The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic, constitutional republic dominated by Shi'a religious leaders. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dominates the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, directly controls the armed forces, and controls internal security forces. The unelected 12-member Guardian Council screens candidates for all national and local elections, including the March 2008 parliamentary elections, disqualifying candidates on ideological grounds. In 2007 the government's poor human rights record worsened. The government severely limited citizens' right to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections. There was a lack of fair trials and reports of unjust executions after these trials. Security forces committed torture and inflicted severe officially sanctioned punishments, including death by stoning and amputation. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals, including political prisoners, often on spurious charges or without charges. The government severely restricted civil liberties, including the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. Discrimination occurred against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and homosexuals. Serious problems also involved trafficking in persons, and government sponsorship of anti-Semitism.
Although the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Iran, it continues a multifaceted effort to support the Iranian people's aspirations for an accountable, transparent government that respects the human rights of its citizens. The U.S. strategy utilizes public diplomacy, including statements and media interviews, as well as multilateral efforts, to draw attention to the government's human rights abuses.
The United States continues to obligate funds for democracy and human rights promotion programs through Iran-specific appropriations from Congress to support the efforts of the Iranian people to undertake democratic reforms and improve respect for human rights in their country. The United States consults regularly with domestic and international NGOs on how to pressure most effectively the government to improve its poor human rights record.
President Bush and senior U.S. officials repeatedly express support for Iranians in their quest for freedom, democracy, and a more transparent and accountable government. The United States regularly issues high-level statements condemning the government's continued harassment and detention of civil society activists and political prisoners and encourages other like-minded governments to follow suit. U.S. officials conduct interviews on U.S. and European Persian-language media to highlight the Iranian public's aspirations for increased respect for human rights, civil liberties, and a more democratic and open government and to highlight human rights abuses. The United States continues to support the advancement of democracy and human rights standards in the country via Voice of America radio and television broadcasts, a Web site in Persian carrying U.S. government policy statements and articles promoting democracy and human rights issues, and U.S.-funded Persian-language Radio Farda.
In December 2007, for the fifth consecutive year, the United States cosponsored and actively supported a resolution that passed in the UN General Assembly's 62nd Plenary Committee condemning the human rights situation in the country. The United States regularly raises concerns about the government's poor human rights record in consultations with allies, urging them to raise these concerns during any formal human rights dialogue or other bilateral contact with the government. The United States works closely with allies to ensure a coordinated message on human rights. The United States and other nations condemned the March 2008 parliamentary elections as neither free nor fair.
The United States funds programs designed to strengthen civil society, increase awareness of human rights, and promote the rule of law. U.S. programs offer training and conferences for members of civil society, publish and disseminate materials on democracy and human rights, promote information-sharing among activists, and advance Internet freedom. In 2007 the United States funded a scholarly study on the country's current primary and secondary education textbooks. The study revealed pervasive and systematic messages of discrimination against women and religious and ethnic minorities and vilification of the regional and international community. The United States also funded a project on human rights law that led to the development of a human rights law course at an Iranian university. Additionally, the United States renewed a grant to continue documenting government human rights abuses against citizens. The project seeks to raise public awareness of accountability and rule of law as important components of democratization and human rights protection.
U.S. officials also regularly meet with individuals and members of various groups suffering human rights abuses, documenting incidents for dissemination to other governments and for inclusion in the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices and the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.
Since 1999 the secretary of state has designated Iran a Country of Particular Concern for its severe violations of religious freedom. In September 2007 a U.S.-funded program documenting abuses inside the country published a report on the persecution of the Baha'is, describing how the government has effectively criminalized Baha'i religious practice and exploring the circumstances and the flawed trials of the 1983 execution of twenty-two Baha'is in Shiraz.
To combat trafficking in persons, the United States continues to encourage the government to improve protection of victims of trafficking and increase law enforcement efforts to combat internal and transnational trafficking.