An Interview with Mohammad Hossein Ziaee
An Interview with Mohammad Hossein Ziaee
the Secretary of the Islamic Human Rights Commission
Payam-e Emrouz; Economic, Social & Cultural (Monthly)
April 1997, Nos. 16 & 17
Word Count: 5232
Summary: The Islamic Human Rights Commission is an
organization founded by the Judiciary in 1994. On the basis of the
definitions and the criteria the Commission has - from the Islamic
point of view - about human rights, it attempts, as an active
observer, to supervise over the acts of the governments whether in
Iran or abroad.
Mohammad Hossein Ziaee, the secretary of the Islamic Human
Rights Commission, in the course of an interview, has referred to the
manner of establishment of this commission, as well to its objectives
Q: How did the Islamic Human Rights Commission come into being?
A: For a long time the responsible officials in Iran had come to the
conclusion that in order to remove the shortcomings, particularly in
relation with the outside world, and also to follow up the cases of
human rights violations, it should establish an institution so that
everybody can be a member of it and work in it. It should be an
institution to be both independent and at the same time be able to
explain Islamic human rights in the modern language. That is
because we are really faced with shortcomings in explaining the
Islamic human rights. The Westerners never express human rights
correctly as viewed by Islam.
In addition to that, the topic of the national institutions of human
rights was a burning question at the United Nations, and the U.N.,
time and again, requested the states to set up national human rights
institutions. The national institutions in the field of human rights are
among the mechanisms that have been discussed by the member
states of the U.N. which have come to the conclusion that they can
be effective in furtherance of human rights.
In fact the U.N., after making experiments with the
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for several decades, came
to the conclusion that these organizations were not so fruitful as they
were expected to be. On the one hand, governments do not pay any
attention to these organizations no matter how high they raise their
voice of protest.
This is so particularly in view of the fact that in most countries the
public opinion is not aware of these organizations in order to be able
to have an impact by relying on the public opinion. On the other
hand, some government authorities claim that the non-governmental
organizations are foreign agents and mercenaries and are after their
own political objectives and designs.
Those sectors of the United Nations that work on the mechanism for
improvement of human rights, have by exchange of expert views
and holding of formal sessions, come to the conclusion that it would
be advisable to set up some institutions which enjoy certain degrees
of independence and, at the same time, government authorities be
members thereof. In such a case neither these organizations would
confine themselves to mere grumbling nor governments would be
able to view them suspiciously and put forward an excuse that they
do not trust them.
It was under these circumstances that Ayatollah Yazdi took the
initial step and asked a number of jurists as well as authorities and
sympathizers of human rights to cooperate with each other and to set
up a human rights institution that would be both consistent with the
regulations as are defined by the U.N. concerning the national
institution, and remove the shortcomings of the Islamic human rights
institution at the global level. This group, after holding numerous
sessions, established the structure and the objectives of the
commission within a statute, which was approved by the founders
and organizers in the middle of (the Islamic month of) Shaban two
years ago, and, in fact, the Islamic Human Rights Commission was
born at that time.
Q: How are the structure and objectives of the commission which
are incorporated in the articles of association?
A: According to the articles of association, the structure of the
commission takes the following form: at the head is a high policy
making council with nine members, namely the head of the
Judiciary, a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the
president of the Bar Association, two Majlis (parliament) deputies,
two jurists well versed in Islam and in international law, and two
outstanding and experienced judges. Under the high council, there
are several committees, namely, the scientific committee, the
women's committee, the follow up committee, the planning
committee, the internal watch committee, and the external watch
According to the statute, the objectives of the commission are as
1- Explanation, teaching and propagation of human rights from the
Islamic point of view;
2- Supervision over the manner of enjoyment and observance of
Islamic human rights by real and legal persons;
3- Setting forth and presentation of suitable solutions for action and
position taking vis-a-vis the cases of human rights violations
particularly with respect to Muslims in all countries;
4- Investigation into and following up of cases of human rights
violations which are brought to the notice of the commission by
5- Cooperation with the national and international human rights
organizations, specially investigation and following up of problems
related to the Islamic Republic of Iran;
6- Investigation of the situation of the Islamic Republic of Iran with
respect to all international conventions and agreements in the field
of human rights.
Q: What have you done since then?
A: I believe that the greatest achievement of the commission during
the last year was its relative stabilization. By that I mean that at the
beginning of the work many of the governmental institutions were
not ready to cooperate with us. It was difficult for them to see that an
institution outside the system put questions to them constantly and
enter in this field of action. Fortunately those serious frictions that
prevailed at the beginning have been removed. Now things are in a
manner that the replies to the commission's letters are received
within three days. This is an important achievement in human rights.
Now many government organizations will refer to the commission
when they want to solve a human right problem within their system.
They have seen in practice that we solve their problems with the
heads of their institutions in the shortest possible time. For example
if the prisons organization has a problem in one of its sections, it
puts the problem to us and we solve it. This experience has induced
the institutions that have human rights difficulty to discuss it
directly with the commission.
Another work which was done during the last year and which is
important, is the serious follow-up of complaints and grievances
both domestic ones and those coming from outside. Many of the
complaints were fruitful. Of course, these complaints number
several thousands, and their accurate statistics, the classification of
their subjects, the institutions about which more complaints have
been made are all included in the annual report which will be
published by the end of the current calendar year (March 1998) for
Among the complaints and grievances that have reached us are some
from religious minorities, which will be discussed on the basis of
Q: You mean those minorities that are mentioned in the Constitution?
A: Yes, according to our Constitution we consider only Jews,
Christians and Zoroastrians as religious minorities. For example,
according to the Constitution and Islamic interpretation, Bahais are
not a religious minority. Bahaism is not a religion. Nevertheless we
follow up the complaints about Bahais, of course, not as a religious
minority but as a group that, after all, live in this country. In any
case, we make inquiries about and follow up the complaints made
about various organizations and institutions (including this very
sub-division of the Judiciary, the executive agencies, ministries,
Q: Do these follow ups and investigations have any mechanism of
A: The guarantee for the execution of our investigations of
complaints, is mainly the strong support of Ayatollah Mohammad
Yazdi himself. As the head of the Judiciary power, he has very
extensive judicial authorities. When it is ascertained that a violation
has taken place in an institution, he avails himself of those powers,
intervenes and puts an end to that violation.
Q: Do you mean that Ayatollah Yazdi's intervention is necessary in
order for the commission's decisions about complaints to produce any
A: In practice many of the complaints which are made and followed
up by us, are dealt with by the organization about which the
complaints have been made and the organization concerned rectifies
its own mistakes before the matter is brought to Ayatollah Yazdi's
attention. In other words when the organization realizes that the
commission has a strong backing, and the work it does is a serious
one, they rectify themselves and the cases that have arisen.
Q: Does it not produce any duplication and overlapping of duties
with those of other judicial institutions, such as the Administrative
Justice Tribunal, which do the same kind of work?
A: The national human rights institutions in any part of the world do
not negate and nullify the work of the institutions of the judicial
system at all. In all countries of the world, administration of justice
is the primary duty of the judicial system. Therefore, when someone
refers to us and lodges a complaint against an organization, but has
not yet referred to, say, the Administrative Justice Tribunal, we
advise him to refer to the Tribunal at first. That is, in this case we
act as a guide and an advisor. Of course, we correspond with the
tribunal and put forward our view. Therefore, our role in following
up the people's complaints not only does not negate the competence
of judicial organizations, but reinforces and supports them as well.
Therefore if a person comes and lodges his complaints to us before
having had a recourse to a court, we shall advise him to refer to a
court at first, because the court is a competent legal authority to
consider any complaint. If the court did not redress the complaint
properly then we would intervene and pass on our understanding to
the court. For example there were some cases when the final verdict
had been passed by a court, and, according to our legal system, there
were no way out. In such cases Ayatollah Yazdi intervened, and, as
the chief of the Judiciary, took some action so that damages were
paid to the injured party.
Q: How does the commission receive and consider the complaints?
A: It must be borne in mind that the more the people learn about the
existence of the commission, the higher the number of complaints
are. In order to follow up the complaints and grievances as quickly
as possible, a legal unit has been set up in the secretariat of the
commission. In the above unit a number of experienced jurists
investigate the complaints and specify those cases that are worthy of
being followed up. Many of the complaints are dealt with fully in
the same legal unit, that is to say, there is no need for the
commission to follow it up. Those cases that should be pursued
further, will, together with the expert view of the legal unit, be sent
to the follow up committee, in which a number of outstanding legal
and judicial personalities are members, and these persons will follow
up the relevant cases and bring them to a successful end.
In addition to that, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, like all
human rights institutions all over the world, gives legal advice to its
clients. We have followed up 700 to 800 complaints so far. Of
course, people have not learned about the existence of this institution
at a large scale so far, hence the number of the complaints is not so
Q: What has been the approach of other institutions and the manner
of their cooperation with you in the matter of investigation and
follow up of the complaints?
A: I do not deny some cases of unkindness. I exactly use the word
"unkindness" because I would like to see the atmosphere of human
rights efforts to be quite a friendly one, and our grumbling, if any, is
based on friendly principles. When our aim is so sacred and when
we claim that we adhere to Islam, then what is wrong with our
reminding those persons who have not paid any attention to human
rights and who have violated them. Why should they feel
uncomfortable and be unkind?
To speak more frankly, I should say that those same institutions
whose duty is to serve human rights show unkindness, do not give
information, and do not help with the furtherance of the objective of
the commission to the extent they should. Of course, there are
various reasons for this state of affairs; one is that they say to
themselves that they have collected the information themselves and
want to use it; or, perhaps, there are some people who do not want to
lose control of the affairs; or perhaps some people may think that
they have accomplished some tasks in certain places; now we go
there and do something else and so disturb their plan. Of course we
try to avoid causing friction and undue involvement. We have had
serious frictions in the last few months, and they have realized that
we are not joking. When we pursue a matter we never fall short; we
have tolerated many indignation so that the work can make
progress. In spite of al these, we have tried not to respond to an act
of unkindness with another unkind act, rather we have tried to create
an atmosphere of cooperation with tolerance and affection. Thanks
God, many of the institutions that, at the beginning, found it difficult
to cooperate with us, now work with us easily.
The human rights objectives are not of the kind that can really be
achieved without cooperation. For example, when we want to
implement a plan in the disciplinary force, is it not possible to do
anything without the cooperation of the gentlemen? The work that
has been done in the judicial power could not have been done
without the cooperation of various sections of the power.
Furthermore, when we do a good piece of work abroad on time, and bring
it to a successful conclusion, is it possible to say at all that the
success could be achieved without cooperation of other institutions
which had information at their disposal?
Although the level of cooperation is not so high as we expected, yet
we try to improve the relationship, at least to the extent that concerns
us. There are some institutions for which this matter is so difficult.
Of course, they may be right to a certain extent, because they are
sensitive with respect to the duties entrusted to them, and they have
observed certain misdeeds in their field of action, and that is why
they do not cooperate so easily. As the time passes it must naturally
be made clear for them that the commission is not a personal
institution and does not pursue political designs, but follows human
objectives only. Generally speaking, it is inconceivable for me to see
the high authorities of a state defend an inhuman act, if any,
committed by an institution. This is highly improbable. For instance,
if an innocent person's rights are violated and if Ayatollah Yazdi
learns about it, he will certainly not support the violator of those
rights. If someone did such a thing it would be inconsistent with
Islam; and Islam is our standard and criterion.
Q: What have you done so far to make the commission well-known in the
society, and, in principle, to make people familiar with human rights?
A: In fact, one of the important tasks of the commission was to
compile educational programs of human rights, which was done
with due attention to the Islamic criteria, and the comparative work.
Drawing up such curricula was a time-consuming process, because
such a task requires a lot of research. When drawing up the
curricula, the point was borne in mind, that they were designed for
special target groups such as for judges, prison wardens, law
enforcement units, security forces and, gradually, for the general
public through the mass media.
When the educational programs had been compiled, the training
work of human rights began with the judges, both those who had
just begun working as well as those who had several years of
experience in judgment. As you know, for those graduates of the law
school who are to work as judges, a training course has been
arranged, and the subject of human rights is included in the course.
Advanced training courses within the service have recently been
arranged for those judges who have had several years of experience
in judgment. Two such advanced courses have been arranged so far,
and human rights lessons have been taught in them.
In addition to all that, we have tried to actively take part in various
seminars; for example, we had a human rights commission in the
seminar of the judicial authorities which was held in Laleh Hotel in
Tehran in June, in which eleven commissions were active. We
presented detailed papers and programs there, and, in fact, the
largest volume of work was presented by our commission. Of
course, it was done by various methods, for example distribution of
questionnaires among the participants; we acted in such a way that
the participants were obliged to read the papers and follow them up.
We also delivered speeches and submitted papers in the seminar of
the Iranian ambassadors abroad, which was held in August, and also
in the seminar of the IRI cultural representatives abroad, which was
held at the Islamic Cultural and Communications Organization in
Q: Have you had training courses for the disciplinary forces and
A: Some training courses on human rights have been organized in
the Educational and Research Center of the Prisons Organization for
prison wardens. We have also dispatched the educational texts to the
directors of the Prisons Organization, and now we are in touch with
them in order to develop the topic of human rights and guide it along
the direction that the commission has in mind.
The training courses for law enforcement units and the security
forces have not begun yet, but we intend to begin them soon. Some
executive work should be done, the agreement of these institutions
should be won and secured, and, in short, some processes must be
Q: What programs have you drawn up for training and orientation of
the general public?
A: In fact, the public training of human rights began at the same
time as training for the target groups. Some programs in the field of
human rights, helped by the commission, were transmitted through
radio and television during the last few months. For example, a
specialized and analytical round-table seminar, for four hours, in the
field of human rights was televised on channel four, which was
unique in its kind.
Every Tuesday for two or three months, special radio programs in
the field of human rights were broadcast, which were generally in
the form of interviews with the members of various committees of
the commission. The pivotal subjects of the program were really
drawn up and guided by the commission. We were in contact with
the press too, that is we either wrote articles for them or helped them
choose proper subject matters. In fact, it can be said that the initial
steps in public training of human rights through the mass media
have already been taken. Now we intend to make it more orderly, so
that the training texts can be presented more regularly and people
follow up the subjects and learn them more thoroughly. It is clear
that the training should be in various fields; the topic of human
rights has a wide scope, such as the right to live, the right to
non-discrimination in the society, the right to enjoy equal
opportunities, the right to free expression, and many other rights.
Q: In many countries, the subject of human rights is a part of
university curriculum. Has a plan been drawn up in this regard too?
A: It is obvious that if we want to do a fundamental and essential
work in this connection, we must teach human rights as a specialized
and separate subject. We have done a lot of preliminary expert work
to set up a subject under the name of human rights at the MA level.
We have had correspondence with several reputable universities of
the world, where the subject of human rights is being taught at the
doctorate level, and asked them to send their syllabus to us. By using
this syllabus (which includes international human rights) and
combining it with the Islamic criteria of human rights with which
the internal professors are familiar, we shall produce a new syllabus
with special chapter headings, and we shall specify the sources as
well. Having done this work, we shall propose to the Council for
Extension of Educational Curricula to establish this branch. In
addition to the correspondence and the educational work, we have
started certain executive work too. For example, we have discussed
the matter with Imam Sadeq University, Mofid University in Qom
and with the University of Tehran. Apart from establishing a new
subject, we are in touch with high educational authorities in order to
convert the two credits of human rights, which are currently among
optional credits in law, into obligatory ones in all fields of human
Q: What programs and plans do you have in hand for publication of
human rights reports at home or abroad and for their expert critique
A: We have a publication system which determines the framework
of the commission's publications. There are twenty kinds of
publications in the system, for instance, fortnightly, monthly,
quarterly, biannually and annually. The main part of these
publications are destined for other countries. The part that is
earmarked for Iran, are both analytical and descriptive. The pieces
that are earmarked for abroad are written in several languages,
including English, Arabic and French, because these are various
Out of 20 kinds of writings envisaged by the commission, we now
publish 6 or 7 publications. For example, we have a bulletin entitled
"special view", where we focus on one case of human rights
violations in each issue, and make analyses on the basis of the
international and Islamic regulations. It does not make any
difference whether the human rights violation has been committed at
home or abroad. This bulletin is translated and is sent abroad.
Another publication is called "newsletter", which is in Persian, in
which urgent news are brought to the attention of the head and the
members of the commission. When those who are in the position of
decision making learn about some news quickly and issue timely
orders, it will produce a good effect on the whole system of the
Another periodical of the commission contains analytical texts of
human rights and the translation of some pieces of work in this field.
We believe that it was not a simple matter to present during the past
few years, the rest of the writings that have been envisaged in the
publication system of the commission. It requires qualitative work
and budget to accomplish this task. It is not possible to collect and
compile all these within a practicable framework within a period of
two or three months. This would take several years. The important
thing is to choose the path and to make efforts.
Moreover, a specialized quarterly in the field of human rights has
also been envisaged. As a journalist, you are certainly aware of the
difficulties involved, including obtaining authorization from the
Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the permit from the
Ministry of Culture and Higher Education, where the jury must
confirm that the quarterly is a scientific and research work. In any
case these administrative and clerical pieces of work have been done
and the first issue of the specialized quarterly on human rights will
appear within a few months. The editorial board of this quarterly
consists of ten outstanding masters and professors.
In a way it can be said that there are really no other persons in the
country to have done work both on theoretical aspects of human
rights and at the same time to be conversant with the topics of the
day. Among members of the board one can mention Ayatollah
Seyyed Mohammad Bojnourdi, Allameh Mohammad Taqi Jaafari,
and Ayatollah Marashi; the members of the editorial board include
Dr. Mohammad Javad Larijani, Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif and Dr.
Madani. Moreover, there are 20 advisors for the quarterly, 10 of
whom are domestic professors and the other ten are foreign
professors (European, American and Australians).
Q: How are the relationships between the Islamic Human Rights
Commission and the similar institutions and organizations at the
world level. Do they have any relations at all?
A: Since last year we have established contacts with many human
rights organizations all over the world, whether those belonging to
the state (parliament, president's bureau and the judicial power) or
those that are affiliated to the U.N. and similar institutions. The
organizations are, inter alia, the following: the Human Rights Center
in Geneva; the human rights centers stationed in New York and
Vienna; the United Nations University in Tokyo; the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); UNESCO; FAO;
UNICEF; etc. The above centers send reports to us regularly, and
we, in turn, send to them the materials that are requested by them.
In addition to that, we are in touch with about 20 institutions which
have been established as national human rights institutions in some
countries during the last few years, and exchange views and
information and cooperate with them for furtherance of human
rights. For example, we hosted the secretary general of human rights
of Indonesia. He came here and held several meetings with various
members of the commission. The news about it was reported in the
press and the mass media.
We are in contact with 160 non-governmental organizations that
have been recognized as advisors by the U.N. Economic and Social
Council. They deliver speeches at the Human Rights Commission
every year. We are in touch with the human rights research centers
abroad, which are mostly universities. For instance, some time ago,
in cooperation with Bradford University, we implemented a joint
plan for a (multi-cultural) world assembly of human rights. This
assembly is to have two centers, one in Tehran and the other in
England; that is to say the center which will deal with Islam and the
Third World will be located in Tehran, and the center charged with
the affairs of the West, Europe and America will be in England. We
shall host our Bradford colleagues in a near future.
Among other institutions with which we are in touch is the World
Just Trust in Malaysia, headed by Prof. Chandra Mozaffar, which is
an institution criticizing and commenting on international human
rights. The advisory board of the institution are from outstanding
European and American professors, like Chomski and Richard Falk.
We are in contact with them to do research.
To the extent possible, the commission helps others to carry out
research work. For example, a researcher from Cambridge
University wishes to take films about women's situation in Iran. She
wants to go to court and film the proceedings in an analytical and
practical manner. The person who wants to make films is Ms. Mir
Hosseini, a professor of anthology in Cambridge University. We
cooperated with her greatly to carry out research. She is herself a
liaison researcher for us, and links us with many human rights
centers in the U.K. We have the same kind of communication with
France, Holland and Germany. We have tried to expand and
reinforce these communications day by day and to raise their quality
and not be confined to and contented with simple contacts.
Q: It is said in the second report of the U.N. special representative,
that Iran has asked international institutions for technical assistance
in the field of human rights. What was the purpose of the request,
and what was the result thereof?
A: In the course of the replies I gave earlier, I mentioned that the
request for technical assistance and the advisory services is a routine
matter today, and does not meant that a country is, say, at a loss. By
this means it does seeks to redress and amend itself, or formalize and
institutionalize a series of laws and rules; but rather it is an action,
like hundreds of others, taken by a country that believes in human
values and in order to advance and further human rights. For your
information I would like to say that although the request was sent in
writing to the relevant section of human rights in Geneva and has
been followed up, no special action has been taken by the human
rights center. Perhaps the financial bankruptcy of the U.N. has had
some effect on this matter. God knows.
Q: How is the budget of the commission provided?
A: The budget of the commission has, so far, been secured in a
scattered manner. That is to say various persons who were interested
in helping the commission did so, and the commission benefited
from their help. In some cases where the costs were very high so
much so that these kinds of help were not enough, Ayatollah Yazdi
himself intervened. For example, when we wanted to distribute
certain articles in the commission of judges all over the country, we
found that the expenses of typesetting and reproduction were every
high. They were paid by Ayatollah Yazdi himself. Of course, these
payments are beyond the budget of the Judiciary power and justice
administration. Of course, there are certain lines and items for
independent organizations in the state budget, for example
Dehkhoda Foundation and Ayatollah Marashi Library take
advantage of the budget in this way. The matter has been raised at
the High Council for the past several months to enable the
commission to benefit from the budget in this way. We have got to
certain points, and I think we shall be helped next year. According to
the financial officials of the commission, at least half of the money
we request will be supplied in this way.
In the field of human rights, one must do work with love and with
the whole of his body and soul. One must really be altruistic. We
must really strive very much to advance our cause. It is not true to
say that as Ayatollah Yazdi is at the head of organizations, so the
latter must have a wide scope.
The fact is that we wish this organization to be independent as far as
possible, and not to be caught in special organizational taste and
web; we want it to be all embracing in order to work with all
organizations in the country, to have a general outlook and to further
the cause of human rights amicably and sincerely.
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