Iran and Human Rights

Author:Marzieh Dafeiyan

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Author: Marzieh Dafeiyan
Master of Anthropology and Sociology of Development, Graduate Institute Geneva

Iran is a country in southwest Asia. It is located in the Middle East and has a recognizable cat-like shape on the map. The official language is Persian. They have been following their own solar calendar for over 2000 years. It has almost 83 million population, 99.4% Muslim, including people of various ethnicities[1]. They have lived and integrated themselves into this region for thousands of years on the basis of peace and coexistence. Here we will review how their beliefs about rights and mutual respect has been shaped.


Iran on the world map

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Many civilizations including, Assyrian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Elamian and Babylonian were established and reigned in this area over the centuries and were famously known as the Mesopotamian civilizations until 539 B.C. when Cyrus, the first king of Persian, conquered Babylon[2].

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Mesopotamian Civilizations




   Persian Empire


The rivalry between these civilizations was going on for centuries, but what made Cyrus as a prominent figure is his next action.   He declared people of different religions, beliefs, and races are the same and must be treated equally. Thus, he conducted the abolition of slavery, the restoration of the temples, repatriated displaced people. His declaration was recorded on a backed-clay cylinder in the Akkadian language with a cuneiform script[3].

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Cyrus Cylinder at the British Museum

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It is cogent to review the history of Human Rights and the history of Iran separately, after this instance in the history of human beings.


From the establishment of Achaemenid empire, Iran was under the sovereignty of different dynasties based on the rule of king and Zoroastrian clergy until 7th 8th centuries A.C[4]. It was at this time that this ancient civilization was invaded by the Arabs who had believed that Muhammad is the messenger of God and the religion called Islam, the latest Abrahamic religion. Muhammad made many social reforms such as social security, family, slave practices, the right of women and ethnic minorities.[5] After the Arab invention, the whole country gradually converted to Islam and it was always ruled based on the kinship monarchy regime which gained legitimacy from the Khalifa (Calipha) the successors of Muhammad. However, through centuries the Iranian Monarchy regime became independent and governed their territory according to the kinship monarchy regime and Islamic law and legislation for centuries. It was more or less the governing system of country until the twentieth century when the constitutional revolution took placed and it reduced the power of king,1905-1911.[6] Afterwards, the successive Islamic revolution led to the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979.

Human Rights

The idea of Human Rights' sources is more numerous and had been investigated by other great civilizations; China, Egypt, India and specifically King Cyrus in Persia. However, within the context of Western Civilizations, Human Rights became a pressing matter for examination. Indeed, from the renaissance to the twentieth century, the human rights came on the spotlight in three grand historical moments[7]:

1215: The Magna Carta (UK) It declared that the king is subject to the rule of law and documented the liberties held by “free men,”. Thus, the Magna Carta established the foundation for individual rights in Anglo-American jurisprudence[8].

1776: The United States Declaration of Independence (USA) It declared the independence of the United States from the UK and proclaimed the right the people to institute Government and it must secured their unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happines[9].

1789: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (France) It subordinated the monarch to the rule of law. It declared that no person shall be accused, arrested or imprisoned except in those cases established by the law and also it addressed that taxation could only be raised by common consent.[10]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 1948, the representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world drafted a milestone document. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was proclaimed by the United Nations General (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations[11].

Tehran Conference

Between April to May in 1968, the first International Conference on Human Rights help in Tehran, Iran. During the conference UDHR defined and enlarged. It was convened to assess progress in its implementation, On the 20-year anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[12]. Indeed, during the time of the last monarch who took many measures to speed up the process of modernization, this conference was a valuable source.  

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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After revolution, Iran was condemned for the Human Rights violations in many instances. Noticeably, while the country was struggling with chaos, terrorism, attacks and war, it had begun to implement the Human Rights policies, especially, during post-war reconstruction. Iran has reformed and passed some legislations, but it is quite a long way away from reaching a satisfactory level of the Human Rights observation.

[1]   Wikipedia,Iran, (viewed on 3 June 2020)

[2] Wikipedia, Cyrus Cylinder, (viewed on 3 June 2020)

[3] Wikipedia, Cyrus Cylinder, (viewed on 3 June 2020)

[4] Encyclopedia Iranica, Arab ii. Arab conquest of Iran, (viewed on 6 June 2020 )

[5] Wikipedia, Early Social Changes Under Islam, (viewed on 6 June 2020)[6] Encyclopedia, ConstitutionalRevolution, IntellectualBackground, (viewed on 6 June 2020

[7] United for Human Rights, A Brief History of Human Rights, on 6 June 2020)

[8] Encyclopedia Britannica, Magna Carta, (viewed on 6 June 2020)[9] National Archives, Declaration of Independence: A Transcription, (viewed on 6 June 2020

[10] Biritish Library, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citize, (viewed on 6 June 2020)

[11] The United-Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (viewed on 6 June 2020)

[12] UNFPA, International Conference on Human Rights, (viewed on 6 June 2020)