The UN Human Rights Council is set to open its 37th annual session, which will include a speech by Iran’s justice minister, who has been sanctioned by the European Union and host Switzerland.
The event, which will feature a three-day summit of top leaders from some 100 countries and international organizations, will begin on February 26 and run through March 23 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Critics have expressed outrage that Alireza Avayi, the Iranian justice minister, will speak at the human rights event.
The European Union and Switzerland have separately imposed financial sanctions on Avayi, alleging that as Tehran's former top prosecutor he was "responsible for human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners' rights, and an increase in executions."
"Allowing Avayi to address the Human Rights Council is disgraceful and would make a mockery of the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms," said Shahin Gobadi, a member of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
"This must not happen," he told the AFP news agency in an e-mail, saying Avayi "bears responsibility for the brutal suppression of recent protests" in the country.
Gobadi said a protest was planned at the UN headquarters in Geneva for February 27, when Avayi was scheduled to speak.
Iranian opposition groups claim that Avayi played a key role in a 1988 massacre of political prisoners.
Rolando Gomez, a spokesman for the Human Rights Council, on February 23 said that member nations are allowed to decide who speaks for them at the rights body.
The EU sanctions against Avayi prevent him from travel to bloc countries and freeze assets he might hold in the EU. Sanctions imposed by Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, are only financially related.
Meanwhile, a statement by the council said it will consider and adopt the final outcome of its latest Universal Periodic Review of 14 countries, this time including Ukraine and Pakistan.
Other countries included are Argentina, Benin, the Czech Republic, Gabon, Guatemala, Japan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Zambia.
The process is a periodic review of all UN member nations, allowing them “to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.”
The statement said delegates will discuss the human rights situation in Syria, Burundi, South Sudan, and Burma, also known as Myanmar.
“Children’s rights, especially in the context of violence and armed conflict, will feature strongly on the council’s agenda,” it said.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Bloomberg, and CNS