms of sexual violence continue today, in Iran.

In July 2011, a female prisoner committed suicide. And this is again, an occurrence that we hear about anecdotally after violent beatings including with electronic batons.

The previous special rapporteur on Iran, Mr. Shahid, in his report stated that a prisoner alleged that prison guards tortured her by subjecting her to sleep and toilet deprivation, keeping her in a standing position for hours, burning her with cigarettes, exposing her to extreme temperatures for extended periods of time, and punching, kicking and striking her with batons.

Such examples of human rights violations continue today in Iran.

Psychological violence, including solitary confinement of women and girls, can be another form of abuse particularly when applied for an extended period of time or used as punishment.

In prison setting, solitary confinement is often used punitively against women and girls who act out and challenge prison authorities. That is, they do not act in submissive ways that are stereotypical of how women should behave.

There are views that there is a correlation between solitary confinement and suicide rates and attempted suicide amongst women prisoners.

In addition to cruel, degrading and inhuman physical violence, severe mental abuse is used in Iran in order to extract false confessions regarding details of a prisoner’s sexual relations under threat of public disclosure of that information.

It is clear that arbitrary arrests and detention which impact the liberty and security of persons is a widespread practice in Iran.

Arbitrary detention is a fundamental human rights violation which is prohibited under international human rights law and there is no justification for the derogation from this prohibition.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights –which is 70 years old this year– in Article 3 states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

In addition, the UDHR Article 13 states that everyone has the right to freedom of movement within the borders of each state. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and exile. Unfortunately, we can see that the violation of international human rights law, including a 70-year-old document that all governments in the world are bound by, is being violated with impunity in Iran.

International law also mandates that all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

Prisoners may not be subjected to any hardship or constraint other than that resulting from the deprivation of liberty, and respect for the dignity of such persons must be guaranteed under the same conditions as those are free persons.

Unfortunately, this is not the reality for women who are imprisoned in Iranian prisons.

The challenge, of course, is that impunity is the norm.

The challenge is the silence often of the world community when it comes to such atrocities which we witness. We bear witness to this on a daily basis whether it’s Palestine, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Iran.

And unfortunately the silence or complicity by the International Community allows for this to go on. Thank you very much.