The UN Human Rights Chief condemned the Iranian regime’s clampdown on Khuzestan protesters and urged the authorities to address the water shortage instead. In a statement issued in Geneva, she pointed out: “When you hear reports that injured protesters are avoiding hospitals for fear of being arrested, it is an indication of just how bad the situation is.” Mrs. Bachelet described the situation as “catastrophic.”
The United Nations website published the statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday, July 23, 2021, excerpts of which appear below:
Bachelet urges Iran to focus on addressing the water crisis in Khuzestan rather than crushing protests
GENEVA (23 July 2021) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Friday called on the Iranian authorities to concentrate on taking urgent action to address the chronic water shortage in the province of Khuzestan, rather than using excessive force and widespread arrests to crush the protests about the situation.
“The impact of the devastating water crisis on life, health and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the Government’s attention, not the protests carried out by people driven to desperation by years of neglect,” said Bachelet. “I am extremely concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week, as well as the widespread arrests and detention.”
Khuzestan Province – where a large number of the 5 million inhabitants belong to Iran’s Arab minority – used to be the country’s main and most reliable source of water. However alleged mismanagement over many years, including the diversion of water to other parts of the country, coupled with nationwide droughts, has drained the province of its precious life-saving resource in a manner that has proved to be unsustainable. In recent months, the Karkheh and Zohreh riverbeds in western Khuzestan have dried up, as have the Hoor-al-Azim wetlands (or Hawizeh Marshes).
As a result, protests over the water shortage and mismanagement erupted on 15 July in several cities across the province, with protesters including children chanting, “I am thirsty, Water is my right,” along with other calls clearly related to the current crisis.
In response, state security forces appear to have reacted with disproportionate force against unarmed and peaceful protesters, leading to the killing of at least four individuals, including one minor, and injuries to several others.
Protests have spread over the past week to at least 20 major towns and cities in Khuzestan, with further protests breaking out in support elsewhere in Iran, including in Tehran and Lorestan province.
The situation is catastrophic
“Water is indeed a right,” the UN Human Rights Chief said. “But instead of heeding the legitimate calls by its citizens for that right to be upheld, the authorities have for the most part concentrated on oppressing those making those calls. The situation is catastrophic, and has been building up for many years. The authorities need to recognize that and act accordingly. Shooting and arresting people will simply add to the anger and desperation.”
“When you hear reports that injured protesters are avoiding hospitals for fear of being arrested, it is an indication of just how bad the situation is,” Bachelet said, stressing that the authorities have an obligation under international human rights law to ensure that any use of force in response to protests is a last resort, strictly necessary and proportionate.”
Iran lacks channels for raising grievances
Iran in general lacks effective channels for people to raise their grievances in any way other than through protests. Severely restricted civic space, lack of participatory processes, and lack of free media make it impossible for people to bring attention to dire situations such as this through any other means.
The internet and other forms of communication have been disrupted during the current crisis, and Government officials have been labeling protesters as rioters and secessionists.