Radiofarda – Javaid Rehman, a British-Pakistani legal scholar, has been appointed as U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran.
Rehman earned a degree in History and English Literature in Pakistan and then continued his law studies in Great Britain, where he became a professor of law and led the Brunel Law School.
He is a scholar of international and Islamic law and is also considered an expert on terrorism. He has previously worked with the U.N. on issues of protection of minorities and banning torture.
On the last day of its 38th session, the UN Human Rights Council selected Rehman as the successor for Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights activist who died at the age of 66 in February following a cardiac arrest.
Radio Farda’s Mahtab Vahidi Rad spoke to Rehman about Islamic law and his new mandate.
Radio Farda: What is your interest in Iran and why did you want this position?
Javaid Rehman: Well, I’m a human rights lawyer and I worked in human rights law for many years. Iran is an important country in terms of its obligations towards human rights law. So that is the main motivation.
Radio Farda: You’ve done extensive research on Islamic law. Could you tell us more about your academic background?
Rehman: My work is mainly on Islamic Law and Muslim constitutionalism. I have written a lot of books and articles on reforming constitutionalism within Muslim majority countries. So that is my expertise—working in human rights law and constitutional law in these countries
Radio Farda: Islamic law includes punishments such as execution, lashings, and cutting off limbs. What do you think about that?
Rehman: Well, what I can say to is that we are talking from a perspective of International human rights law. So, clearly you have to look at the international covenants like the International Bill of Rights and the Convention Against Torture. Muslim majority states have accepted these obligations. So, all these countries which follow Islamic Law also follow International Human Rights law. There should not be an incompatibility in the state practice of Muslim majority countries.
Radio Farda: What does Islamic Law say about the death penalty, insulting the prophet, same sex relationships, and rape?
Rehman: As I said, there are Muslim majority states and Muslim communities around the world that are perfectly compatible with evolving human rights concepts of equality and non-execution and they feel that neither Islamic jurisprudence nor Muslim practices should be any different or incompatible. So, I don’t see a problem with Muslim states following international law. They are accepting human rights norms, so I don’t see why we cannot follow International human rights law and make sure these human rights obligations are complied with.
Radio Farda: Freedom of information is also a fundamental human right. Will you be talking to the Iranian government about their blocking of social media platforms in Iran?
Rehman: Yes, I will be talking to the Iranian government and I have been talking to the Iranian government in my capacity as a human rights lawyer and as a human rights activist, as well as to every government and to every state on fundamental human rights, including, as you rightly say, the fundamental right of free expression. So, yes, no government, be it Iran or any other, can deny people this fundamental right.
Radio Farda: Iranian authorities didn’t allow your predecessor Asama Jahangir to go to Iran to conduct interviews with activists, talk to the families of political prisoners and investigate human rights issues in Iran. Do you have any plans to visit Iran?
Rehman: Well I will have to deal with the Iranian state. It was disappointing for all human rights activists and for the United Nations to be denied access. But I think it is important that the U.N. are given meaningful access, and I emphasis that meaningful access is important. So, yes, as mandate holder I will be looking into that.
Radio Farda: If they don’t give you meaningful access, will you be able to make a comprehensive report about human rights in Iran?
Rehman: Well, as I say, it is an important aspect of a meaningful visit, so let’s not speculate. Let me begin my work, which in fact has only just started. So, I’m sure we will be talking in due course and I can give you a full response to this question.
Radio Farda: Are you optimistic about the potential for improvements in Iran regarding human rights?
Rehman: Indeed, as human rights activists it is our commitment. That is the commitment of the United Nations and that should be the commitment of all states and governments to improve human rights. As human rights activists we are determined to ensure that human rights of all individuals and in all countries are promoted and respected and that will be my key agenda.