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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Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

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.

Marguerite Remy
Coordinator Middle East and a Legal Researcher.

Marguerite is the coordinator of the team of legal researchers focusing on the Middle East and a legal researcher herself.

She developed her expertise in international human rights law, international criminal law and humanitarian law during her double bachelor in law and political science at Sorbonne-Paris 1 University and her LLM in public international law at Leiden University. Particularly interested in the Middle East for years, Marguerite has acquired a good knowledge of the region and its human rights issues through various field experience, including internships in a cultural service of the French embassy and in a local NGO, as well as a semester in a university in the region. Currently, her main interests are accountability mechanisms for crimes committed during recent armed conflicts, notably in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Palestinian case at the ICC, and transitional justice issues.

Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Mattia Ruben Castiello
Media quality coordinator

Mattia is currently in charge of quality checking and improving all the social media and website handles of the Global Human Rights Defence.
With a bachelor in Psychology from Spain and a master in Cultural Anthropology from the Netherlands, Mattia’s passion now lies in Human Rights in regard to the refugee and migrant crisis. Having lived his whole life in East-Arica, Mattia has had the opportunity to work with a vast amount of non-government organisations and health institutions. This has provided him with knowledge in diverse cultural understandings as well as interest in concerning global issues.

Jeremy Samuël van den Enden
Coordinator Bangladesh & Communication Officer
Mr. Van den Enden has a MSc in International Relations and specializes in inequality, racial dynamics and security within international diplomacy and policymaking. He studies the contemporary as well as modern historical intricacies of human rights in the global political arena. Furthermore, Mr. Van den Enden assists GHRD in revitalizing its internal and external communication.
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Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Prerna Tara
Human Rights Coordinator

Prerna Tara graduated from Leiden Law School with an LLM in Public International Law. She practiced in the India before starting her Masters. She has assisted in pro- bono cases and interned at some of the best legal firms in India which has brought her face to face with the legal complexities in areas of corporate law, white collar crimes etc. Her work at GHRD deals with human rights research spanning throughout the globe.

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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.

Bianca Fyvie
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Bianca has widespread knowledge about social problems and human rights issues, with a specific focus on social justice in Africa and the empowerment of communities and individuals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Stellenbosch University as well as a Master’s degree in Social Work and Human Rights from Gothenburg University. She has participated in courses on Women’s Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and has worked with organizations such as AIESEC towards furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also has experience in working directly with marginalized and vulnerable groups in South Africa while qualifying as a Social Worker.
Bianca is the coordinator for a group of interns doing research and reporting on Human Rights topics in a range of African countries. Her focus is on ensuring that these countries are monitored and have up to date reports and research conducted in order to allow relevant and updated information to be produced.

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. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Hiba Zene
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Hiba Zene holds a Bachelor’s degree in International and European Law from The Hague University and, has significant legal knowledge in the field of international human rights law. She actively advocates for the protection of all human rights of vulnerable minorities and marginalised groups. Focusing, specifically on the human rights of children and women in Africa.
Hiba is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. As a human rights defender for GHRD she has examined and investigated various human rights abuses, violations and issues in Africa. She has led research missions addressing issues on Statelessness in Kenya, Child Abuse in Uganda, and Teen Pregnancy in Kenya.

Thaís Ferreira de Souza
Coordinator and Head Researcher (International Justice and Human Rights)

Senior Paralegal at PGMBM (Amsterdam office), working to bring justice for victims of wrongdoing by big corporations, with a focus on human rights and environmental law.
Previously, Thaís worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, providing legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law. She also worked at the State Court of Justice of the Rondônia State (TJRO) in Brazil from 2013 to 2017, initially as a legal clerk and posteriorly as a legal advisor to judges. In 2016 she served as the regional representative of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Procedural Law (IBRASPP) in the State of Rondônia, Brazil and during her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Research Group ‘Ethics and Human Rights’ of the Federal University of Rondônia for over three years.

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


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
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
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Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International &amp; European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia &amp; America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Fabian Escobar
Coordinator and Head Researcher

My name is Fabian Escobar, L.L.B. International and European Law candidate to The Hague University. I was born in Honduras and been living in The Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam the last 8 years. I am passionate about Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, fighting racism, and empowering women and ethnic minorities. In GHRD I am the coordinator for the Europe Team, I am thankful for being part of this team and that I have been given the opportunity to learn and apply my learning.