Deakin University

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Intersecting issues and their implications for human rights practice in Iran

posted on 2018-01-01, 00:00 authored by R L Barlow, Shahram AkbarzadehShahram Akbarzadeh
Agents of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran have attempted to influence change from both the top-down (through policy, programming and law reform) and the bottom-up (through projects, campaigns and grassroots movements). Both approaches have significant limitations. Vandenhole et al. have argued that top-down/inside-track and bottom-up/outside-track approaches to change are not mutually exclusive and indeed may be more powerful in combination. Yet this idea raises difficult questions about prioritisation of objectives, design and sequencing of strategies, division of roles and the formation of optimal alliances (relationships) between different actors. In this chapter, the authors synthesise lessons learned from a number of case studies on human rights work in Iran, including President Rouhani’s drives for modernisation and internet freedom; the Iran People’s Tribunal; the Defenders of Human Rights Center; and a number of grassroots initiatives, including the women’s movement, the student movement and the environmental movement. After discussing what does and doesn’t seem to work so well, the authors put forward three prepositions to support human rights progress in Iran: 1. On strategies—couple values and interests with evidence, research, and analysis; 2. On targets—go beyond the ‘activist’ niche to empower everyday people in everyday life; and 3. On roles and relationships—break out of silos and build common ground.


Title of book

Human rights and agents of change in Iran: towards a theory of change

Chapter number



179 - 203


Palgrave Macmillan

Place of publication






Publication classification

B1 Book chapter

Copyright notice

2018, The Authors




Rebecca Barlow, Shahram Akbarzadeh