U.N. keeps focus on Iran human rights in run-up to election

GENEVA Fri Mar 22, 2013 1:57pm EDT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations agreed on Friday to keep investigating reports of human rights violations in Iran, a move welcomed by activists who report a crackdown ahead of presidential elections.

The U.N. Human Rights Council overwhelmingly voted to give its special rapporteur on the situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, another year to carry out his work.

Although the council only has moral authority - and the extension was expected - the announcement adds to pressure on Tehran, already mired in negotiations with big powers aimed at curbing its disputed nuclear program.

Iran's ambassador Mohammad Reza Sajjadi rejected the decision as "substantially flawed" and said it was aimed at the "short-sighted political interests of a few countries".

The motion to extend Shaheed's mandate was put forward by Sweden on behalf of the United States and other nations.

Shaheed said last week that Iran's silencing of journalists and opposition leaders could jeopardize the legitimacy of the presidential election in June.

Iran has not allowed Shaheed to enter the country and his report was based on 169 interviews with people inside and outside the country, by telephone and video-conferencing.

"With elections approaching in June 2013, the U.N. expert's work documenting abuses in Iran will be even more crucial," the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said in a statement, adding that the situation in Iran was "worsening".

Shaheed has also reported that Iran has stepped up executions of prisoners including juveniles and harassment of lesbian and gay people and members of religious minorities including the Baha'is.

"For years, the Iranian government has made excuses or blamed others in the face of mounting documentation that it severely represses its citizens in gross violation of international law - but the wide margin of today's vote confirms that the world is not buying its justifications," said Diane Ala'i, the Baha'i representative to the U.N. in Geneva.

The 47-member forum voted 26-2 in favor of maintaining scrutiny, with Pakistan and Venezuela against, 17 abstentions, and two absent delegations.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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