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Iran rejects human rights criticism as sanctions loom
GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran told a United Nations body on Monday that it fully respects human rights, denouncing concerns raised by the United States, Britain and France as political gestures amid a wider nuclear standoff.
In its first review by the Human Rights Council, which looks at the record of all U.N. member states one-by-one, Tehran's envoy Mohammad Javad Larijani said Iran was in "full compliance with the relevant international commitments it has taken on in a genuine and long-term approach to safeguard human rights."
Larijani, secretary-general of the Iranian High Council for Human Rights, suggested criticisms of Iran represented attempts to heap extra pressure on the Islamic state that the United States and others fear is moving toward nuclear armament. Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian use.
Western countries have consistently used human rights "as a political tool to apply pressure against us and to advance certain ulterior political motives," he told the session.
The remarks come one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States saw few alternatives to more sanctions on Iran. "Iran leaves the international community little choice but to impose greater costs for its provocative steps," Clinton told a conference in Qatar.
Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi last week urged political sanctions in response to Iran's violent suppression of peaceful protests, but warned further economic sanctions would only hurt the Iranian people.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that Iran was able to enrich uranium to more than 80 percent purity, close to levels experts say would be needed for a nuclear bomb, but denied Iran had any intention of building one.
Addressing the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, Michael Posner, the U.S. State Department's top official for democracy and human rights, said the Iranian government had suppressed the protest of millions of people since last June's election.
Posner condemned "growing restrictions on freedom of expression and religious freedom" in the country and called on Iran to "take immediate action to cease the practice of torture in detention facilities and prisons."
France's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Jean-Baptiste Mattei, said the human rights situation in Iran "has seriously deteriorated during the past eight months."
"The authorities have unleashed a bloody repression against their own population who are peacefully seeking their rights," Mattei told the review. And Britain's ambassador Peter Gooderham said that despite Iran's public statements, "grave human rights violations continue to be committed."
Reporters Without Borders says more than 65 journalists and bloggers are behind bars, and rights activists including Shadi Sadr, who is campaigning to stop stoning as a punishment for women, say many detainees are held without outside contact.
"Basic rights remain in serious peril in Iran," Sadr told a Geneva news briefing last week where others raised concern about government disruptions of mobile phone and Internet services.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, writing by Laura MacInnis)
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