Human Rights (Iran)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:45 pm on 6th June 2006.

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Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Minister of State (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 12:45 pm, 6th June 2006

Thank you, Mr. Pope, for that helpful suggestion.

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Mrs. Ellman on securing a debate on a subject that is of real concern to the United Kingdom Government and, indeed, to this House.

Efforts to improve respect for human rights have long been a central element of the United Kingdom's and, indeed, the European Union's approach to Iran. The current situation in Iran seems to be deteriorating and lacking in transparency—from the situation of religious minorities to the conduct of trials and sentencing. The situation is well reported by non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International, and in its latest report Amnesty highlighted the growing difficulties faced by ethnic and religious minorities, harassment of human rights defenders, the erosion of free expression and the serious concerns about Iran's use of the death penalty.

We have frequently set out those concerns bilaterally and through the relevant international human rights mechanisms. As my hon. Friend mentioned, that includes our concern about the position that the Iranian Government have taken towards Israel. President Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be wiped from the map and his attempts to cast doubt on the holocaust are outrageous and unacceptable.

We have long-standing concerns about political freedoms in Iran. An unelected committee, the Guardian Council, comprised of jurists and clerics, was able to prevent all women and many reformists from standing in last year's presidential elections. Many reformist candidates, including a third of the sitting Members of Parliament, were similarly excluded from standing in the parliamentary elections in 2004.

We are also very concerned about Iran's treatment of women. Although the situation for women is in some respects better than in certain other countries in the region—women can, for instance, vote and drive, and they make up more than half of the university population—they nevertheless face significant discrimination. For instance, the evidence of a woman continues to be worth less than that of a man in court, and women do not enjoy equal rights in cases involving divorce, inheritance or the custody of children.