“To deny people their basic rights is to challenge their very humanity” —Nelson Mandela, 1990.
Observing Human Rights Day every year on December 10 may pass people by without a moment's thought — another unnecessary day which no one is aware of and which goes by unnoticed.
Yet, Human Rights Day marks the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights In 1948. An inspiration for the evolution of human rights instruments across the globe over the years, the date is more than symbolic; it is a time to celebrate the progress made and identify what still needs to be addressed.
Retrospectively, 2021 has brought its fair share of victories for human rights. First for Mexican and South Korean women who no longer face criminal charges for having abortions. For free speech, then, with Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul and Egyptian journalist Solafa Magdy being released from prison after having been unjustly incarcerated. For the abolition of the death penalty finally with Sierra Leone, Kazakhstan, and the U.S. state of Virginia putting an end to capital punishments.
All of these events are cause for celebration. Yet, an appalling number of individuals around the world continue to suffer daily from violations of their basic fundamental rights. A single look at Iran suffices to realize all that remains to be done.
Despite having signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires signatories, Iran brutally and routinely denies its citizens the rights enshrined in the treaty. As of today, Iran has carried out 246 executions this year. Demonstrations are violently repressed and often end in a bloodshed, women are harassed and discriminated against on a daily basis, prosecuted Iranians do not receive fair trials and minority communities such as the LGBTQI+ are persecuted. Simply put, the Iranian regime disregards its commitment to its people based on gender, sexuality, religion, and much more.
In 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during a speech at Columbia University, claimed homosexuality did not exist in Iran. Homosexuality is a deviancy for the Iranian government, a “moral degeneration.” As a result, the government engages in a brutal state-sanctioned persecution and oppression of the LGBTQI+ community.
In addition to facing unjust discrimination in the workplace and in public, members of the LGBTQI+ community live under the constant fear of incarceration or death. While the regime has received criticism and attention, it has managed to escape the rightful international indignation for its actions by covering up its motivation and listing internally recognized crimes such as rape and non-consensual sexual relations.
The living conditions of thousands of Iranians self-identifying as members of the LGBTQI+ community are perilous, to say the least. What is more, the regime does not stop at its own borders in its oppression of the community. Only last week, in response to Israel’s hack of its fuel distribution system, the regime published online personal data of thousands of gay Israelis who had subscribed to the gay dating website, Atraf. In addition to outing some of the subscribers, Iranian hackers also posted extremely sensitive information such as the potential seropositivity of subscribers.
Despite these dreadful violations of basic human rights, persecuted and oppressed Iranians have not given up. Some have the courage to demonstrate despite the threats of imprisonment and brutality. Others, who have been forced to flee their country to escape this nightmare, continue the combat overseas by raising awareness of the situation in Iran.
In an attempt to make these people’s voices heard, a newly created nonprofit organization, PaykanArtCar, commissions artists to use the car as a canvas to depict human rights violations occurring in Iran. The inaugural piece has been designed and painted by a young Iranian artist Alireza Shojaian, now based in France. In what is truly a beautiful work of art, Alireza depicts the persecution of the LGBTQI+ community in Iran.
Like the PaykanArtCar, December 10 gives us the opportunity to shed light on human rights violations and inform people of the great courage and determination of those who fight for their very humanity. The situation in Iran is unacceptable. The international community must hold Iran accountable for the treaty it signed and continues to flout. Artists like Alireza and the organisation PaykanArtCar must be supported in their ambition to raise awareness and provide a platform for the atrocities (and violations of human rights) performed by the regime in hope to drive action for change.
Dr. Hiva Feizi is a public diplomacy and international affairs expert focused on Iran’s soft power and cultural diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the executive director and co-founder of Paykan Art Car.