Amidst US-Iran nuclear talks, Iran wants UN human rights body to pronounce sanctions contrary to human rights

At a time when the US-Iran nuclear negotiations are ongoing, Iran leads a request before a UN human rights body, in parallel.

Iran and Palestine spearheaded Human Rights Council Resolution 24/14, which mandates the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee to look into the socioeconomic impact of unilateral sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights.

US sanctions on Iran, while much criticized and debated, have worked, as they pushed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out of office and made possible for the moderate in comparison, Hassan Rouhani, to come to power.

That brought a foreign policy shift and put Iran back on the international scene – from Rouhani’s social media engagement on Twitter to willingness to engage in international bi-lateral and multi-lateral diplomacy. Iran-US nuclear talks leading to an implementable deal or a private meeting with Israel’s Netanyahu would have been unthinkable just a year ago.

Rouhani came to power precisely because of US sanctions. Lifting them was one of his election platform pillars. Talks with the US have led to partial easing already.

Amidst US-Iran bi-lateral nuclear talks, this Iran-led request to the UN human rights body is an attempt to try to get them to ascertain that unilateral sanctions are contrary to human rights, and to grant itself another argument in the ongoing engagement with the US over the lifting of the stifling sanctions that have barred investors and trading partners from doing business in Iran, which some estimate are costing as much as $7bln to Iran's economy. Oil companies and Iran's leadership, both eager to see sanctions lifted, are meeting on the sidelines in Davos this week.

But there is more to the story. While it is true that the US sanctions have had a key impact on ousting Ahmadinejad – and many would argue, for the better of the region and the world – it is undeniable that this was done at the expense of ordinary Iranians, with the aim of starving them into voting. This is why the action Iran has spearheaded has merit -- the unknown is the exact legal interpretation and assessment mechanism that experts in the Advisory Committee would assume. At stake is the controversial right to development.

In this request, the Advisory Committee has a balancing act to perform over the course of the following months – on one hand, to acknowledge the adverse effect of unilateral sanctions on the most vulnerable poor, while avoiding becoming a tool in the hands of a regime that ranks towards the bottom in terms of human rights record.

The Human Rights Council reconvenes for its 27th session in September this year. At that time will be due the 2014 report, which precedes the 2015 report in which the Advisory Committee has to a suggest a mechanism for assessment of the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

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