USCIRF Urges Accountability for Iran’s Violations of Religious Freedom

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has called for the U.S. government to back a UN Security Council referral of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for “crimes against humanity.”

The flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran flies in Tehran, the nation’s capital. (Photo by Sir Francis Canker Photography/Moment via Getty Images)

Per the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, the ICC has jurisdiction over and may prosecute a country for crimes against humanity, defined by that body as “serious violations committed as part of a large-scale attack against any civilian population.” These include “murder, rape, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, enslavement—particularly of women and children, sexual slavery, torture, apartheid and deportation.”

A panel of UN experts—the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission—found that Iran’s quashing of protests against mandatory hijab laws and other violations of religious freedom fall under the ICC’s definition of crimes against humanity.

The Mission determined that this suppression “intersects with discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religion.”

“The Iranian government relentlessly violates women’s religious freedom and targets any individual who supports freedom of religion or belief in the country.” 

“The Fact-Finding Mission’s determination reflects meticulous consideration of the evidence of the Iranian regime’s egregious violations of religious freedom, many of which have explicitly targeted women and girls,” said USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland. “The Biden administration must work with like-minded partners, including fellow members of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, to support the Mission’s investigation and hold accountable Iranian regime officials complicit in these crimes.”

The Mission cited Iran’s use of generalized legal measures against insulting Islam to justify the targeting of religious minorities who peacefully asserted their freedom of religion. One tool used to muzzle protest is sexual and gender-based violence. USCIRF notes that this specialized form of torture can “include sexual, physical, mental and economic harm inflicted in public or in private. It also includes threats of violence, coercion and manipulation. This can take many forms such as intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and so-called ‘honor crimes.’”

The Mission found that children, too, were subject to arbitrary arrests. Hundreds, some as young as 10, were taken from their families, who were given no information about their whereabouts. Confessions extracted through torture resulted in the execution of at least nine young men from December 2022 to January 2024, with dozens more at risk of the death penalty, including women and children.

“The Iranian government relentlessly violates women’s religious freedom and targets any individual who supports freedom of religion or belief in the country. USCIRF applauds the U.S. government’s support for the international efforts to hold Iran accountable for its heinous acts,” said USCIRF Commissioner Stephen Schneck.

USCIRF is a bipartisan federal government entity established by Congress in 1998 to analyze, monitor and report on abuses of religious freedom abroad and to make recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress. Its purpose is to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.”