Iran's Disregard for International Law and Agreements

This comprehensive resource on Iran’s violations of its treaty obligations and multilateral agreements covers areas such as disarmament and weapons destruction, human rights, and governance. It underscores why the regime in Tehran cannot be trusted to abide by its commitments. For instance, Iran did not comply with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, which endorsed the deal. Iran violated the resolution’s arms embargo, which expired in October 2020, and its missile restrictions, set to expire in October 2023. The historical record of Iran’s failure to abide by the provisions and principles of the multilateral treaties and agreements to which it is a party belies the regime’s assertions that Iran is a responsible state actor acting in accordance with international law.

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Iran has signed a number of United Nations (UN) statutes and international treaties that, as a participatory nation, it is obligated to uphold. Nonetheless, Iran has consistently violated these statutes and bylaws. Iran also retains membership in a number of UN commissions, committees, programs, and agencies despite an egregious history of undermining the UN’s values. Members of these commissions and specialized agencies are responsible for directing areas of concern and compiling recommendations for action. As a result, Iran’s membership obstructs the missions of these commissions and agencies while enabling Iran to deflect attention elsewhere. Furthermore, its membership counters efforts to pressure the regime through diplomatic isolation.

On Disarmament and Weapons of Mass Destruction:

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)

Date of Ratification: 3/5/1970

Commitments: The Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) seeks to “prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to foster the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of disarmament.” Under the Treaty’s terms, “Each non-nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

Iran's Record: For years, Iran has illicitly developed its nuclear program in violation of the NPT’s terms. Iran eventually declared parts of its nuclear program in 2003 in response to heightened international pressure, although the announcement was shrouded in misinformation regarding past nuclear activities. Iran further blocked IAEA access to requested sites. Despite multiple UN Security Council Resolutions condemning Iran and levying sanctions, Tehran continued on its path of non-compliance, failing to meet crucial, mutually-agreed IAEA deadlines.

As part of the NPT, Iran must explain traces of radioactive materials found at undeclared sites across the country. It has failed to do so. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has stated that his country would not rejoin the nuclear deal with world powers until IAEA safeguards investigations are closed. The IAEA’s May 2023 NPT safeguards report indicated there were still outstanding safeguards issues for which Iran has not provided technically-credible answers.

Iran continues to stockpile highly-enriched uranium, moving it closer to producing weapons-grade (90 percent) enriched uranium. According to the U.S. Department of State, as of October 2022, Iran had stockpiled “386.4 kilograms of uranium (in the form of UF6) enriched up to 20 percent U-235, and 62.3 kilograms enriched up to 60 percent U-235, representing an increase of 272.6 kilograms and 44.6 kilograms, respectively, from the previous year.” Additionally, Iran’s deployment of increasingly efficient centrifuges has significantly shortened the time it would need to produce a sufficient quantity of enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon.

In February 2021, Iran terminated the transparency measures of the Additional Protocol signed in 2003. As a result, it has withheld information from the IAEA regarding nuclear fuel and fuel cycle activities. It has requested the removal of several monitoring devices, including cameras, the On-Line Enrichment Measurement device at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, and the Heavy Water Production Plant flow meter.

The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA)

Member Since: 1958

Member of the Board of Governors: 2002-2003

Mission: The IAEA’s mission is to serve as the “global focal point for nuclear cooperation…[develop] nuclear safety standards…[and verify] through its inspection system that states comply with their commitments.”

Iran’s Record: The Iranian regime has consistently obstructed the IAEA’s mission by developing nuclear capabilities without reporting its actions. In 2002, Iran was elected to the governing board of the IAEA, the same year that Iranian dissidents exposed Iran’s clandestine nuclear program previously unknown to the UN. The discovery provoked U.S. accusations that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons. Although Iran announced parts of its nuclear program the following year, it has continued to obstruct the IAEA’s mission, refusing to allow full transparency into the program. Iran continues to undermine the goals of the IAEA with delayed and incomplete information regarding its program. To date, the IAEA has not concluded that Iran’s nuclear program is intended exclusively for peaceful purposes, particularly in light of the above-mentioned unexplained presence of man-made uranium at undeclared sites.

Documents seized by Israel from Iran in 2018 confirmed that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program before 2003. It remains probable that Iran continues to move toward a nuclear weapon. As the Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said in 2023, “It would only be a matter of weeks before [Iran] can enrich to 90 percent, if they chose to cross that line…[and] their ability to deliver a nuclear weapon, once they developed it, has also been advancing as well.” According to a 2023 intelligence report from the Netherlands, Iran’s rapid accumulation of near weapons-grade uranium “brings the option of a possible [Iranian] first nuclear test closer."

Despite Iran’s clear intention to undermine the IAEA’s mission in its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, the U.S. pushed its European allies, contrary to their preferences at the time, not to publicly censure Iran at a March 2023 IAEA board of governors meeting after uranium particles enriched to 83.7 percent were found at Iran’s underground Fordow enrichment facility.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and their Destruction

Date of Ratification: 11/3/1997

Commitments: The Convention requires its signatories to refrain from developing, acquiring, and using chemical weapons and to safely dispose of any and all existing chemical weaponry.

Iran’s Record: Although Iran claims to have terminated its chemical weapons program after the Iran-Iraq War, U.S. intelligence maintains that Iran has since held onto its chemical agents and accelerated its program. In 2001, U.S. General Tommy Franks stated that Iran held the largest chemical stockpile in his area of responsibility. Iran is also accused of aiding the Syrian regime in developing chemical weapons, and arming Bashar al-Assad with chlorine bombs and rocket launchers that have been used to fire rockets with chemical agent warheads. Iran has staunchly supported the Assad regime despite its gross human rights violations and chemical weapons deployment.

In 2018, the U.S. accused Iran of failing to report its chemical weapons program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the Convention. The U.S. feared that Iran was actively pursuing “central nervous system-acting chemicals” for offensive weapons, a grave violation of the Convention. In 2022, the U.S. Department of State certified that Iran remained non-compliant with the Convention, as it had failed to declare chemical weapons transfers to Libya during the 1978-1987 Libya-Chad war; its complete holding of riot control agents; and its operation of chemical weapons production facilities. Additionally, since 2005, military-controlled facilities in Iran, such as Imam Hossein University and Malek Ashtar University of Technology, have been conducting research on chemicals with a wide range of sedation, dissociation, and amnestic incapacitating effects.

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

Member Since: 1997

Member of the Executive Council: 2014-2016

Mission: OPCW “oversees the global endeavor to permanently and verifiably eliminate chemical weapons.”

Iran’s Record: Iran has been a member of the OCPW since ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. Although one of the OCPW’s primary goals is to provide “assistance and protection against the use or threat of use of chemical weapons,” Iran has aided the government of Syria as it employed chemical weapons against its own citizens, killing nearly 1,500 people.

In late 2022, reports emerged that the regime had deployed toxins against its people to suppress a growing domestic protest movement, the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. Thousands of schoolgirls in Iran were victimized by attacks using airborne toxins. The wave of poisonings, which lasted for months, sent many students to the hospital with trouble breathing and symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and coughing. While regime officials have denied their involvement and promised to investigate the attacks, some Western analysts blamed the regime’s intelligence services—either the Ministry of Intelligence or the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization—the only two organizations “capable of undertaking an operation of this scale.”

The type of toxins deployed against the schoolgirls and whether they are banned under the Convention remains unclear. According to one chemical weapons expert, visual evidence indicates that the toxins were likely green hexachloroethane (HC) smoke or riot control munitions. Regarding riot control munitions, Iran uses CS gas against its population, a type of tear gas that is reportedly permitted for law enforcement purposes but outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention for use in war. 

The Conference on Disarmament (CD)

Member Since: 1979

Mission: The Conference on Disarmament primarily focuses on the following issues: “cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament; prevention of nuclear war…new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons including radiological weapons; comprehensive program of disarmament, and transparency in armaments.”

Iran’s Record: Iran has consistently obstructed good faith international efforts geared toward cooperating with Iran on its nuclear program. Among other breaches of transparency and cooperation, Iran has repeatedly denied the IAEA entry to its Parchin site, and missed crucial deadlines on international agreements regarding its nuclear program. Iran was elected to chair the Conference in 2013, a move the U.S. mission to the United Nations vehemently protested in light of Iran’s flagrant violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and international sanctions. Under Iran’s leadership, the United States and Canada elected to boycott the 2013 Conference.

Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction

Member Since: 1973

Mission: The purpose of this Convention is to “prohibit the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling, and use of biological and toxin weapons.”

Iran’s Record: In 2020, the U.S. Department of State assessed that Iran “has not abandoned its intention to conduct research and development of biological agents and toxins for offensive purposes.” The report highlighted how Iran’s biodefense and public health research can be flexibly applied to the development of lethal biological weapons agents. The main institutions responsible for this research in Iran are the Louis Pasteur Institute, the National Research Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (NRCGEB), and the Razi Institute for Serum and Vaccines. Their research, while often seemingly benign, serves dual-use purposes. For instance, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, NRCGEB conducts research on “recombinant DNA technologies, genetic engineering, and DNA vaccine production [that] could conceivably be utilized to research methods for increasing the virulence or resistance of select pathogens.”

In 2022, the Department of State reaffirmed that Iran had not rectified its non-compliance with the Convention. Although Article I of the Convention explicitly bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, or retainment of biological weapons under any circumstances, the Department of State reported that Iran continues to engage in “dual-use activities with [the] potential for biological weapons applications.” For instance, Iran has built a facility designated for the production of pharmaceutical botulinum toxin production. Furthering concerns, Iran has submitted one incomplete confidence-building measure since 2011.

On Diplomatic and Consular Relations:

Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations

Date of Ratification: 2/3/1965

Commitments: Signatories to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations are obligated to maintain and respect the binding laws that govern diplomatic missions to a host country.

Iran’s Record: The Iranian regime consolidated its power through a flagrant violation of the Convention’s provisions during the 1979-1981 Iran Hostage crisis. During the crisis, the American embassy in Tehran was violently seized, and 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Since then, Iran has continued to flout the safeguards for international diplomacy in the Vienna Convention. In 1992, the IRGC-backed terrorist group Hezbollah bombed the Israeli embassy in Argentina, killing 29 civilians. In October 2011, American authorities uncovered an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Only a month later, in November 2011, a regime-sponsored mob stormed the British embassy in Tehran. In 2020, Iran was reportedly weighing assassinating the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks. Iranian embassies worldwide are also notorious for selecting their staff from the ranks of the IRGC, which has close ties with Iran’s network of terrorist proxies and partners.

On Terrorism:

International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages

Date of Accession: 11/20/2006

Commitments: The Convention is designed to prohibit and punish the taking of hostages, defined as a person seized and detained “in order to compel a third party…to do [something] as a condition for [their] release.”

Iran’s Record: The Iranian regime has a long history of hostage-taking, beginning with the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis and followed by the 1982-1992 Lebanon Hostage Crisis. Iran currently holds dozens of hostages, many of whom have dual Iranian citizenship. Robert Levinson, the longest-held U.S. hostage in history, was not publicly seen or heard from since 2007, the date of his disappearance and reported abduction from Iran’s Kish Island. Reports emerged in 2020 that he had died in Iran.

Iran tries to use hostages as bargaining chips to coerce foreign governments to release Iranians held in prison. Iran has secured the release of convicted terrorists, including Asadollah Assadi, convicted of a bomb plot targeting a dissident rally in France in 2018, in exchange for innocent foreign nationals held on trumped-up charges. In June 2023, in exchange for Assadi, several European citizens were released from Iranian prisons.

Iran’s relentless hostage-taking also aims to distract from domestic turmoil. Since the Woman, Life, Freedom anti-regime protest movement began in September 2022, Iran has taken several foreigners hostage, accusing them of working for foreign intelligence agencies and blaming them for fomenting the unrest. In one instance, Iran took French citizens hostage and allegedly coerced them to confess to spying. Iran’s state media, which often airs forced confessions of Iranians accused of crimes, aired a French hostage admitting that she was “an intelligence and operations agent at the Directorate General for External Security.”

On Human Rights:

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

Date of Ratification: 8/29/1968

Commitments: This Convention aims to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms in the world, outlaw hate speech, and criminalize racist organizations. Among the rights enumerated in Article 5 of the Convention is “the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” 

Iran’s Record: The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has expressed concern over the rights of Arab, Azeri, Baloch, Jewish, Armenian, and Kurdish communities. Specifically, the Committee noted that Iran’s controversial “gozinesh” laws infringe on the rights of these communities to access equal employment and participate in Iranian political life. In addition to domestic prejudice, the Iranian government also celebrates “Quds Day,” an annual national holiday in which rallies are held calling for hostilities against Israel and the liberation of Palestine. “Death to Israel” is commonly chanted at the rallies, often accompanied by “Death to America.” The rhetoric frequently slides into overt anti-Semitism, including characterizations of Zionism as a cosmic evil and statements denying the Holocaust. 

Moreover, the regime regularly seizes property from Iranian minority communities, particularly Christians and Baha’is, impinging on the right to freedom of religion. With the backing of Iranian courts, the seized properties are frequently transferred to the ownership of wealthy economic foundations in Iran, known as bonyads. For instance, in 2016, a Protestant organization was evicted from one of its premises in a campaign to pressure its adherents to cease their religious practices, and the property was subsequently transferred to the bonyad Execution for Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO). EIKO has displaced entire Baha’i communities, leading one human rights lawyer to allege that Iran has gradually committed genocide against Baha’is. According to a July 2019 UN report, 49 Baha’is remained arbitrarily detained in the Islamic Republic of Iran as of June of that year. The same report noted that Iran outlawed conversion to Christianity, viewing converts from Islam as apostates. The U.S. Department of State reported in 2022 that, according to research by NGOs, Iranian officials "continued to disproportionately arrest, detain, harass, and surveil Christians, particularly evangelicals and other converts from Islam.”  

International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights 

Date of Ratification: 6/24/1975 

Commitments: The purpose of this Covenant is to ensure non-discrimination and equal rights for men and women in all economic, social, and cultural spheres; to protect labor rights, the right to education, and adequate standards of living for all individuals. 

Iran’s Record: Iranians face cultural repression as the regime attempts to ban traditional Persian celebrations. Women in Iran suffer from discrimination under Iran’s mandatory dress code, and men can prohibit their wives from entering employment. Iran’s Morality Police, deployed under the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), brutally enforces the hijab mandate and coerces and intimates women. This unit also enforces gender segregation in public spaces and laws on acceptable romantic behavior. The regime, for instance, severely discriminates against and represses Iran’s LGBTQ community. Same-sex intercourse is criminalized, and those found engaging in it face the most severe punishments, including execution.  

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 

Date of Ratification: 6/24/1975 

Commitments: Under this Covenant, signatories are required to safeguard the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of assembly, electoral rights, and the right to due process and a fair trial. 

Iran’s Record: The rights to freedom of speech and assembly are virtually non-existent in Iran. The Iranian government violently repressed the wave of protests following President Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009, as well as major protest movements in 2017, 2019, and 2022. The regime killed over 1,500 protesters in under two weeks in November 2019 on direct orders from the Supreme Leader, and over 500 have been killed since Mahsa Amini’s death in September 2022, while countless others have been arrested, detained, and tortured for expressing their rights to the freedom of speech and assembly. Iran’s blasphemy law greatly infringes on the universal right to freedom of speech, with violators accused of “spreading corruption on Earth” often facing imprisonment or the death penalty.  

Reporters Without Borders has dubbed Iran “the biggest prison for journalists.” Iran also persists in violating citizens' rights to due process of law, detaining citizens for extended, often indefinite, periods without conducting a fair trial. Iran’s legal system regularly uses confessions made under extreme duress, and the courts often deprive defendants of their right to legal counsel. Although the Treaty prohibits cruel punishment and only allows for the death penalty in the most serious of cases, Iran continues to use flogging as a punishment. It makes extensive use of the death penalty for crimes such as drug trafficking and sodomy. With the election of Ebrahim Raisi as president, Iran has significantly increased the use of the death penalty, executing record numbers of people, often for minor offenses. Iran also continues to use the death penalty on minors.  

Public sector employment rights remain inaccessible to Iranian minorities. Discrimination against minorities is codified under Iran’s 1985 gozinesh” laws, which bar state employment for those without sworn allegiance to Iran’s state religion. The UN has indicated that this requirement violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other agreements Iran is a party to. The Baha’i, one of the most persecuted minorities in Iran, are subject to limited access to education, mass imprisonment, and systematic persecution. As of 2022, Baha’I International Community counted over 50 Baha’is imprisoned on account of their religion. This repression is ingrained in Iran’s constitution, which does not recognize the Baha’i as an official religion. Iranian leaders frequently incite hatred against the Baha’i, and government-run media continues to disseminate anti-Baha’i propaganda. 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child 

Date of Ratification: 7/13/1994 

Commitments: This Convention protects the child from discrimination and ensures its best interests and right to life, survival, and development. 

Iran’s Record: Although capital punishment is illegal under Article 37(a) of the Convention, Iran has executed more child offenders than any other country in the world. That is not to mention the number of minors killed by security forces in connection with protest movements in Iran. Since September 2022, over 70 minors have been killed in connection with the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. Iran also continues to regularly execute citizens over 18 for crimes committed as minors. Children of minority groups like the Baha’i suffer harassment from school authorities, and Iranian textbooks explicitly discriminate against minorities. Under the Iranian civil code, if a mother wishes to retain custody of her child under joint-custody laws, she must refrain from remarriage, which creates a clear obstacle to the child’s equal access to custody rights under Article 9. UNICEF statistics indicate that 11.4 percent of Iranian children are victims of underage labor. Although the Convention requires safeguards to protect vulnerable refugee children under Article 22, Afghan refugee children are often forced to do manual labor while detained in Iran’s camps. According to Iranian law, the legal age of majority for children is puberty, enabling underage marriage for girls as young as 13. Girls in Iran’s rural areas are coerced into marriage even earlier, an infringement on the child’s right to freedom from abuse.

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography 

Date of Accession: 9/26/2007 

Commitments: This Optional Protocol aims to protect children from sale, prostitution, and pornography. 

Iran’s Record: Iran has long been an international crossroads for prostitution. In the years leading up to Iran’s accession to the Optional Protocol, there was a sharp increase in child prostitution. Members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been implicated as leaders in a child prostitution ring. Child prostitution in Iran is considered grossly underreported, and girls are often prostituted under the guise of a short-term marriage. According to a 2011 U.S. Department of State report on human trafficking, NGOs have discovered that Iranian “religious leaders and immigration officials are involved in the sale of young girls and boys between nine and 14 years old to men in Gulf States.” In 2017, an NGO in Iran revealed that prostitution and sex trafficking in Iran were endemic. According to the Department of State, the unnamed NGO’s report alleged that “Iranian police, IRGC, Basij, religious clerics, and parents of victims are…involved in or turn a blind eye to sex trafficking crimes.”

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

Date of Signature: 9/21/2010 

Commitments: The purpose of this Optional Protocol is to protect children from involvement in hostilities and conscription into the armed forces. 

Iran’s Record: The Iranian regime has a disturbing history of exploiting children in armed conflicts, most notoriously using children to clear landmines during the Iran-Iraq War. Often, such children were tied to one another to ensure they did not desert. Ayatollah Khamenei has recently praised this kind of abuse, calling child martyrdom a symbol of great pride. Iran became a signatory to this Optional Protocol in 2010, but according to a Child Soldiers International report from 2012, children continued to be employed in Iran’s army and paramilitary forces. For instance, Iran coerces Afghan refugees, including young children, to deploy with the Fatemiyoun Brigades under the IRGC to fight in Syria to defend Assad. Dozens of these recruits have been killed in Syria, some as young as 14 years old. 

Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others 

Date of Signature: 7/16/1953 

Commitments: The parties to the Convention agree to “punish any person who, to gratify the passions of another: 1. Procures, entices, or leads away, for purposes of prostitution, another person, even with the consent of that person; 2. Exploits the prostitution of another person even with the consent of that person.” 

Iran’s Record: In 2012, the U.S. Department of State reported that Iran remained “a source, transit, and destination for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.” Under the examined period between 2005 and 2012, Iran’s government made “no discernible efforts against human trafficking,” and “did not comply with the minimum standards for [its] elimination.” In 2021, the U.S. Department of State reported that “the government of Iran does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The report elaborated that the government has been complicit in the “sex trafficking of adults and children with impunity.” The regime’s legal system often blames and severely punishes the victims of sex trafficking, rather than the traffickers, for acts like commercial sex and immigration violations that the traffickers compelled them to commit.  

Iran acceded to the Optional Protocol in 2007, but Afghani and Azerbaijani refugee children in Iran are nonetheless forced into prostitution. According to a 2023 U.S. Department of State report on human trafficking, Afghani girls in particular, “are vulnerable to forced marriage with men living in Iran, which frequently leads to their victimization in sex trafficking and forced labor, including domestic servitude.” 

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Date of Ratification: 8/14/1956 

Commitments: This Convention safeguards national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups from the threat of genocide. 

Iran’s Record: One of the crimes listed under the Treaty is “direct and public incitement to genocide,” which Iranian leaders have routinely and explicitly violated. Iranian leaders have openly called for genocide against the Israeli people by seeking to “wipe Israel off the map,” and supplemented their rhetoric with sponsorship of terrorist groups similarly committed to genocidal ends. For instance, in Syria, Iran-backed Hezbollah has sought to displace Sunnis from their homes to solidify regime control over Damascus enclaves. In the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, Iran backs terrorist groups intent on using violence against Israel to establish a Palestinian state. Iran’s gross violations of the Treaty constitute a crime against humanity under international law. Canadian MP Irwin Cotler has argued for President Ahmadinejad’s indictment on charges of incitement to genocide. Prior to Quds Day in 2022, an Iranian newspaper whose editor was appointed by the Supreme Leader ran an article that praised Hitler, saying, “with expelling the [Jewish] people from Germany… Hitler showed he is smarter than all the current leaders of Europe and he is braver in expressing himself.”  

Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 

Member: 2010-2014; 2015-2019; 2022-December 2022 

Mission: This Commission prepares recommendations and reports within the UN’s Economic and Social Council on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social, and educational fields. 

Iran’s Record: Iran was elected to the Commission in 2010, a week after senior cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi declared that women who wear revealing clothing are responsible for earthquakes. Iranian women are discriminated against in a number of legal areas, and forced to abide by a strict dress code in public. According to an open letter by a group of prominent women right’s activists, “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, women are banned from many fields of study, sporting events, and from obtaining a passport and traveling outside the country without their husband’s permission…to establish and maintain women’s subjugation to men and the state.” Additionally, women in Iran are not allowed to marry without the approval of a male guardian, and their testimony in court is worth half that of a man’s. In the regime’s presidential elections, women have been prevented from running for the highest public office. Iran was re-elected to the Commission in 2022 despite the UN’s frequent criticism of Iran for imprisoning women’s rights activists and for its continued, codified discrimination against women in all areas of civil and political life.

Months after Iran’s Morality Police killed Mahsa Amini for improperly wearing the hijab, in December 2022, twenty-nine members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council voted in favor of a U.S. proposal to remove Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women for the duration of its 2022-2026 term. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, remarked that “the Commission cannot do its important work [of promoting gender equality and empowering women] if it is being undermined from within.” 

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) 

Member on Executive Board: 2013-2016 

Mission: UNICEF “advocate[s] for the protection of children’s rights to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.” 

Iran’s Record: Iran sat on UNICEF’s executive board despite egregious infringements on children's rights and a history of reneging on its commitments as a party of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Iran also has an egregious history of child prostitution and abuse of children in armed conflicts, despite its accession to both optional protocols relating to these abuses. Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child forbids the execution of minors under Article 37(a), Iran was determined to be the leading executioner of children. Between 2005 and 2015, Amnesty International documented over 70 executions of juveniles and an additional 160 juveniles languishing on death row at the time of the report’s publication. Amnesty International reported in March 2023 that child detainees were “subjected to flogging, electric shocks, and sexual violence in brutal protest crackdown.” In one particularly horrifying recounting, a young child told his mother that he was forced to “say what [the authorities] wanted because they raped [him] with a hosepipe.”  

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 

Member of the Refugee Fund (UNREF) Executive Committee Since 1957 

Mission: UNHCR “leads international action to protect people forced to flee conflict and persecution and those denied a nationality.”  

Iran’s Record: Iran has a history of abusing the refugees in its country, particularly Iran’s large Afghan refugee population, who, despite the Iranian government’s invitation after the 1979 revolution, fear deportation and are subject to “physical abuse, detention in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, forced payment for transportation and accommodation in deportation camps, forced labor, and forced separation of families.” Iran has failed to oblige by its responsibility to safeguard refugees within its borders, offering Afghan refugees $500 a month to fight alongside the Assad regime in Syria against rebel forces.

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran itself has produced a steady stream of refugees. In 2022 alone, nearly 30,000 people fled Iran and applied for asylum in other countries. In turn, Iran has tracked and abused many of these refugees after they leave the country to escape persecution, yet Iran continues to retain UNHCR membership. In 2015, Mohammad Reza Kolahi Samadi, a refugee living in the Netherlands since 1981, was assassinated in Almere. Freedom House has documented countless other occasions of the Iranian regime targeting refugees abroad in a transnational repression campaign.  

International Labor Organization (ILO) 

Member Since: 6/28/1919

Mission: The International Labor Organization aims to “promot[e] social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights, pursu[e] its founding mission that labor peace is essential to prosperity.” 

Iran’s Record: Although freedom of association is one of the founding principles of the ILO, no such freedom exists in Iran. Union activists are regularly beaten, arrested, jailed, and imprisoned for legitimate activities. Reza Shahbi, a union activist for example, served years in prison for his activism on labor rights in Iran. In May 2022, Reza Shahbi was rearrested and charged with spying after meeting with French union activists. This state-sanctioned repression also contradicts Iran’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  

A 2022 Human Rights Activists in Iran report detailed egregious violations of labor and human rights protected by the International Labor Organization. Those included occupational hazards that resulted in the death of over 800 workers in Iran in one year, making Iran the 102nd worst country in the world for occupational safety. Additionally, Iranian workers are commonly not paid for their work, with a total of over 1,366 months of combined wage arrears. Dismal working conditions, unpaid wages, stagnant wage growth, and general dissatisfaction with the regime have produced a wide range of labor protests and strikes across the country.  

Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations 

Member: 2015-2019 

Mission: This Committee aims to determine which NGOs will be accredited for consultation status in the United Nations. 

Iran’s Record: Iran joined the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations in 2015. Then U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power strongly condemned its membership given the government’s crackdown on civil society, including systematically limiting the activities of NGOs. Moreover, repressive regimes have a history of working to block the UN accreditation of NGOs they oppose. Iran is not a member of the Committee’s 2023-2026 session.  

United Nations Human Rights Council Social Forum

Chair: May 2023-May 2024

Mission: The Social Form “promotes social cohesion based on the principles of social justice, equity, and solidarity as well as addresses the social dimension and challenges of the ongoing globalization process. The debates are steered by a Chairperson-Rapporteur, appointed every year by the Human Rights Council from candidates nominated by regional groups. This person is responsible for leading the discussions.”

Iran’s Record: Iran is not currently a member of the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In May 2023, the UNHRC’s president appointed Iran’s Ambassador to the UN to chair the Social Forum for one year. Meanwhile, Iran is the subject of a UN special investigative mechanism probing human rights abuses after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s Morality Police. UN Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman, who presented his report to the Human Rights Council in March 2023, concluded that “the most serious human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran over the past four decades” have been committed in response to the Woman, Life, Freedom protest movement. Among the human rights abuses committed, the report identified “murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence, and persecution.” As chair of the Social Forum, Iran can steer discussions in its favor and distract from this damning UN report.

On Governance and Development

United Nations Convention Against Corruption

Date of Ratification: 4/20/2009

Commitments: This Convention “promotes and strengthens measures to prevent and combat corruption more efficiently and effectively; promotes, facilitates, and supports international cooperation and technical assistance in the prevention of and fight against corruption; and promotes integrity, accountability, and proper management of public affairs and public property.”

Iran’s Record: Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index has consistently ranked Iran as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Iran dropped from 88th in the rankings in 2005 to 144th in 2014. In 2022, Iran was ranked 147th. Senior members of Iran’s government have also been publicly linked to cases of financial corruption and drug and prostitution rings.

Economic foundations, known as bonyads, are a major source of corruption and mismanagement in Iran. The bonyads receive massive public funding and typically benefit from tax exemptions and regulatory advantages without public oversight. Given that the Office of the Supreme Leader retains exclusive oversight privileges, assessing how much money goes to enriching regime elites is difficult. However, the vast wealth of these foundations, whose executives are appointed by the Supreme Leader, is undisputed. Reuters reported in 2013 that Supreme Leader Khamenei’s financial empire was worth $95 billion. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya construction conglomerate, and three bonyads, namely Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO), Astan Quds Razavi, and Mostazafan Foundation, control over half of the Iranian economy, breeding rampant corruption.

Commission on Population and Development (CPD)

Member Since: 2015-2019

Mission: This Commission advises the Economic and Social Council on issues related to population and development.

Iran’s Record: The Commission was established as a follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), prioritizing access to reproductive healthcare rights and family planning. Nonetheless, Iran passed legislation in 2014 banning the use of permanent contraception and advertisement for birth control in its pursuit of population growth.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Member Since: 8/9/1985

Mission: UNIDO’s mission is to “promote, dynamize, and accelerate industrial development.”

Iran’s Record: UNIDO has provided Iran with technical advice and monetary aid for projects supporting the regime-controlled Iranian petrochemical sector. Many UNIDO projects and project proposals cite the Industrial Development and Renovation Organization of Iran (IDRO) and its subsidiaries as partners. The U.S. and EU-sanctioned IDRO is a government body that controls entities involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and is dedicated to procuring foreign technology to further these illicit aims.

United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

Member of Executive Board: 2009-2011; 2021-2023

Mission: UNDP focuses on “sustainable development, democratic governance and peace building, and climate and disaster resilience.”

Iran’s Record: Iran routinely works at cross-purposes with UNDP goals, most notably promoting democratic governance, human rights, and women empowerment (the UNDP oversees the UN Development Fund for Women). In 2009, Iran held the chair of the UNDP Executive Board while simultaneously carrying out a bloody crackdown in the streets of Tehran against citizens protesting for their democratic governance. Again, in late 2022, as regime security officials arrested, tortured, and killed protesters for expressing their discontent with the regime, Iran was a member of the UNDP’s Executive Board.

Today, Iran faces many ecological problems due primarily to corruption, mismanagement, and the systematic repression of environmentalists. The role of corruption is demonstrated in terms of the reckless construction of dams in Iran. Far from promoting climate resilience, dams have destroyed 50 percent of the country’s wetland ecosystems, wiping out animal species accustomed to living in the areas. Additionally, Iran’s dam construction has stymied Iraq and Afghanistan’s access to water in violation of international accords. Iran is the world’s third largest dam builder, as dam construction is a major profit source and a means of consolidating political support. The IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya, the largest construction firm in Iran, has received most of these lucrative projects. Together with Mahab Ghodss, which designs and oversees Iranian dams, Khatam al-Anbiya’s dam contracting arm, Sepasad, “pushes for and wins projects, spreads the wealth among a small group of members, and does not tolerate any efforts to monitor or audit its activities.” The role of mismanagement is most apparent in Iran’s agricultural practices. Iran relies on traditional farming techniques, such as flooding irrigation, which wastes 65 percent of water. 

On Crime

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Member Since: 1999

Mission: UNODC intends to lead “the fight against illicit drugs and international crime.”

Iran’s Record: Iran was re-elected to one of the UNODC’s two governing bodies, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in 2021 for a four-year term. The other governing body, the Commission of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, does not currently list Iran as a member as of January 2022. However, it had been elected to the body in the past. Although Iran issues pleas for extensive international aid to combat drug trafficking in and on its borders, the IRGC has spearheaded a global heroin drug network. Iranian proxy groups like Hezbollah actively benefit from close ties to Latin American drug cartels and worldwide drug trafficking schemes.

In addition to heroin and cocaine trafficking, Iranian-backed proxies linked to the IRGC have engaged in crystal meth, Captagon, hashish, and opium smuggling in the Middle East. The lucrative Captagon trade is centered in Syria, where Hezbollah works alongside Syrian regime officials to smuggle the cheap amphetamine into Jordan. Notwithstanding its own involvement in the drug trade, in 2022 Iran executed 255 people for drug-related offenses, representing 44 percent of known executions that year. Iran has long remained the world’s leading executioner for drug-related offenses, despite being a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, where Article 6 requires that the death penalty only be used in “the most serious crimes,” namely intentional killing.  

Amnesty International has criticized the UNODC for failing to apply its human rights standards to Iran. Human Rights Watch advocated for the UNODC to defund Iran, noting that the assistance enables Iran to “prosecute alleged offenders based on unfair trials, and even apply the death sentence under the draconian drug laws of Iran’s revolutionary court.” Additionally, weapons provided to Iran to ostensibly combat drug traffickers have instead been funneled to its terrorist allies in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they have been used to kill American and NATO troops. At a 2012 conference in Tehran cosponsored by Iran and the UN, Iranian Vice President Mohammed Reza Rahimi notoriously said, “The Islamic Republic of Iran will pay for anybody who can research and find one single Zionist who is an addict. They do not exist. This is the proof of their involvement in drug trade.”

On Shipping

The International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Member Since: 3/17/1958

Mission: The IMO’s responsibility is “the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.”

Iran’s Record: Despite its membership in the IMO, Iran has circumvented international sanctions by pursuing the deceptive practice of renaming and re-domiciling ships and dangerously shutting off ship transponders in violation of maritime law. Additionally, Iran has threatened to indiscriminately mine the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway vital to international trade. It routinely smuggles weapons by sea to its allies in Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Yemen.

Iran poses a clear and present threat to maritime security due to its efforts to circumvent international sanctions through its deceptive practices and the Iranian Navy's and the IRGC’s Navy Force’s seizure of vessels transiting international waters and their harassment of U.S. Navy vessels. According to the U.S. Navy, between 2021 and 2023, Iran “harassed, attacked, or interfered” with 20 internationally-flagged merchant ships. The IRGC and its proxies have carried out numerous UAV, missile, and mine attacks at sea. In one particularly deadly UAV strike targeting a vessel managed by an Israeli company, two crewmen were killed. Furthermore, Iran’s unregulated regular use of ship-to-ship transfers (STS) on the high seas risks environmental damage from oil spills.

On Telecommunications

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

Member Since: 1/1/1869

Mission: The ITU works to secure “the growth and sustained development of telecommunications and information networks, and to facilitate universal access so that people everywhere can participate in, and benefit from, the emerging information society and global economy.”

Iran’s Record: The Iranian government blocks millions of websites, including more than 50 percent of the world’s top websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, while at the same time, its leaders are permitted to use these same sites for propaganda purposes. The Iranian government also jams satellites to prevent foreign broadcasts from reaching the Iranian public and keeps internet speeds artificially slow to curb internet use within Iran. These measures prevent Iranian citizens from accessing emerging information and communicating freely, constituting blatant breaches of the International Telecommunication Union’s code. Amid the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran, which began in September 2022, Iran curbed internet access for millions of users to prevent reports on human rights abuses from circulating and to make it more difficult for regime dissidents to organize and coordinate their activities. Internet blackouts were speedily implemented after the outbreak of protests, blocking internet connectivity in large swathes of the country. 

JCPOA Violations

On Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Signed: July 2015

Mission: The JCPOA was supposed to limit the number and type of centrifuges Iran can deploy, the level to which Iran can enrich uranium and the stockpile of enriched uranium. The deal was also supposed to improve the monitoring and inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities to verify compliance.

Iran’s Record: Prior to the implementation of the JCPOA, the Obama administration issued several exemptions to the Iranian regime, allowing the agreement to go into effect. However, Iran was already in non-compliance with it. For example, the Joint Commission tasked with implementing the JCPOA—comprised of Iran and the P5+1—exempted an excess stockpile of enriched hexafluoride; re-classified an unknown quantity of uranium enriched to 20 percent; and permitted Iran to continue operating 19 non-complying shielded nuclear radiation containment chambers, known as “hot cells.”

Several months after the agreement took effect, President Obama admitted that Iran was not complying with the “spirit” of the deal. However, Iran’s non-compliance worsened over time. Iran continuously tested and violated the boundaries of the 2015 accord. Critically, Iran surpassed the type and quantity of centrifuges permitted under the JCPOA. For example, by August 2017, Iran had built eight advanced IR-8 centrifuges, far surpassing the allowable number of one.

In 2017, then IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano admitted that his agency’s tools for monitoring activities related to a potential nuclear weapons program were “limited,” largely because his agency lacked access to Iran’s military sites. The JCPOA was supposed to bar activities “which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” However, this section of the JCPOA, known as Section T, does not mention how the IAEA would verify compliance. The full extent of Iran’s violations of the deal remains a black box, as several of its facilities, particularly military sites like the Parchin complex, have been off limits to international inspectors.

On Ballistic Missiles

UN Security Council Resolution 2231: Annex B

Adopted: July 2015

Mission: Paragraph 3 of Annex B of UNSCR 2231 “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” Paragraph 4 of Annex B requires the Security Council's approval of Iran’s import and export of items that could contribute to developing a nuclear weapon delivery system.

Iran’s Record: While the JCPOA was in effect, Iran conducted over twenty launches of ballistic missiles and SLVs that exceeded the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) threshold, which defines the nuclear capability of missiles as those which are capable of delivering a 500 kg payload to over 300 km. Before the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, eight of Iran’s thirteen existing ballistic missile systems were nuclear-capable. Iran has also procured ballistic missile-related materials from abroad without Security Council approval, thus violating the stipulations of Paragraph 4. In particular, it has imported materials from China and continued cooperating with North Korea on missile development and production. Finally, Iran has proliferated ballistic missile-related materials abroad, including to its terrorist proxies, furthering its transgression of Paragraph 4. For instance, Hezbollah has received banned GPS systems for updating the guidance systems of primitive rockets to target Israel. Iran’s provision of drones to Russia may constitute an additional violation of UNSCR 2231; that is, the view of the U.S., the United Kingdom, and France.

On Arms Transfers

UN Security Council Resolution 2231: Annex B

Adopted: July 2015

Mission: Paragraph 5 of Annex B of UNSCR 2231 bars the transfer of “battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems, as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, or related materiel, including spare parts” to Iran, without Security Council approval. Paragraph 6 of Annex B bars the transfer of arms from Iran.

Iran’s Record: Notwithstanding the arms embargo, Iran continued to transfer banned arms and related materials to its network of terrorist proxies and partners. The transfers benefited a variety of proxies and partners, including those positioned in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Bahrain, and Yemen. These entities have deployed the weaponry against U.S. partners and allies in the region: Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the Iraqi government, and Bahrain.

The Iranian Regime Cannot Be Trusted

Iran’s record of violating its international commitments underscores that the regime is not a trustworthy or responsible state actor. The Biden administration’s reported continuing efforts to engage the regime diplomatically after two years of negotiations to revive the JCPOA failed reveals that this lesson has not been incorporated into the administration’s policy and that the administration continues to act against an increasingly bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress for a new Iran policy based on deterrence, and against the overwhelming preferences of the Iranian diaspora community calling for regime change.

The Biden administration appears poised to accept an informal understanding with the Islamic Republic regarding the regime’s uranium enrichment, its attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East, and its supply of lethal aid to Russia, despite Iran’s record of non-compliance and failure to uphold its obligations under international law, treaties, and agreements. Rather than endless diplomacy with the Islamic Republic, the U.S. must allow the U.S. Congress’s emerging bipartisan consensus to inform a new policy based on deterring and disincentivizing the regime from engaging in the very practices that are supposed to be barred by the international treaties and agreements to which Iran is a party but with which it does not comply.