An Iranian government minister facing European Union sanctions for human rights violations has criticized US and Saudi policies at the UN’s top human rights body Tuesday, defying calls for him to stay away.
At the Human Rights Council, Justice Minister Seyyed Alireza Avaei blasted the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, calling it “illustrative of gross violation of human rights” of Palestinians.
He also criticized a blockade of Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition involved in a three-year “war of aggression” there.
In October 2011, Avaei was added to the European Union sanctions list. It said that, “As president of Tehran judiciary he has been responsible for human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners’ rights, and increase of executions.”
Exiled members of the Iranian opposition also said Avaei played a key role in a 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Amnesty International has said that during that episode, nearly 5,000 prisoners were executed in a matter of months; Iranian opposition groups, for their part, put the figure closer to 30,000.
Canada recognized the massacre as a crime against humanity.
Impact Iran, an umbrella group of Iranian human rights groups, slammed the international body for allowing a human right’s abuser to speak on human rights.
“Avaei is reputed for being an egregious violator of human rights, prompting the European Union to place him on its list of individuals sanctioned for their involvement in gross and systematic violations of human rights in the country,” the group said in a statement.
“By choosing a major violator as Iran’s voice on human rights, Iran is also making a mockery of the Human Rights Council and showing contempt for the UN human rights system as a whole, a few weeks before this Council will be called to hear about, discuss and take action on the situation of human rights in Iran.”
About 100 demonstrators denounced Avaei outside the UN Geneva.
On Sunday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley lashed out at the Human Rights Council, saying it should be “ashamed” for inviting Avaei to speak.
She said his appearance bolsters the Trump administration’s criticisms of the UN and threats to cut US aid to the organization.
“Yet again the Council discredits itself by allowing serial human rights abusers to hijack its work and make a mockery of its mandate to promote universal human rights. This does nothing but reinforce the United States’ call for much needed reforms at the Council for it to be viewed as a good investment of our time and money,” she said.
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.