Persecution of Baha’is and effectiveness of international governance response.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) on December 10, 1948.[1] It has been 73 years since the global community has prided itself in its ability to come together in the realization that humans are deserving of basic fundamental rights, those which are enshrined in the treaty. Any nation party to it has to respect and ensure its implementation to all its citizen unequivocally. Yet, flagrant violations of human rights continue unabated in many nations today. The aggrandizing of the United Nations as an international body that upholds the rights and liberties of citizens in a state largely overstates the realities of many persecuted minorities today. This calls upon analysis of the effectiveness of the resolutions passed by the UN bodies aiming to uplift the same communities.

The case of the persecution of the religious minority, Baha’is, will be presented and the situation of their rights (or lack thereof) will be discussed, in order to advocate the seriousness of their plight. Furthermore, the need for the international community to enforce stronger international laws of intervention will be argued for as a potential solution.

Brief history of Baha’ism

Baha’ism is a religion started by the Bab in early 19th century.[2] It was his disciple, Baha’u’llah, however who pursued the mission of spreading the Baha’i faith, in Iran and across the globe. He was perceived as the messenger of God, as per the prediction of the Bab.[3] His writings and teachings are widespread in its gravity. The stress on the global unity of mankind and its ability to overcome differences of the human race to realize a deep sense of brotherhood forms the cornerstone of the religion.[4] He famously said “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”.[5] In particular, the religion recognizes that religions across the globe have all conceptualized God’s purpose for humanity but are expressed in different ways. However now would be the time to realize that purpose in the form of a “integrated global society.”[6] Therefore, it establishes certain fundamental beliefs that serve as guiding principles.

Baha’ism is integral in advocating for the equality of the genders, the need to transcend any form of discrimination; it stresses on the importance of education, with particular emphasis on the balance between science and religion and firmly believes that the environment needs to be saved, therefore advancement of technology needs to inculcate more sustainable practices.[7] In other words, it can be said that the religion espouses principles that largely echo the rights, liberties and the governing beliefs of the UN Charter and other related human right treaties. It thus is a pioneer of human rights. Today, it has over millions of followers globally. However, about 350,000 members of the Baha’i faith reside in the place where the religion originated – the Islamic Republic of Iran.[8]

The conflict of Baha’ism with Islam

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a largely Shia dominated Muslim country. This religion believes that the last and final prophet was Prophet Muhammad, therefore the mention of a new God’s messenger threatens the sanctity of the religion and stands as religious blasphemy.[9] Secondly, the particular stress on equality of gender, the universal toleration of all religions and in general the more progressive attitude the religion poses stands in direct contradiction with the practices of some conversative members of Shi’i clergy.[10] Therefore, the Baha’i religion stands to endanger the beliefs of the authorities, which propels the state officials to treat Baha’ism as a religion that is heresy and something ‘perverse’.

Denial of human rights to Bahai’s

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is another resolution passed by the UNGA in 1966. It reflects the basic principle of non-discrimination when providing rights and liberties to the citizens bound by a state. In particular, it guarantees the right to self-determination and Article 2 of the Covenant states that parties to the treaty are to “respect and to ensure that all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant”.[11] Iran is a party to the Covenant as well as the UDHR treaty. This obligates the state to enforce the rights and liberties documented in its constitution to all its citizens, including those of Baha’is.

However, the Iranian Constitution does not recognize Baha’ism as a religious minority. In its constitution, the rights and laws are applicable only to the recognized religious minorities, which include Christians, Zoroastrians and Jewish Iranians. In particular, Article 13 of the Iranian constitution states that “Zoroastrians, Jewish and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education”.[12] The deliberate non-inclusion of the Baha’i religion not only means that this is direct violation of the non-discrimination principle, as guaranteed by ICCPR[13], but also ensures that Baha’is are not recognized as citizens of the State and therefore cannot enjoy political and civil liberties. Most other laws of the Iranian Constitution that guarantee these rights include Muslim citizens as well as ‘recognized’ religious minorities.[14] This proviso of “recognized” religious minorities is what hampers the state of the Baha’is.

Particular cases of violation of human rights

The Baha’i Question and the Secret Letter to the Police

Two cases of state-sanctioned government schemes serve as proof of authorization of the persecution of the Baha’is. One is called the “Baha’i question”, a memorandum passed in 1991, under the request of the Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the then President, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. This was signed by both, the Secretary of the Iranian Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and the Supreme Leader.[15] It calls for the treatment of the Baha’is in a way that “their progress and development are blocked.”[16] Baha’i international community (BIC) cites in its report that “The document indicates, for example, that the government aims to keep the Bahá’ís illiterate and uneducated, living only at a subsistence level, and fearful at every moment that even the tiniest infraction will bring the threat of imprisonment or worse.”[17] Furthermore, it states that there will be devised a plan in which the Baha’i religion will be terminated from the roots.[18] This document was intercepted by the United Nations in 1993.[19]

Secondly, another ‘highly confidential’ document was obtained by the UN Special Rapporteur in 2006. This document was a letter from the Iranian military headquarters to the Revolutionary Guard, the police and other forces signed by the Chairman of the Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces Basij Major General Dr. Seyyeed Hossein Firuzabad. The authorities were “given the mission to acquire a comprehensive and complete report of all the activities of these sects (including political, economic, social and cultural) for the purpose of identifying all the individuals of these misguided sects.” Note in particular the use of the word ‘misguided’ to refer to the Baha’i community. The encroaching of privacy for the purpose of deliberately attacking one’s religious beliefs and then depriving them of their civil and political liberties is a direct violation of Article 17 (1)[20] and Article 18 (1)[21] (2)[22] of the ICCPR.

The right to organize and other rights

Any religion must be given the right to organize. However, this right has been denied to Baha’is in Iran since 1983.[23] This is particularly important since the Baha’is have no clergy. Their form of administration relies on electing people for the governing council, through which the activities of the religion are organized, preached and spread.[24] Depriving them of the right to organize means that they have to resort to forming smaller, more informal groups through which they can practice their faith. However, in 2009, Iran’s Prosecutor General, Ayatollah Qorban-Ali Dorri- Najafabadi declared on national news that “the administrative element [of the Bahá’í community] will be confronted decisively until its complete destruction.”[25] Such vehement opposition to the religion by state-sanctioned authorities meant the Baha’is had no choice but to shut down their groups.

The persecution and ill-treatment of the Baha’is has increased dramatically, following from the Iranian Revolution. It ranges from denial of the right to and access to education, destruction of property belonging to the Baha’i individuals, denial of the right to fair judiciary trials and appeals, denial of employment opportunities to list a few.[26] About 200 individuals have been arrested since 1979 and countless propaganda articles have been published, ranging from 3000 articles from January to April in 2020 alone.[27] Even amidst the raging pandemic, about 71 Baha’is were persecuted in the month of June 2020.[28] Such severe discrimination continues even in the war-ridden state of Yemen, particularly in the regions where the Iranian Houthis control the nation.            [29]

International response

Many countries and the United Nations have passed countless statements and have documented various reports about the situation of the Baha’is. The Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and the UN Commission on Human Rights have passed 20 plus resolutions on the case of the Baha’is.[30] Head of states of countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, the European Council have also expressed condemnation of the Iranian treatment of the minorities.[31] Iranian individuals have offered sympathy and have helped their fellow Baha’is in many instances.[32] The role of international media has certainly helped raise awareness, along with NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.[33] Together, all of these bodies have been crucial in preventing the persecution from expanding into religious cleansing.

However, it is crucial to note that most head of states of Islamic Countries have not expressed concern for the ill-treatment of the Baha’is. It is also imperative to understand that while all of these bodies have helped greatly in raising awareness, ultimately no one has authority to encroach into the sovereignty of Iran in order to force Iran to recognize Baha’i individuals and grant them equal civil and political rights and liberties. The maximum that can be done is place pressures but Article 18 (3)[34] of the ICCPR can be used by Iranian officials to argue that persecution of religion is indeed necessary since it poses a threat to the morals of others, that is the Islamic communities. This is important to note because while international efforts to bring together the global community was enshrined in the inception of the United Nations, such laws that states are obligated to are at times, vague, giving them freedom to justify human right abuses with a clever play of words. Indeed, most of the Iranian justification when faced with international pressure was on the grounds of the Baha’is ‘committing crimes’ or being termed as ‘apostates.’[35] This means that there is a fine distinction between national law and international law that needs to be acknowledged since the depth of this line can be turned as a weapon to continue gross violations of human rights. This needs to be acknowledged by the international bodies and stricter mechanisms need to be imposed in order to truly ensure that national sovereignty can at times be overridden if it means saving many more innocent lives. The UDHR was crucial in laying the foundations for a more respectful world, however there is still a long way to go in order to truly achieve the ends it promises.


The Baha’i community is the largest religious minority in Iran that continues to be persecuted persistently. The many human rights violations have been discussed that serve as a red flag to the already sensitive international community. Blatant disregard to recognize the Baha’i community as a religious minority and depriving its individuals of rights and civil liberties guaranteed by the treaties to which Iran is a party to, highlights the need to revise international laws that guarantee international bodies more freedom in imposing stricter mechanisms, in order to truly realize the aim of enforcing fundamental human rights.

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, available at: (last visited on January 12, 2021).

[2] Zackery M. Heern, “Who are the Baha’is and why are they so persecuted”, The Conversation, December 1, 2017, available at (last visited on January 12, 2021)

[3] The Baha’is of Iran, available at: (last visited on January 13, 2021).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Baha’i International Community, “The Bahá’í Question Cultural Cleansing in Iran”, 9, (September 2008), pdf.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Supra note 6.

[8] “In the Middle of a Pandemic, Iran Dials Up Persecution of Its Baha’i Citizens”, The Wire, June 16, 2020, available at:, (last visited 13 January, 2021).

[9] Baha’i International Community’s United Nations Office, “The compliance of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as concerns the situation of the Bahá’ís”, 4, (December, 2010).

[10] Supra note 5.


[11] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, art. 2.

[12] Supra note 9, at 5.

[13] Supra note 11, art. 1.

[14] Supra note 9, at 5.

[15] Supra note 5, at 21.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Supra note 5, at 22.

[18] See appendix III, page 85 of the report by the BIC in the link (pages 22-23) in order to refer to the particular provisions of the memorandum with respect to the Baha’is.

[19] Supra note 5, at 20.

[20] Supra note 11, art. 17 (1)

[21] Supra note 11, art. 18 (1)

[22] Supra note 11, art. 18 (2)

[23] Supra note 9, at 6.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Supra note 9, at. 6

[26] Supra note 9. In particular, the document highlights specific cases of the persecution against Baha’is in length.

[27] Supra note 8.

[28] Ibid.

[29] “With a Mass Trial, the Persecution of Baha’is in Yemen Continues Unabated”, The Wire, September 26, 2018, available at: (last visited on January 13, 2021)

[30] Baha’i World News Service, “Trial of Iran’s seven Baha’i leaders United Nations statements”, available at:, (last visited on January 13, 2021).

[31] Supra note 5, at 52.

[32] Supra note 5, at 54.

[33] Supra note 5, at 55, 56.

[34] Supra note 11, art. 18 (3).

[35] Supra note 9.