UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention finds Lebanese citizen and US resident was arbitrarily detained by Iran

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has confirmed that Nizar Zakka was arbitrarily detained by Iran in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has raised its concern of the existence of “a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in the country, which amounts to a serious violation of international law.”

Mr Zakka is a Lebanese citizen and US Permanent Resident who was arbitrarily detained by Iran for four years. Mr Zakka was in Iran on the official invitation of the Ministry of Women and Family Events to present the key note speech at 2nd International Conference on Women and Sustainable Development. Mr Zakka is an expert on information and communications technology. He was abducted by members of the Revolutionary Guard as he made his way to the airport to return home.

In the WGAD’s Opinion (No.51/2019) Mr Zakka’s detention was arbitrary on three grounds:

  1. There was no legal basis for his detention;
  2. The violation of Mr Zakka’s right to due process and a fair trial by Iran were of such gravity that his detention was arbitrary; and
  3. Mr Zakka’s detention constitutes unlawful discrimination against him as a foreign national and permanent resident of the United States.

Importantly, the WGAD expressed its grave concern of allegations of torture and ill treatment, including long periods of incommunicado detention in an effort to extract a false confession, that were not refuted by Iran. The WGAD further expressed its concern at Iran’s failure to meet its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to inform the Lebanese embassy of Mr Zakka’s arrest in order that he may benefit from consular assistance. The WGAD stressed that,

“the institution of consular protection not only serves the interests of the detained foreign individual and of the State that espouses such interests, but also furthers the interests of the international community as a whole by facilitating international exchange and reducing the potential for friction between States over the treatment of their nationals.”

The WGAD concluded that the case involves serious human rights violations and has referred the case to the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

Tatyana Eatwell represented Mr Zakka on a direct access basis.