GENEVA: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is condemning the violent repression by Iranian security forces of protesters demanding action to address the water shortage in Khuzestan province.
Peaceful protests erupted in several cities in southwestern Iran’s Khuzestan last week over water shortages and mismanagement. Iranian security forces responded by violently crushing the protests instead of addressing the long-standing water crisis.
Rights chief Michelle Bachelet is calling on the Iranian government to take immediate action to address the problem. She is urging that action instead of using excessive force to suppress the debate and keep the population in line.
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Khuzestan, Iran’s main oil-producing region and the richest of the country’s 31 provinces, has been hit by drought since March, sparking protests in several towns and cities since July 15.
Her spokeswoman, Marta Hurtado, tells VOA that the people of Khuzestan have legitimate complaints. She says the only way they can express them and get the government to take notice is through protests.
“The impact of the devastating water crisis on the lives, health and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the government, not the protests by people desperate for years of neglect,” Hurtado said. “The High Commissioner said he is extremely concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week as well as the widespread arrests and detentions.”
At least four people, including a minor, died in the accident. Monitors believe the number of killings is likely to be higher as protests have spread to at least 20 major towns and cities in Khuzestan over the past week. Protests have reportedly begun in support elsewhere in Iran, including in the capital, Tehran and Lorestan province.
Khuzestan, a province of 5 million inhabitants, used to be the country’s main and most reliable source of water. However, Hurtado says years of perceived mismanagement, including diversion of water to other parts of the country and droughts across the country, have depleted the region of its precious resource.
“That’s why the High Commissioner defined the situation as devastating because it is not something that happened overnight,” Hurtado said. “This has been building up for many years and the authorities have not been able to address it. That is why we call on the authorities to identify what is happening and address it.”
High Commissioner Bachelet says it is never too late to change behaviour. She is calling on Iranian officials to instruct their security forces to follow international standards on the use of force. And then, she says, the government should take immediate steps and formulate long-term sustainable policies to reduce the water crisis.
Iranian officials have yet to respond to appeals.