UN Committee, in a First, Urges Iran to Comply With Obligations to Protect LGBTI Children

A United Nations human rights panel has raised concerns about the treatment of LGBTI minors in Iran and for the first time, asked the Iranian government to protect their rights as it is obligated to do under an international treaty governing children's rights.

On January 26, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child specifically raised concerns about discrimination, cruel and degrading treatment, including electroshocks and forced surgical treatment, among other serious human rights concerns.

The concerns were raised in the Committee's "Concluding Observation" regarding Iran's compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

In preparation for Iran's CRC review, in March 2015, OutRight Action International and the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) joined a number of Iranian civil society groups, under the umbrella of Impact Iran and submitted an alternative report regarding the implementation of the CRC by Iran and LGBTI children. Among issues highlighted in this report were discrimination based on the sexual orientation and gender identity of children, including discrimination within the criminal justice system, discrimination in the media and access to information, domestic abuse and violence and harassment, physical abuse and abuse in schools.

In its latest concluding observation, the Committee raised a series of concerns:

  • that LGBTI children face continuous discrimination because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or identity and that the same sex sexual behavior of adolescents above the actual age of criminal responsibility is criminalized and punished with penalties ranging from flogging to death penalty. The Committee recommended that the state decriminalize same sex relations and take measures to eliminate discrimination against LGBTI children.
  • that LGBTI children, according to reports, are subjected to electroshocks, hormones and strong psychoactive medications for the purpose of "curing" them. The Committee called on Iran to ensure that LGBTI children are not subjected to such cruel and degrading treatment and that those responsible for these acts be held accountable.
  • that LGBTI children have no access to information about gender identity or sexual orientation and that transgender individuals are forced to undergo surgical treatment. The committee asked the government to make information available and to end forcible surgical treatment of transgender persons.
  • that LGBTI children face harassment, bullying and expulsion from schools for failing to observe social expectations for male and female norms. The Committee recommends that the State party prohibit, prevent and punish harassment, bullying and expulsion of children who belong to LGBTI groups from schools.

Iran signed the CRC in September 1991, and subsequently ratified the treaty in July 1994, with serious reservations. "The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves the right not to apply any provisions or articles of the Convention that are incompatible with Islamic Laws," the government stated. Such a broad reservation in effect renders the CRC useless and allows the government to walk away from its obligations under the treaty. (For more information in this regard, please see: http://indicators.ohchr.org/)

In order to ensure the full compliance of signatories with the CRC, the treaty set up a monitoring and reporting mechanism to examine progress by states and act as the official interpretation body of the convention. State parties are required to submit progress reports as part of this process. In accordance with this requirement, Iran's compliance has been so far reviewed three times by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The first review took place in 2000, the second in 2005 and the third and the fourth review in 2016.

As a state party to the CRC, Iran is bound by the Convention and the Committee's Concluding Observation. However, it is likely that Iran will dismiss the Committee's recommendations on LGBTI rights on the grounds of their "incompatibility with Islamic Laws." This has been the government's perspective on the overall question of LGBTI rights in the past. Over the past five years, at least on five occasions various UN human rights mechanisms, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran (2013 and 2015), UN Human Rights Committee (2011), UN Economic and Social Council (2013) and UN Human Rights Council (2014) have raised concerns about LGBTI rights violation in Iran.

The government of Iran may continue to dismiss these concerns, but it is important that the international community continue to demand that Iran live up to its international obligations. Such pressure may force Iran to reconsider its position on this issue.