Global Human Rights Defence

Iran and JCPOA: The deal that aimed to save the Middle East from a nuclear attack but refused to fight for human rights


As the President of the United States Joe Biden continues unsuccessful negotiations regarding the return to the nuclear deal of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action deal, the world is left wondering about the effect these re-negotiations might have on international politics.(1) The United States had previously signed this deal together with the other United  Nations Security Council permanent members and Germany, which are known as P5+1, and  Iran as a part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) programme regarding negotiations about limiting Iran’s usage of nuclear power.(2) However, the United States withdrew in 2018 under the Trump administration due to susceptions of Iran not adhering to the agreements set out in the original JCPOA deal.(3) Hereby, the United States began the maximum pressure campaign on Iran, which renewed all previously-halted sanctions on Iran.(4) Responding to this, Iran has resumed some of the actions agreed to be halted under the JCPOA.(5)

Yet, the situation is troubling not only from the perspective of Iran’s holding of the nuclear power or international law agreements. The discussions surrounding JCPOA have also raised concerns from the international community regarding the fact that while President Biden continues to negotiate with Iran, the Iranian society is left suffering from government-led human rights abuses and discrimination, which have not been addressed in the 2015 deal.  

This article will inquire more into the aforementioned situation. It will begin with a  summary and analysis of the JCPOA deal, focusing specifically on its importance for the  Middle Eastern region and the main motivations of the signatories. Secondly, human rights issues surrounding the execution of this deal will be analyzed by examining the role played by the United States through the years following the original ratification.  

1) Samuel M. Hickey and Manuel Reinert, ‘What’s Iran’s Nuclear Deal?’ (War on the Rocks, August 31, 2021)  <> accessed September 6, 2021. 

2) Arms Control Association, ‘The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at a Glance’ (Arms Control  Association, July, 2021) <> accessed September 6,  2021.  

3) Kali Robinson, ‘What Is The Iran Nuclear Deal?’ (Council on Foreign Relations, August 18, 2021)  <> accessed September 6, 2021. 

4) ibid (n 1).  

5) ‘Iran resumes enriching uranium to 20% purity at Fordo facility’ (BBC News, January 4, 2021)  <> accessed September 6, 2021. 

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)  

The main motivation of the P5+1 to begin negotiations with Iran to compose the JCPOA lies in the desire to halt the nuclear program previously pursued by Iran.(6) Before the deal, Iran was producing great amounts of nuclear content, which, allegedly,  could have been used in the instance of a military conflict to create a nuclear weapon.(7) At the time, countries in the region began installing precautionary programs in case this situation escalated further.(8) Israel began a series of militant measures and operations (that continue to this day) surrounding the nuclear facilities in the Iranian territory in order to ensure regional safety.(9) The Syrian government was planning to follow with similar actions.(10)

The P5+1 believed that having a nuclear deal could prevent Iran from creating nuclear weapons. The deal comprised of agreements that in return for the suspension of the nuclear activity – including non-production of highly enriched nuclear contents, ensuring that the nuclear plants would be used for a civilian activity or research only and limitations of centrifuges that can operate in those nuclear plans – the other signatory countries would relieve sanctions placed on Iran in the past.(11) The mentioned sanctions included those on export, weapons and others, except those related to Iran’s support of terrorist groups and human rights abuses.(12) Also,  the US agreed to relieve sanctions on the exportation of oil.(13) All of these agreements also  followed the decision on the monitoring program on Iran, which would be done by the  

6) ibid (n 3).  

7) ibid (n 3).  

8) Kunal Singh, ‘The Limits of Military Coercion in Halting Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Programme’ (ORF, August  6, 2021) < programme/> accessed September 6, 2021.  

9) Raz Zimmit, ‘Israeli Campaign to Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program’ (The Iran Primer, July 15, 2020)  <> accessed September  6, 2021.  

10) ibid (n 8).  

11) ibid (n 3).  

12) ibid (n 3).  

13) ibid (n 3). 

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly.(14) Hereby, the United Nations also agreed to lift the ban on transferring weapons and ballistic missiles if the IAEA reports showed that Iran was complying with the JCPOA. The exact negotiations for this deal continued for  two years before it was finally signed in 2015.(15) 

Signatories after announcing the agreement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015.(16) 

Although preliminary agreements have been met and the signatories fulfilled their promises regarding the sanctions, the JCPOA has been followed by unsuccess. After the US  withdrew, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom launched a barter system INSTEX to continue some of the promises made to Iran.(17) However, in response, the Iranian government began exceeding previously agreed nuclear limits upon the alleged breaches of the deal from the P5+1. 2020 has also been marked by further actions from Iran after the US killed the Iranian  general Qasem Soleimani.(18) 

Iranian human rights in the light of United States withdrawal  

14) International Atomic Energy Agency, ‘Verification and Monitoring in Iran’ (IAEA)  <> accessed September 6, 2021.  

15) ibid (n 3).  

16) Steve Carmody, ‘Michigan’s congressional delegation split on nuclear deal with Iran’ (Michigan Radio, July  14, 2015) <>  accessed September 6, 2021.  

17) Agence France-Presse, ‘Six European Countries Join Barter System for Iran Trade’ (VOA, November 30, 2019)  <> accessed  September 6, 2021.  

18) Emma Graham-Harrison, ‘Iran steps up nuclear plans as tensions rise on the anniversary of Soulemani’s killing’  (The Guardian, January 3, 2021) < anniversary-qassem-suleimani-killing> accessed September 6, 2021. 

When the negotiations regarding the nuclear deal started around 2009, the Western parties of the JCPOA were primarily concerned with ways that could drive the process further in the fastest way. This was especially true for the administration of the United States President  Barack Obama19, who was still holding office at the time of negotiations. A great number of  Iranians considered the lack of attention to human rights problems during the negotiations as  ‘Western abandonment’. Barack Obama himself did not engage in stark criticism of the regime,  suspected due to unwillingness to jeopardize any agreements in the future.(20) 

By 2013, Iran had a new president-elect, Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned for increased political tolerance and nuclear transparency.(21) Since the JCPOA was still under negotiations by the start of Rouhani’s presidency, there have been numerous suggestions for the United States to negotiate the nuclear agreement based on the model of the Helsinki Accord and include human rights in it.22 However, this plan was abandoned again due to the wish to close the nuclear deal as soon as possible. Instead, the Western countries continued to hope that  somehow the JCPOA would naturally foster more political transparency, which, in turn, would  lead to less human rights abuses and more respect for human freedoms.(23) 

In reality, all of these desires of the West were unattainable. From 2015, the year that the JCPOA was adopted, the Iranian Islamist regime increased the repressions on social groups that could be connected to the Western liberalization movement,(24) for example, women’s rights activism groups or those advocating for various civil freedoms.(25) The repressions include arbitrary arrests, murders, torture and a number of other degrading treatments.(26) Overall, Iranian society has been deprived of a number of freedoms, including freedom of the press, internet,  peaceful assembly, and education.(27) Discrimination is also a big issue in Iranian society,  

19) Wang Xiyue, ‘Don’t Let Iran’s Human Rights Be Sacrificed At The Altar Of A Nuclear Deal’, (Hoover  Institution, March 9, 2021) < nuclear-deal> accessed September 6, 2021.  

20) ibid.  

21) ‘Hassan Rouhani wins Iran Presidential election’, (BBC News, June 15, 2013)  <> accessed September 6, 2021. 

22) ibid (n 20).  

23) ibid (n 20).  

24) Tzvi Kahn and Alireza Nader, ‘The JCPOA Has Not Improved Iran’s Human Rights Record’ (FDD, May 8,  2020) <> accessed  September 6, 2021.  

25) ibid.  

26) Iran Action Group, ‘Outlaw Regime: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities’ (United States Department  of State) <> accessed September 6, 2021.  27 Freedom House, ‘Iran: Freedom in the World 2021’ (Freedom House)  <> accessed September 6, 2021. 

where religious and cultural minorities are deprived of their rights.28 The same holds true for  the LGBTQ+ community.29 

These abuses intensified in 2018 when President Donald Trump withdrew from the  agreement, returned the sanctions on Iran and imposed preconditions for a new deal.30 Yet,  none of these measures addressed the need to end human rights abuses. Although it has been 3  years since the United States withdrawal, the country has not yet ended the cycle of new  negotiations or returned to JCPOA.31 The newly elected American President Joe Biden made it  his mission to restore the nuclear deal and called out not only the need to strengthen it but,  finally, highlighted the need for inclusion of human rights topics into the final agreement.32 The  talks surrounding the revival of the JCPOA deal have continued in 2021, and by September  there have already been six rounds of negotiations.33 The situation is further hindered by the transitioning American-sceptic Iranian government and President Biden having to deal with domestic issues.34 However, it is still debatable what approach would be most suitable for a  new deal that would deter the regime from human rights abuses as well as make it agree on the  nuclear program.  

28) ibid.  

29) ibid.  

30) ibid (n 20).  

31) ibid (n 20).  

32) ibid (n 20).  

33) Ali Harb, ‘Iran nuclear deal: What’s next for the JCPOA?’ (Al Jazeera, September 3, 2021)  <> accessed September 6,  2021.  

34) ibid. 


It is clear that the West has a crucial role in helping the Iranian society escape the  repression and torture of the Iranian Islamist government. However, only by adding increasing  tension and pressure on Iran can this be done. Yet, it is debatable to what extent should the  pressure be put in order not to deter the Iranian representatives from the deal completely. What this means for Iranian society is that the politics behind the deal push the deadline for the end of torture further.  

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
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Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

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Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

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Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
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João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

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Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

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Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

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With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
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Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

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Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

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Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
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Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia &amp; America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
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marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

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Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.