Tribute to late Iranian president at UN stirs anger

A picture of the late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is displayed as the UN General Assembly holds a tribute on May 30, 2024 (KENA BETANCUR)
A picture of the late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi is displayed as the UN General Assembly holds a tribute on May 30, 2024 (KENA BETANCUR)

The UN General Assembly drew criticism Thursday for its tribute to the late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash, with Washington boycotting the gathering.

Following a minute's silence, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres offered his condolences to the families of the victims of the May 19 incident, as well as to the Iranian people.

"I wish to assure that the United Nations stands in solidarity with the Iranian people and in the quest for peace, development and fundamental freedoms," Guterres said.

"For that, the United Nations will be guided by the Charter to help realize peace and security, sustainable development and human rights for all," he added.

Asked about the UN chief offering condolences in the days after the leader's death, Guterres's official spokesman defended his position.

The Secretary-General "has never been shy about expressing his deep concerns about the human rights situation in Iran, notably on the issues of women," said Stephane Dujarric.

"It does not stop him from expressing condolences when the head of state of a Member State of this organization, and a foreign minister, with whom he met regularly… dies in a helicopter crash," he added.

The General Assembly pays tribute to any head of state of a UN member country who dies in office, including Namibian president Hage Geingob, an independence stalwart, last February, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in 2011.

Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram, spoke for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and hailed Raisi's "legacy" of "socio-economic and political transformation" in Iran.

No representatives of Western countries spoke at the tribute and some, such as France and the United States, did not send representatives.

"The UN should be standing with the people of Iran. Raisi was involved in numerous, horrific human rights abuses, including the extrajudicial killings of thousands of political prisoners in 1988," said spokesman for the US delegation, Nate Evans.

"Some of the worst human rights abuses on record took place during his tenure," Evans added.

Outside the UN headquarters in New York several dozen protesters opposed to the Iranian authorities chanted "shame on UN."

Israel's ambassador Gilad Erdan, who condemned the initial minute silence at the Security Council on May 20, also hit out at Thursday's event.

"The UN was founded to prevent atrocities, but today it salutes mass-murdering dictators!" he wrote on X last week.