The United Nations Security Council began meeting Friday afternoon to address anti-government protests in Iran.
Ambassadors for the 15 countries sitting on the Security Council met privately before an emergency session called by the United States over what U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the “troubling and dangerous situation in Iran.”
Eight days of protest have led to at least 21 deaths and more than 1,000 arrests, mostly in clashes with security forces. On the ground in Iran, however, the unrest appears to have ebbed.
Shortly before the meeting, U.N. human rights experts urged Iran to respect the rights of demonstrators and restore access to social media accounts that have been blocked.
“The government’s instruction to the Revolutionary Guards to hit hard against the protesters, and the judiciary’s threats of harsh punishment, are unacceptable,” said a statement by four special rapporteurs, human rights experts who volunteer their time, released by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“We urge the authorities to exercise restraint and respond proportionately in their efforts to control the protests, to limit the use of force to a strict minimum, and to fully respect the human rights of the protesters, including their rights to life, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Protests that initially aired economic grievances turned political and spread to small cities and towns throughout the country. Some demonstrators openly chanted anti-government slogans at both the hard line clerics who run the country and at President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who promised more political freedoms and economic improvements following sanctions relief after the 2015 nuclear deal.
They were followed by large pro-government rallies in Tehran and a the cities of Kerman and Tabriz, all of which were widely covered by Iranian state television.
The Trump administration has been strongly supportive of the protesters and condemned the Iranian government. President Trump has been particularly harsh, tweeting his support for Iranians who “are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime.”
But the Europeans — who negotiated the nuclear agreement along with the United States, Russia and China — have reacted more cautiously by expressing support for the protesters without antagonizing the government with strident condemnation.
Some Europeans appear to be balking at siding too openly with the Trump administration and the harsh tone of its rhetoric over Iran.
François Delattre, France’s ambassador to the U.N., told reporters that France supports the protesters but cautioned that outside pressure should avoid “reinforcing the extremes.” Even though the nuclear agreement is not on Friday’s agenda, Delattre pointedly called for preserving it and engaging with Iran on other issues of concern.
Against that backdrop, the Security Council meeting is more a stage for diplomats to voice their concern over the treatment of protesters, but little more.
“The world has witnessed the horrors that have taken place in Syria, that began with a murderous regime denying its people’s right to peacefully protest,” Haley said in a statement Thursday night. “We must not let that happen in Iran.”
Iran has said foreigners, including the United States, are behind the protest movement.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said London “respects the right of the protesters to protest peacefully. And we encourage authorities to let that happen.”