We are in the 9th week of Iran’s nationwide protests, coined the revolution by students. After years of conservative employment of human rights sanctions, many governments have imposed them on certain entities and individuals involved in the current situation, freezing their assets, banning them from travelling in designating countries, and halting their business deals.

Canada leads in terms of adopting restrictive measures against perpetrators. They sanctioned 9 entities and 25 individuals on the 3rd of October 2022, and two more entities and four more individuals on the 31st of October 2022. Canada announced further actions such as designating 10,000  officers and senior members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for their engagement in terrorism and systemic and gross human rights violations, promising that to be “the most robust and comprehensive set of sanctions in the world against the IRGC.”

The European Council has added 11 individuals and 4 entities to the list of those subject to restrictive measures in the context of the existing Iran human rights sanctions regime.

The US Treasury sanctioned a total number of  2 entities and 20 individuals. [1][2][3]

The UK also sanctioned an entity and 3 individuals who have played a central role in the crackdown on protests across Iran in recent weeks, as well as the fuel-related protests in 2019.

These human rights sanctions, although the biggest accountability action against the Islamic Republic, have shown to be ineffective – the death toll is rising, thousands are detained and mass trials that can result in death penalties are fast approaching.

The reason that human rights sanctions against Iranian officials have not been effective lies in the fact that they are rarely enforced, or better yet, they are not enforceable in the majority of cases.

Unlike officials in Russia, Iranians on sanction lists do not usually travel abroad, especially those with high ranks. Naturally, they do not have any assets or interests outside the country or at least in Western countries. Therefore, the sanctions would not affect them or interrupt business with the money earned as a result of committing violations. However, this is not exactly the case with entities – if there are strong enforcement mechanisms, the designating country may find assets linked to the entity, directly or indirectly.

What is missing is a report of Iran’s human rights sanctions being enforced. Canada has announced that it dedicated $76 million to strengthen its capacity to implement sanctions against Iranian perpetrators. However, the Iranian public is yet to see any perpetrators assets be frozen or news about any restriction of entry being distributed, either by Canada or others. At the moment, human rights sanctions are limited to the symbolic impacts. There is no real negative effect on officials, and more importantly, the thousands of protestors, the victims and their families feel the lack of real support in this one-sided fight.

To maximise the effectiveness of human rights sanctions, the international community must consider following these recommendations:

  • Invest in establishing new or strengthening current enforcement mechanisms;
  • Publicise every case of a travel ban or asset freeze as it is implemented;
  • Work with human rights organisations to list more individuals and entities responsible for the atrocities;
  • Extend human rights sanctions to the families of the perpetrators, particularly those whose assets are connected to the human rights abuse committed by the perpetrators as they are more likely to travel abroad or reside abroad;
  • Designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as one of the most powerful human right violators and a terrorist organisation.