Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents

58 Human rights in Iran

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionCleared from scrutiny; further information requested
Document details(a) Council Decision (b) Council Implementing Regulation concerning restrictive measures against persons complicit in or responsible for directing or implementing grave human rights violations
Legal base(a) Article 29 TEU; unanimity (b) Article 12(1) of Council Regulation 359/2011; QMV
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Document numbers(a) (36771), — (b) (36772), —

Summary and Committee's conclusions

58.1 The EU has been engaged since December 2006 in a "dual track" strategy — engagement and restrictive measures — regarding Iran's nuclear activities, not simply implementing in the EU, but also strengthening in that context, successive UN Security Council Resolutions. But it has only been since 2011 that it has sought to challenge the Iranian regime's human rights performance via a package of travel restrictions and asset freezes against the main perpetrators.

58.2 This Council Decision and Council Implementing Regulation "roll over" this package for a further 12 months, to 13 April 2016, and (following a review of the measures) "delist" two individuals, because there are no longer grounds for listing, and a duplicate listing.

58.3 The continuation of these measures is consistent with the previous and the present Government's policy of holding to account those guilty of human rights abuses in Iran. In 2014, there continued to be no concrete improvements under President Rouhani's government, with the highest number of executions in Iran in the past 12 years and the highest rate of executions per capita in the world. This dreadful situation continues; The Times reported on 17 April 2015 that Iran had hanged at least 43 people in the previous three days, "as the regime purges its bulging prison population". The Times correspondent went on to note that, as of that date, at least 270 people had been put to death, compared with about 750 in 2014 — "the highest since the mass purges of the 1980s". As he concluded:

"The spike in hangings underlines fears that Mr Rouhani's tentative détente with the West, culminating in a landmark nuclear deal two weeks ago, has had no impact on Iran's dismal human rights record."

58.4 There are thus good grounds for "rolling-over" the existing regime for a further twelve months. However, we do have continuing concerns over one aspect of the handling of the "review/rollover" process.

58.5 The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) and his officials rightly take the review process very seriously. So, too, does the Committee. The then Committee received on 30 March a letter from the then (and current) Minister, noting that the measures would have lapsed on 12 April 2015, during the Parliamentary dissolution, had they not been renewed before that date, and expressing regret at thus finding himself having had to agree to the adoption of this Council Decision and Council Implementing Regulation before the Committee had had an opportunity to scrutinise the documents.

58.6 When, on 30 April 2014, our predecessors considered the last such "rollover", they said that while any override of scrutiny is regrettable, they were not convinced that, on that occasion, it was unavoidable. They therefore asked the Minister to explain why last year's renewal was put forward so late in the day; and to outline in detail what steps were taken in Brussels, at what level, to "chase up" those concerned in advance of a renewal date that had been known a year previously. He subsequently explained that the European External Action Service (EEAS) had not initiated the review of these measures until 3 February 2014; acknowledged that he and his officials had misjudged the time that would be necessary to complete this process; and undertook both to ensure that the 2015 review was initiated in January and to write once more to the EU High Representative (Baroness Ashton) about the late publication of documents and how this impeded "our democratic Parliamentary scrutiny process".

58.7 Now, the Minister again describes this latest scrutiny override as "unavoidable". On this occasion, however, we further understand that:

·  the first stage of this year's review began in mid-January, and was concluded on 19 February;

·  the requisite letter notifying individuals whose Statement of Reasons the Council had decided to update was agreed on 24 February and sent shortly thereafter, with a 6 March deadline for the submission of any observations by those concerned;

·  in the meantime, the UK Representation to the EU made efforts to have early sight of the draft legal instruments, and stressed the importance of our Parliamentary scrutiny procedures;

·  two of the addressees submitted observations, necessitating further RELEX Working Group discussions,[ 435] which resulted in the Council Secretariat circulating the draft legal instruments on 17 March for discussion at a RELEX meeting on 23 March;

·  this meant that it was not possible to draft an Explanatory Memorandum before the then Committee's last meeting on 24 March;

·  given that Parliament was due to be dissolved on 30 March, and that the EU was pushing for adoption in early April, the Minister agreed to override scrutiny on 30 March, and notified the Committee; and

·  the draft instruments were approved by the Council via Written Procedure in early April.

58.8 Given this "timeline", on this occasion and in these circumstances, we do not object to the overriding of scrutiny.

58.9 We are also aware that:

·  the Minister has raised this issue not only with Baroness Ashton but also with her successor, High Representative Mogherini, including through a letter on 9 December 2014, in which he emphasised the importance of providing documents well in advance to ensure sufficient time for UK Parliamentary scrutiny;

·  FCO officials subsequently visited Brussels and, with the UK Representation to the EU, raised this issue with senior EEAS officials; and

·  as of last Spring, also planned to brief EEAS Working Group Chairs, arrange workshops on UK Parliamentary scrutiny, and meet key EU officials on a regular basis — all to ensure that all those involved with the process of document production have a good understanding of UK Parliamentary scrutiny and that scrutiny timetables are taken into account wherever possible.

58.10 We would accordingly like the Minister to write to us, within ten working days, outlining what steps have actually been taken, with and by whom, since last March; what evidence there is of sustained, improved performance by the EEAS; and what further steps he proposes to take.

58.11 In the meantime, we now clear the documents from scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Council Decision amending Decision 2011/235/CFSP concerning restrictive measures directed against certain persons and entities in view of the situation in Iran: (36771), —; Council Implementing Regulation implementing Regulation (EU) No. 359/2011 concerning restrictive measures directed against certain persons, entities and bodies in view of the situation in Iran: (36772), —.


58.12 The EU has been engaged since December 2006 in a "dual track" strategy — engagement and restrictive measures — regarding Iran's nuclear activities, not simply implementing in the EU, but also strengthening in that context, successive UN Security Council Resolutions.

Council Decision 2011/235/CFSP

58.13 However, while UN, EU and US measures were thus in place in response to the nuclear issue, there had been a limited international response to human rights violations and, at the same time, regular calls from a variety of directions, including human rights defenders and NGOs, to impose sanctions.

58.14 Thus, on 21 March 2011, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted the following Conclusions:

    "1. The European Union is deeply concerned that the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate. The EU is alarmed by the dramatic increase in executions in recent months and the systematic repression of Iranian citizens, including human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, women's activists, bloggers, persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities and members of the opposition, who face harassment and arrests for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The EU reiterates its strong condemnation of the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

    "2. The EU calls on the Iranian authorities to live up to the international human rights obligations that Iran has entered into, so as to protect and promote all human rights and fundamental freedoms to which the Iranian people are entitled. In particular it calls on Iran to release immediately all political prisoners and to halt executions.

    "3. The European Union attaches great importance to the improvement of the human rights situation in Iran and will increase its efforts to that end. The European Union will also continue to speak out in support of individuals and civil society organizations which stand up for the human rights which all Iranians should enjoy.

    "4. The EU is ready to discuss human rights issues with the Iranian authorities and to keep channels of communication open to that end.

    "5. The European Union will continue to address human rights abuses in Iran, including by swiftly introducing restrictive measures targeted against those responsible for grave human rights violations."[ 436]

58.15 Council Decision 2011/235/CFSP accordingly provides the basis for restrictive measures targeted against:

    "persons complicit in or responsible for directing or implementing grave human rights violations in the repression of peaceful demonstrators, journalists, human rights defenders, students or other persons who speak up in defence of their legitimate rights, including freedom of expression, as well as persons complicit in or responsible for directing or implementing grave violations of the right to due process, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, or the indiscriminate, excessive and increasing application of the death penalty, including public executions, stoning, hangings or executions of juvenile offenders in contravention of Iran's international human rights obligations."

Council Regulation 359/2011

58.16 This Council Regulation provides for the adoption of restrictive measures against those persons judged to be responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran, as listed in the annex to the Council Decision, and consists of a freezing of the funds and economic resources of those persons.

58.17 In 2013, the Council decided to prolong the EU restrictive measures by 12 months in response to continuing serious human rights violations, and to add nine persons and one entity responsible for serious human rights violations to the list of those subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze — judges, prosecutors, authority figures in state media, and the Cyber Police. This brought the number of persons targeted to 87. This "package" was renewed for a further 12 months in April 2014.[ 437]

The Council Decision and Council Implementing Regulation

58.18 This Council Decision and Implementing Regulation renews the EU's restrictive measures in view of the human rights situation in Iran until 13 April 2016.

58.19 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 15 June 2015, the Minister for Europe explains, as on previous such occasions, that the procedures for designating individuals under Council Decision 2011/235/CFSP and Council implementing Regulation 359/2011 ("the Principal Decision and Regulation") which this Decision and Regulation amend respectively are considered to be compliant with fundamental rights.

58.20 Thus:

—  provision is made for competent authorities of Member States to authorise the release of frozen funds where necessary in certain circumstances, for example, to satisfy the basic needs of listed persons or their dependents and where necessary for extraordinary expenses; which decisions by competent authorities of Member States in this regard would be subject to challenge in Member States' courts;

—  in addition, Member States may grant exemptions from the travel ban where travel is justified, inter alia, on the basis of urgent humanitarian need;

—  the Principal Decision and Regulation respect fundamental rights, notably the right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial and the right to the protection of personal data;

—  both the Principal Decision and Regulation state that the Council shall provide designated persons and entities with an opportunity to present observations on the reasons for their listing;

—  where observations are submitted, the Council shall review its decision in the light of those observations and inform the person or entity concerned accordingly; and, in addition, shall keep the measures under review; and

—  the Courts of the European Union must, in accordance with the powers conferred on them, ensure the review of the lawfulness of all European Union acts in respect of fundamental rights, including respect for the rights of the defence and the right to effective judicial protection.

The Government's view

58.21 The Minister says:

"It is still UK government policy to hold to account those guilty of human rights abuses in Iran. The human rights situation in Iran remains dire. The Government continues to release statements condemning the human rights situation in Iran, and lead action by the international community.

"The EU sanctions regime is one way in which we hold the government of Iran to account for human rights abuses. It was important to agree the renewal of the listings, provided they continued to meet the criteria.

"The Council agreed that there was no longer grounds for listing two individuals under the regime (HEYDARI, Nabiollah and REZVANI, Gholomani). Neither of these are politically important listings, and so delisting these individuals does not compromise the overall benefit gained from the sanctions regime towards our human rights objectives.

"In addition, one duplicate listing was deleted from the list (ELAHI, Mousa Khalil) following the Council's review."

58.22 In the letter to the Committee of 30 March the Minister pointed out that the measures would have lapsed during Parliamentary dissolution (on 12 April 2015) had they not been renewed in advance of their renewal date, and expresses regret that he found himself having to agree to their adoption before the Committee had an opportunity to scrutinise the documents.

Previous Committee Reports

None, but see (35962), — and (35963), —: Forty-seventh Report HC 83-xlii (2013-14), chapter 10 (30 April 2014).

435   RELEX: foreign relations counsellors from Member State permanent representations, who prepare the legal, institutional and budgetary aspects of CFSP/CSDP Decisions and Regulations. Back

436   Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions. Back

437   See our earlier Report for further detail and background: (35962), - and (35963), -: Forty-seventh Report HC 83-xlii (2013-14), chapter 10 (30 April 2014). Back

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Prepared 30 July 2015