Iranian Lawyers for Human Rights: The Defenders of Human Rights Center
Lawyers play a vital role in upholding human rights, yet their success depends on the level of democracy and the structure of power in each state. In non-democratic states, human rights law is often considered to be a political issue and is consequently portrayed as a security threat. This chapter examines the role of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), the only Iranian organisation to provide pro-bono services to protect citizens’ rights and seek rights-based law reform. By examining the work of DHRC, this chapter explores the objectives, strategies and challenges faced by lawyers seeking to improve the human rights situation in Iran. In giving an account of the stages of a legal case taken on by the author as a member of DHRC, this chapter demonstrates the complexity of manoeuvring the judicial system in order to safeguard human rights and establish just rule of law in Iran. The members of DHRC conducted their services under the assumption that human rights were apolitical. Yet the closure of the organisation in 2008 by the government proved that human rights and the activities of civil society continue to be considered a threat by the Iranian government. By politicising human rights, the Iranian government was able to successfully block progress in the name of national security. Ironically, the hostility of the Iranian government towards human rights has only forced human rights defenders and activists to revise and refine their strategies, rather than succumb to intimidation.