CHRI – Leaked video footage showing staff members at the Saraye Mehrabani Care Center in the city of Rasht, northern Iran, physically abusing minors with disabilities has highlighted the lack of legal protections for this vulnerable community.
Recorded on the center’s closed-circuit camera at an unknown date and initially aired by Voice of America’s “Tablet” television program on April 13, 2018, the 39-second clip shows three separate incidents of the minors, who live at the center, being hit by staff members.
The footage provoked strong condemnations by Iranian users on social media networks.
In an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), an Iranian disability rights activist condemned the fact that no official has been held accountable for the disturbing rights violations.
“If the official’s claim is correct that the incident took place last year, then it raises the question of why there wasn’t any news published at the time about any officials being reprimanded in order to make the people proud of the valuable services of the Welfare Organization to help them send their loved ones to these centers with a greater sense of security, which would also make potential offenders think twice and understand that the Welfare Organization would seriously confront them?”
The activist spoke to CHRI on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivities in Iran regarding speaking to foreign media outlets.
Iran’s State Welfare Organization is the main governmental body providing services to people living with disabilities in Iran. On April 13, Hossein Nahvinejad, its deputy in charge of rehabilitation, told reporters in Iran that the clip was a year old and that changes had been made to prevent further abuses at the center.
“Before this happened, the closed-circuit cameras at the center were able to save footage for up to 15 days and now this has been increased to 30 days,” he said. “Also, when shifts change, staff members on the new shift are required to view the recordings to make sure no violations have taken place.”
Nahvinejad added: “The fact that such incidents quickly receive media attention can cause public anxiety.”
Responding to Nahvinejad’s comments, the disability rights activist told CHRI: “Mr. Nahvinejad should be asked what causes public anxiety: the fact that people’s kids are being assaulted and abused at a center that is supposed to provide state services and protection or when the news reaches the public?”
Article 11 of the Law for the Formation of the Welfare Organization gives it the authority to create, manage and supervise care centers for people living with disabilities. Individuals under the care of the organization and their families have little means of seeking recourse and justice when rights abuses occur for three reasons.
Firstly, there is no available independent mechanism for the individual or family to lodge the complaint, meaning they can only do so with the organization that is responsible for the violation.
Secondly, families often have no means of obtaining evidence to prove their complaint—for example, the victim may have marks on their body but the family can’t prove who is responsible for it without accessing footage owned by the State Welfare Organization.
And thirdly, families usually avoid seeking justice through Iran’s civil legal system because doing so would result in their loved one being immediately discharged from the center, leaving the family without a means to care for them.
Moreover, the Iranian legal system does not include a clear framework to protect persons with disabilities from violence. Both the 2004 Comprehensive Law to Protect Disabled Persons and its updated version, the Bill For the Protection of the Rights of People with Disabilities—which is in its final stages in Parliament—lack provisions to protect this community.
Only Article 13 of the 2004 law gives the Welfare Organization the authority to represent individuals in cases where their rights have been violated.
That said, the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Iran ratified in 2009, contains provisions protecting persons with disabilities from violence. Articles 15 and 16 require parties to the convention to introduce sufficient and effective laws to create independent and impartial supervisory bodies to guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities and their relatives in lodging complaints to prevent any kind of violence.
On April 3, Alireza Salimi, the parliamentary representative from Delijan and Mahallat, indirectly referenced the convention while publicly criticizing the conditions that individuals with disabilities are forced to live in: “The care centers for people with disabilities in the country are like prisons and the law calls for upgrading them to the international level of standards.”