Supporters of cleric Hassan Rowhani celebrate his victory in Iran's presidential election along in a street in Tehran June 16, 2013. (Reuters)

As recently as two weeks before Iran’s June 14 presidential election, it seemed as if the issue of human rights was being swept neatly under the carpet. But then, surprisingly, the issue bubbled up; Hassan Rowhani, the man who ultimately won the election, made a number of promises relating to human rights, to address discrimination based on gender, religion and ethnicity, and to protect freedom of expression.

Rowhani’s resounding victory over a field of five other candidates could be seen as evidence that, despite the brutal repression they have experienced over the past several years, the Iranian people still maintain their aspirations for a future in which their basic human rights are respected.

insight amnesty INSIGHT: Is There Cause for Hope After Iran’s Presidential Election?In Iran, the president’s power is restricted; Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the ultimate authority. Since the announcement of the surprising election results, commentators have been debating what this could mean – some wondering why the authorities apparently allowed a moderate to win and whether this could indicate a decision on their part to permit a loosening of the restrictions on freedoms that had been even more stringent in the lead-up to the election.

In the final days of the campaign, president-elect Rowhani even proposed a “civil rights charter” for Iranians. But while new guarantees on the books would be welcome, what is really needed is a commitment to actually adhering to human rights standards and guarantees – many of which already do appear in Iran’s current Constitution. Interestingly, as a response to persistent criticism by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran and the U.N. Human Rights Council, Iranian representatives have quite disingenuously pointed to for instance, prohibitions on torture that are found in the Constitution - as if having such protections in writing somehow obviates ensuring that these are observed in practice!

“…what is really needed is a sincere commitment to a pervasive reform of human rights standards and practices.” – Elise Auerbach, Amnesty International USA

Of course the authorities may make a calculation that easing some of the restrictions – and even releasing some political prisoners – may distract the public’s attention from the dire economic conditions that prevail now in Iran. But what is really needed is a sincere commitment to a pervasive reform of human rights standards and practices – something that has been repeatedly urged by U.N. bodies and representatives, as well as international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

reu iran2 300 22jun13 INSIGHT: Is There Cause for Hope After Iran’s Presidential Election?

Crossed out pictures of Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L), and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are seen between the bound feet of a human rights activist with fake injuries during a rally in Paris in this July 10, 2012, file photo. (Reuters)

An excellent start would be to announce that the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Iran will be allowed to pay a visit to carry out a research mission in Iran, something he has repeatedly requested and which the Iranian government has just as repeatedly refused. A great next step would be to allow Amnesty International access to carry out a research mission. And then they can release 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who have been held under house arrest with virtually no contact with the outside world since February 2011. And then….

Now I am allowing myself to get carried away – I’m dreaming of the doors of Evin Prison and Raja’i Shahr Prison opening and all the prisoners of conscience – like Nasrin Sotoudeh, Majid Tavakkoli and Reza Shahabi – pouring out through those doors, back to their families and their peaceful human rights advocacy. I’m dreaming of an end to torture – even the abolition of the death penalty!

Perhaps all these necessary steps will not happen right away, but maybe we can see some possibility for some meaningful change. Well, we can always hope!

Note: Amnesty International does not endorse any candidate, whether real or not, in any election.

This post was originally published on It is reprinted here with Amnesty’s permission.

The views expressed in this Insight are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you’d like to share your opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. If you are a Middle East expert or analyst associated with an established academic institution, think tank or non-governmental organization, we invite you to contribute your perspectives on events and issues about or relevant to the region. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for an Insight post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your institutional blog.

 INSIGHT: Is There Cause for Hope After Iran’s Presidential Election?

Elise Auerbach

Elise Auerbach is the Iran and Jordan country specialist for Amnesty International USA.