31 Oct 2022

NZ suspends bilateral Human Rights Dialogue with Iran, PM to announce response to violence

6:58 pm on 31 October 2022

New Zealand is suspending its bilateral Human Rights Dialogue with Iran as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announce New Zealand's response to anti-regime protests crackdown in Iran.

The two countries first established dialogue in 2018 to discuss human rights concerns. The first session was held in 2021 and the next was due to take place later this year.

But foreign affairs minister Nanaia Mahuta said bilateral approaches on human rights are no longer tenable when Iran is denying basic human rights and violently suppressing protests.

There have been widespread protests in Iran for weeks, in response to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being arrested for violating the country's dress code.

The government had so far been quiet on the issue - with recent news of two New Zealanders, Topher Richwhite and Bridget Thackwray arriving safely in New Zealand after having their movements restricted by Iranian authorities.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was urging United Nations member states to remove Iran from the UN Commission for Status of Women.

Further advice had been sought on further actions that could be taken by the government to amplify condemnation of Iran's human rights abuse and demonstrate support to all those in Iran, she said.

The suspension was intended to send a clear message, she said.

"Not only have we not seen progress as a result of that dialogue, but we have seen a retreat, a regression in the rights of women and girls. And we are taking a very clear stand on that.

"New Zealand managed to take a strong position on Iran whlist also working very hard to ensure that two New Zealanders in a very difficult position could leave."

New Zealand had maintained a consistent position with other countries and its position on the world stage had not been compromised, Ardern said.

Building a broad base of support among the UN members would be key to addressing Iran's removal from the Commission for Status of Women, she said.

Ardern said NZ was one of only two countries with politicians who had signed on to a view that Iran should also be removed from the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

"At this stage there are a limited number of countries calling for instance removal of Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women," Ardern said.

"So whilst we are one of the few who have suggested that we will be looking to build broad base support for that.

"Because obviously it is a multi-lateral forum, It would be much more successful if we are able to do that."

Further advice had been sought from Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on what additional actions could be taken.

Mahuta said maintaining consular service in Iran was important to provide support to the 19 New Zealanders who were registered on safe travel.

She was seeking advice whether the Russian Sanctions Act could be used in this particular instance.

New Zealand currently already has sanctions against Iran.

Mahuta said the government had sought broad advice on the measures, including trade, that could be considered as decisions were taken around next steps.

She expected to have clarity on the advice in the next 10 days.

Earlier, Ardern said the government worked hard over the past several months to ensure the safe exit of the two social media influencers from Iran.

Last week Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said there was no longer anything stopping the government taking stronger action.

Ghahraman wanted a freeze on the assets, bank accounts and travel of people supporting violence in Iran.

- POOL - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the post-Cabinet press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta, Parliament, Wellington. 07 March, 2022.  NZ Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta are set to announce New Zealand's response to anti-regime protests crackdown in Iran. Photo: Pool / NZME