Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Iranian authorities to focus their efforts on addressing the chronic water deficit in Khuzestan province rather than repressing protesters with disproportionate force and large-scale arrests.
“The government’s attention should be focused on the tragic impact of the water crisis on the lives, health, and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan, not on the protests of people who have been neglected,” Bachelet said in a statement.
“I am profoundly concerned about the recent deaths and injuries, as well as the widespread arrests and detentions,” Bachelet continued.
The province of Khuzestan was the country’s main water source, with a population of 5 million people from Iran’s Arab minority.
“Mismanagement, such as water diversion to other regions of the country, combined with a statewide drought has depleted the region’s vital life-saving supplies in an unsustainable manner,” Bachelet said in a statement.
The Karkha and Zahra rivers, as well as the Hawr al-Azm wetlands (or the Hawizeh ma), have dried up in western Khuzestan in recent months.
As a result, on July 15, protests over water shortages and mismanagement erupted in various cities around Khuzestan, with demonstrators including youngsters yelling, “I am thirsty, water is my right,” and other linked slogans.
Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s outgoing president, recently remarked that citizens have the freedom to express themselves and protest “within the framework of legislation,” but Bachelet claims that Iran lacks viable outlets for people to air their problems other than through protests.