The draft charter of citizen rights announced by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Cabinet has sparked controversy over its content in terms of articles related to the various social classes and other issues that touch on civil rights.
The importance of this charter emanates from the fact that it is the first of its kind to be proposed with such boldness since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. It also matches the promises Rouhani made during his electoral campaign. The government prides itself on its success in drafting this charter and putting it up for discussions during the first hundred days of Rouhani’s presidency.
Elham Aminzadeh, vice president for legal affairs, defended the charter, saying it “draws a clear image of the rights of citizens, which are dispersed in a large number of laws, and opens the door for them to be acquainted clearly and in writing with their political, legal, economic, cultural and social rights.” She noted that 200 prominent lawmakers and academics in different fields have contributed to the drafting of this charter.
Aminzadeh said the charter revolves around the “Iranian nature of citizens” and takes into consideration the dignity of people. She denied that this charter was contradictory to the constitution or human rights charter. According to Aminzadeh, the draft charter was set forth for citizens, as well as political, economic, cultural and social elites to discuss within the next two months before being put before the Shura Council as a draft law to be passed. She noted that the presidency has received 200 critical studies of the charter, which touches on the rights of all social classes in cities and rural regions, as well as youth, women, elites, children and tribes.
The government seeks the participation of universities, elite institutions, trade, student and women’s unions, and groups from civil society concerned with the environment, food security and political and journalistic freedoms, in the discussion of the charter before being referred to the parliament.
Aminzadeh defended the charter, which mentions that new rights for citizens that are not included in the constitution cannot be added, saying, “[The charter] should be [drafted] pursuant to the constitution, customs, and prevailing values in the country.” The government promised that this charter will constitute a “road map and a governmental program announcing citizen rights for all Iranian citizens, developing, implementing and supervising the implementation of these rights.”
Justice Minister Moustafa Pour-Mohammadi stressed that the announcement of this charter did not come within a political or superficial context, but out of the belief in citizens’ rights as mentioned in the constitution. He said, “The regime genuinely believes in the rights of citizens. If there was any dereliction in implementing the laws, it should be brought to attention.”
Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, considered the charter to be lacking a legal cover and said that it repeats the constitutional articles and laws proposed by the government of Mohammad Khatami. She accused Rouhani’s cabinet of espousing the policy of muscle-flexing. In the same context, Aminzadeh believed the accusations of Ebadi to be “lacking accuracy, objectivity and realism.”
Former head of the Parliamentary Culture Committee, Emad Afroogh, said the charter was supposed to “be more courageous to draw a clearer image of citizen rights.” Afroogh, as a sociologist, noticed many vague articles in the charter. He did praise this step forward, however, for its attempts to defend citizen rights.
Munira Karami, a social activist and university instructor, said the charter contributes to the development of civil society and reduces negative social risks since “it bolsters citizen awareness.” Secretary of the Islamic Coalition of Women, Toran Valimurad, called for the distinction between women’s rights from the rights of children and the elderly. The president of the Research Center for Women and Family in Qom religious Seminar, Zibai Najad, said the draft charter was hastily written so as to be proposed in the first hundred days of Rouhani’s term. This was done at the expense of a thorough study of the problems of citizens and their solutions. He called on changing false social customs and not laws, noting that “many articles in the charter do not match religious principles and values.”
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