Iran Loses Support at U.N., But a Majority Still Unwilling to Denounce Abuses

By Patrick Goodenough | December 21, 2011 | 4:40am EST

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the United Nations headquarters in New York in September 2008. (AP Photo)

( – The U.N. General Assembly has passed an annual resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran by the largest margin ever, although there are still fewer countries willing to vote in favor of the measure than those opposing it or not prepared to take a stand one way or another.

The State Department Tuesday welcomed the result of the vote in New York, which saw the resolution adopted by 89 votes in favor, 30 against, and with 64 countries abstaining.

As in previous years, fewer countries vote for the measure than the combined number of countries opposing it or abstaining. But the gap has narrowed to its smallest ever – just five votes. Last year the margin separating the countries supporting the resolution and those opposing it and abstaining was 26 and in 2009 it was 33.

Over the years since 1998, the number of countries supporting the Iran resolution fluctuated between 61 (1999) and 75 (2005), then rose to 78 last year and jumped to 89 in 2011 (see graph.pdf).

The number of countries opposing the resolution, meanwhile, has ranged between 41 (1998) and 54 (2003, 2004 and 2008), before dropping this year to an unprecedented low of 30.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the vote outcome “demonstrates a growing international consensus against the increasing repression and rampant human rights violations carried out by the Iranian regime.”

“While Tehran attempts to whitewash its record through repeated denials of U.N.-documented abuses,” she told a press briefing, “international bodies – including the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran appointed by the Human Rights Council in March of 2011 – continue to highlight ongoing torture, repression of individual expression and religious freedom, and the ongoing detention of all who dare to speak out against the regime.”

Speaking before Monday’s vote on the Canada-led resolution, Iran’s U.N. delegate said that Iran had always shown a sincere commitment to promoting and protecting human rights – one arising from its religious obligations, its constitution and obligations under international human rights treaties

He made oblique references to human rights issues in Canada and the United States, including what he described as systematic racial profiling in Canada and U.S. authorities’ response to the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Iran then proposed a “no-action” motion in a bid to block the vote. Supporting the bid was Venezuela’s representative, who said country-specific condemnatory resolutions had become instruments used by “certain states” to promote their interests. Her Cuban counterpart made a similar argument, before the “no action” motion failed.

The 30 countries voting against this year’s Iran resolution were the core of Tehran’s supporters from previous years, a mixture of Islamic, communist, leftist and autocratic countries all of which are designated “not free” or “partly free” by the democracy watchdog, Freedom House.

The odd one out was India, the only country among the 30 to earn a “free” grading by Freedom House. Queries sent to the Indian mission to the U.N. about its voting decision brought no reply by press time. Last year India abstained.

The 30 countries that backed Iran by voting against the resolution were:  Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Brunei, Burma, China, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Nicaragua, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Of note was the fact that both Libya and Tunisia voted in favor of the resolution, for the first time. In previous years the Gaddafi and Ben Ali regimes both voted against the Iran resolutions. Egypt, the other Arab country to have undergone popular regime change this year, moved from opposing the measure in the past to abstaining this year.

As was the case last year, Iraq and Turkey were both marked down as “absent” – although their representatives did take part in votes on a raft of other resolutions during Monday’s General Assembly session.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has close ties to Iran while retaining a critical relationship with the United States.

The Islamist-leaning government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fostered close links to Tehran, although relations have become strained this year over the Syrian uprising and Turkey’s agreement to host NATO missile defense facilities.

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said he was proud that the resolution was gaining growing support.

“Canada will not stay silent on these issues,” he said. “We will continue to express serious concern about the ongoing and pervasive human rights violations in Iran, including the persecution of religious minorities.”

The General Assembly also voted for a resolution condemning human rights violations in North Korea, by a vote of 123 in favor to 16 against, with 51 abstentions.

North Korea’s representative called the resolution’s contents “totally fabricated,” accusing unnamed countries of putting pressure on small developing states to vote for the resolution.

The 16 countries backing Pyongyang were: Algeria, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Oman, Russia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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