Recent law in Iran

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MEMORANDUM To Anna Neistat Senior Director of Amnesty International “Recent law in Iran Regarding Contraceptive Measures; Proposed Strategies and Course of Action” Summery Everybody has the right to decide about his/her body without external interference. This right includes decisions regarding the pregnancy and contraceptive measures. In other words, generally no one can impose binding norms on citizens about childbearing.

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Besides that, governments not only should not violate this human right but also have the responsibility to protect the citizens against any interference in implementing this right. However, abortion has been a deep rooted problem in Iran. Even before Islamic revolution abortion was not totally permitted in Iran. But after revolution of 1979 the new law became more conservative and limited regarding abortion. Furthermore, recently a law was passed in Iranian parliament that highly limits the pregnancy preventive measures. It even considers criminal punishment for citizens who use these measures. Clearly, this law can make the women’s situation even worse. More explicitly, the number of clandestine and illegal abortion will increase since in many cases the pregnancy is unwanted. Even if the general policy is increasing the birth rate, restricting access to preventive measures is not acceptable. Amnesty international should use its strategies to prevent the continuing human rights violation in Iran in this particular filed. We had already struggled against abortion ban in El Salvador. I wish that by the strategies that are proposed here we could at least draw the international attention to this problem.

  1. Introduction and Problem Definition

Iran recently (in July 2014) adopted a law titled “increasing fertility and helping to prevent the decline in growth of population”. Many articles of this law explicitly violate the international human rights standards. Everybody has basic and fundamental human rights to make his/her decisions about his/her body, health and sexual life. In other words the autonomy should be respected in every situation. However in above mentioned law it is predicted that abortion, sterilization, vasectomy, tubectomy and any advertisements on birth limitation is prohibited and even the imprisonment is included as a punishment. Actually this law is adopted following the general policy of Iranian state to increase the population and birth rate. Under the existing law even if a woman be pregnant as a result of rape she still doesn’t have the right to an abortion. In this law even the suitable age for marriage for both boys and girls is determined. With regard to this law 20-25 years old and 18-22 are the appreciate ages for boys and girls respectably. In 1976, the Iranian Penal Code was amended. According to this new law a physician was allowed to perform an abortion under restrict conditions. In other words, couple should present evidence for a justified abortion. Surprisingly and after Islamic revolution in1984, the Supreme Council for Policy Making in Health, Curative Services and Medical Education proposed some conditions under which the abortion was legitimated and the aim was to maintain the welfare of both mother and child. Almost contrary to what is taken today, in 1989, due to the high number of birth after Iran-Iraq war the policy became I favor of contraceptive measures to finally reduce the rate of childbirth to 2.3 percent. Not surprisingly, this programme was considerably successful. Another positive step after revolution is the ratification of Therapeutic Abortion Act in 2005. “The Act, which was passed at a public session of the Iranian Parliament on May 31, 2005 and approved by the Guardian Council on June 15, 2005 after vigorous debate permits therapeutic abortion on the recommendation of three gynecological experts and confirmation by the Legal Medicine Organization. The Act allows for therapeutic abortion with the mother’s consent during the first four months of pregnancy in the event of fetal malformation or retardation or threat to the life of the mother, with the physician performing the abortion is indemnified against any future civil or criminal penalties”.[1] “Despite this fertility decline many pregnancies are reported as being unwanted or mistimed. While the total fertility rate of Iran dramatically declined from 5.3 children per woman in 1988 to 2.0 in 2000, unintended pregnancies accounted for 34 percent of all pregnancies in the whole country, with 16 percent as unwanted and 18 percent mistimed”.[2] “Two decades after Iran initiated an effective birth control programme, including subsidized male sterilization surgeries and free condom distribution, the country is to make a U-turn. Last year the supreme leader,Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, criticized existing policy on contraception, describing it as an imitation of western lifestyle. He has urged the government to tackle what he believes to be an ageing population and to double the number of people in Iran from 77 million to at least 150 million”.[3]It is clear that this limitation will conclude to hidden abortion that in most of the time is dangerous for mother’s health. As it was mentioned before the number of abortion in Iran is two high despite many legal barriers. On the one hand, the number of sexual relation out of marriage is considerably increased and on the other hand there is not still enough knowledge about contraception among young mothers. “Iranian policy will be clearer concerning Iranian position regarding the recent draft on the right of child in 21 November 2014. Iran’s representative did not accept paragraph 5 of the draft that appoints the General Assembly would urge Governments to promote and protect the human rights of all women and girls, including, among other things, their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health”.[4]

  1. Issue Analysis

Unfortunately, in Iran, women and girls are held to sever gender stereotypes and expectations that consider them just as mothers who should stay at home and look after their children. The aim of this approach is to limit and isolate women from active participation in the society. “Under international human rights law all states have the responsibility to protect without any discrimination. Namely, if the state protects the bodily integrity and liberty of some people, the state is obligated to provide protection to others who are similarly situated. When harm results from a fetus, that harm similarly situates a woman to other people who have suffered harm to their bodily integrity and liberty. The state does act to protect people from harm in most situations; hence, the state is obligated to act to stop harm to a woman’s bodily integrity and liberty resulting from the fetus. The state’s refusal to fund abortions as the necessary means to stop that harm is thus an unconstitutional deprivation of equal protection”.[5]

  1. An overview to activities that have been done to solve the problem

Generally, while international human rights NGOs paid much attention to women’s rights in Iran there is almost no serious work regarding abortion ban in this country. For instance, Human Rights Watch has already focused on the legal situation of abortion in Spain, Argentina and Ireland. In Amnesty International also we have studied about El Salvador but not Iran. This is also true about FIDH that did not do any investigation regarding abortion in Iran. As a result, not only there has not been complete and detailed international study regarding abortion in Iran but also this issue is almost neglected in internal debates concerning women’s rights. To sum up, except some sporadic efforts, as far as our research shows there is no serious and continues activity regarding abortion in Iran. Even when International human rights organizations talk about women’s rights in Iran they rarely refer to their right to their bodies. In other words, this aspect of women’s rights in Iran is neglected and may be that explains why parliament can pass this law almost easily.

  1. Proposed Solutions and Strategic Recommendation

Our policy goal is to draw public opinion attention on this issue and put Iran under international pressure, so the government will change or amend the law. As an Amnesty International’s staff I present here some strategies that can improve situation and prevent continuing human rights violation. Before explaining the main content, I should mention that all the three strategies should be followed in the same time. In other words, for achieving our goal, that is law amendment, Amnesty should consider all its potential capacities to change the situation and prevent human rights violation.

  1. Fact gathering, documentation and distribution of information

First, it should be mentioned that Amnesty International’s strategy was to establish a research office in London to identify and gather information on individual “prisoners of conscience”. Amnesty would then distribute information worldwide about them and the abuses they suffered. Based on this historical mission I would suggest documentation and distribution of information worldwide as the most important and primary strategy. In this regard the global campaign My Body, My Rights, is the best tool. This campaign recognized making decisions about health, body sexuality and reproductive life as a basic human right. This campaign aims to help ensure that everyone has access to their sexual and reproductive rights and to stop criminalization of sexuality and reproduction by governments. Within the framework of the campaign we will try to improve the knowledge of Iranian women’s about their rights. The campaign already works on the El Salvador’s case. We may “take action” about Iran as we already did in the El Salvador issue. It means we should first gather facts and start documentation then email petitions and do other online actions. The most important point here is that there is currently no Amnesty International office in Iran which makes the work more complicated and difficult. However we do have Amnesty members and supporters based there. It is important to have someone who read the law and translate it correctly. The other important source of information which can play a key role here is interviewing victims. We should assure them that they will be unanimous and that their cooperation has a key role in preventing continuous violation. They can give us the most credible information. For implementing the interviews we should also keep in touch with local activist. We call on young people across the globe and Amnesty activists to engage, alongside international partners, to speak out and demand that the sexual and reproductive rights of young people are protected, respected and fulfilled. However in following this strategy we should bear in mind that our practical experience during years shows that Iranian government is not always concern about the international perception of its human rights situation. As a result it may be pay no attention to the vast demand to change its law. What I suggest here is to mobilize Iranian civil society and help them to improve the awareness among women. Public opinion inevitably plays an important role in Iran. In other words we try to attract international attention and at the same time help internal NGOs to inform society of the negative points of this law and the dangerous consequences. In this regard it is so important to avoid any direct connection with Iranian NGOs. As a result, partnership with local campaigning group is almost impossible. We can inform them through our website. We can prepare reports and analysis and widely publish them. Besides that, there are numerous international human rights NGOs outside the country that focus particularly on Iran while their activity in Iran is illegal.[6] For preparing reports and educational text we can ask for their active participation particularly if they have lawyers among their staff. To ensure the maximum efficiency I suggest the translation of reports and women’s rights education texts related to Iran, into Persian. Most NGOs in Iran do not have enough budgets to benefit from a professional translator.

  1. Playing an active role in the UPR process

The continued attention of the international community is required to achieve the ultimate goal. Universal Periodic Review is a good opportunity to take international attention to human rights violation in Iran. While states are encourage to undertake broad consultation at the national level with all relevant stakeholders (including NGOs) in order to gather the information they intend to submit to the UPR, Iranian government eliminate independent NGOs from this process. In other words it is not possible for Amnesty International to take part in the national consultations. It is more than 35 years that we could not send any delegation to Iran although we have tried many times. In the context of specific country reviews under the Universal Periodic Review, Amnesty International provides information about the situation of human rights in the countries under review and makes recommendations to the governments concerned to address key human rights challenges as well as strengthen the process of the review. In this context direct lobbying can be an effective activity. As a result we should try other ways to engage in this process. First, we can submit information about unpleasant outcomes of this law. Then as I mentioned earlier, what I propose is lobby governments to make recommendations to Iran to address amendment to this law as we may not make intervention in the sessions of the UPR Working Group. We can meet with government representatives of the Member States of the Council, who may be inspired by our questions and recommendations ahead of and during UPR session. It is through these informal means that our recommendations and questions may influence the UPR proceedings and outcome. In my point of view, this action is necessary and can be the most effective one. We meet powerful governments in UPR revision so by direct lobbing we should convince them to include human rights issue in their mutual relations with Iran. In other words, Iranian officials should understand that by gross human rights violations they will lose economic benefits. I think this is the best way to oblige a government to follow human rights standards as Iranian government is almost indifferent about its international image.

  1. Write for rights

Every year, around Human Rights Day on 10 December, hundreds of thousands of people around the world send a message to someone they’ve never met. Letter writing has always been at the core of Amnesty’s work, and 53 years of human rights activism show that letters really do have the power to change lives. Amnesty International’s annual Write For Rights campaign is the largest grassroots letter-writing effort in the world. By participating in write a letter during Write for Rights 2014, everyone can help change a life. We need people to take action and oblige Iranian government to respected, protected and fulfilled. Today, Amnesty members, activists and supporters have added tweets, Facebook posts, and online messages to letter writing. We have been doing this for 50 years because it works. This year it will start on December first and will last until 17 December. It is such a unique opportunity to include Iran’s case among others. We should include Iran in Write for Rights event by describing the law asks people to write a letter to Iranian Parliament to amend or abolish the law and decriminalize doing contraceptive measures. In my point of view, this is a unique chance to make the women’s voice be heard worldwide. First we should use the facts that have been gathered before writing the letter. It is important to indicate the facts and figures in the sample letter to emphasis the depth of the problem. However what I propose here is to make short animation (maximum 2 minutes) explaining the situations of victim instead of just write about it. Thus we can attract more attention as people can deeply understand the situation. Here is the draft of the suggested letter:[7] President of Islamic Republic of Iran Hasan Rouhani President office, Pastour Avenue, Tehran Iran Dear President Rouhani, I am deeply concerned that thousands of women and girls are being denied their human rights as a result of Iran’s law that ban the abortion. I particularly declare my concern regarding the law that was adopted in July 2014 that bans all forms of contraceptive measures. Clearly this law violates the integrity and autonomy of both men and women and will have numerous unpleasant outcomes. This law would cause a rise in the number of clandestine and unhealthy abortions which may put in danger women’s fundamental right to life. I call on you to urgently decriminalize abortion by eliminating all punitive measures for women and girls seeking an abortion, as well as for the health care providers and others who help them to have one. Finally, I ask that you ensure access to safe and legal abortion for all women and girls in Iran. As a minimum, please ensure access in cases of rape or incest, where the woman or girl’s health or life is at risk, and where the fetus is unlikely to survive. The Iranian government is ultimately responsible for the resulting deaths of women and girls and for the thousands whose human rights have been violated by the ban. I look forward to hearing from you regarding this important matter. Sincerely, By conducting these three strategies I wish the problem will be resolved in Iran. We cannot expect a very quick reaction from Iranian government while human rights violation should have consequences for Iranian authorities. Iranian officials should understand that by gross human rights violations they will be under international pressure. 1


[1] Aramesh, Kiarash, The Influences of Bioethics and Islamic Jurisprudence on Policy-Making in Iran, The American Journal of Bioethics, 2007 [2] Erfani, Amir, Abortion in Iran: What do we know?, PSC Discussion Papers Series: Vol. 22: Iss. 1, 2008 [3]Now there is a draft of law under review in Iranian parliament that consider vide range of advantages for married people. According to article 9 of this law the priority in recruitment in all governmental and private sectors is dedicated to married men with children and then married men who still do not have children and at last are married women with children. Astonishingly, a single man is situated at the end of this category even when they are equal in qualifications with married men. Besides that, according to article 10 the recruitment of single professors will be forbidden in five years. [4] https://www.un.org/press/en/2014/gashc4124.doc.html [5] L. McDonagh, Eileen, My Body, My Consent: Securing The Constitutional Right To Abortion Funding, 62 Alb. L. Rev. 1057 1998-1999 [6] For instance Iran Human Rights and Iran Human Rights Documentation [7] For more information: Write For Rights sample letters, Amnesty international, 2014, available at: https://write.amnestyusa.org/resources/

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