UN anti-racism panel calls on Iran to counter hatred

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GENEVA: The UN anti-racism panel Friday called on Iran to counter racism and ethnic discrimination, including incitement to hatred by officials and "double discrimination suffered by women from minorities.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern at the exclusion of Arab, Azeri, Balochi, Kurdish and Bahai communities in areas such as housing, education, health, jobs and "from public life."

It also noted the hurdles ethnic minorities faced despite the country’s economic growth.

Committee member Dilip Lahiri told journalists the panel felt discrimination against the Bahai community was "quite rampant", despite a debate over whether the issue was a religious one and thus out of the panel’s remit.

The panel’s 18 experts said they were concerned at "the reports of discrimination in everyday life and statements of racial discrimination and incitement to hatred by government officials."

"While commending efforts undertaken by the state party to empower women, the committee is concerned that women of minority origin may be at risk of facing double discrimination," they also noted.

"The committee recommends that (Iran) take appropriate steps to combat manifestations in the media, as well as in everyday life, of racial prejudice that could lead to discrimination."

Azeri communities were notably subjected to "stereotyped and demeaning" portrayals in the media, while ethnic or religious minorities faced "limited enjoyment of political, economic, social and cultural rights."

Lahiri, a former Indian diplomat, noted that Iran had signed up to the international anti-racism convention before the revolution that turned it into an Islamic republic.

"It does face a challenge in reconciling its Islamic constitution with a secular convention, which is what we have," he remarked.

The panel’s conclusions on Friday followed a regular review of Iran’s application of international standards in a hearing earlier this month.

Iran had vaunted its cultural and ethnic diversity and told the committee that all citizens were regarded as equals, underlining its attempts to tackle poverty, especially in rural areas, and foster dialogue.

Iranian officials also highlighted laws against social discrimination during the hearing and a lack of complaints.

While the committee welcomed legislative changes five years ago promoting citizenry rights, it cautioned that the absence of complaints "is not proof" of the absence of discrimination.

It "may be the result of the victims’ lack of awareness of their rights, the lack of confidence on the part of individuals in the police or judicial authorities, or the authorities’ lack of attention or sensitivity to cases of racial discrimination," the UN rights panel argued.

Iran was asked to report back in 2013 on measures taken to redress the situation.

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