WASHINGTON: The United States said an investigation into the recent poisoning of school girls in protest-hit Iran could fall under the mandate of the United Nations.
Several hundred cases of gas poisoning have been reported in more than 52 schools across Iran since the end of November, according to an official count.
The cases come more than five months after the start of protests, labelled riots by Tehran, that were sparked by the death of Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini, 22, following her arrest for allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress code for women.
“If these poisonings are related to participation in protest then it is well within the mandate of the UN independent international fact finding mission on Iran to investigate,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre, referring to the body established in November to investigate human rights abuses in Iran.
“There must be a credible independent investigation, accountability for those responsible,” she said during her daily press conference, condemning the poisonings as “unconscionable.”
For more than three months, hundreds of female pupils have reported suffering symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and vertigo after detecting “unpleasant” or “unknown” odors, with some girls being hospitalized.
The wave of incidents has sparked fear among parents and calls for authorities to act, with deputy health minister Younes Panahi saying recently the suspected attacks were aimed at shutting down education for girls.
Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday said perpetrators should face “severe punishment”, according to his website.
Iranian officials have not announced any arrests so far.
Earlier, the outbreak of schoolgirl sickness comes at a critical time for Iran’s clerical rulers, who have faced months of anti-government protests sparked by the death of a young Iranian woman in the custody of the morality police who enforce strict dress codes.
Social media posts in recent days have shown photos and videos of girls who have fallen ill, feeling nauseous or suffering heart palpitations. Others complained of headaches.
The United Nations human rights office in Geneva called on Friday for a transparent investigation into the suspected attacks and countries including Germany and the United States have voiced concern.
Iran rejected what it views as foreign meddling and “hasty reactions” and said on Friday it was investigating the causes of the incidents.
The country’s health minister has said the girls have suffered “mild poison” attacks and some politicians have suggested the girls could have been targeted by hardline Islamist groups opposed to girls’ education.
Iran’s interior minister said on Saturday investigators had found “suspicious samples” that were being studied.
“In field studies, suspicious samples have been found, which are being investigated… to identify the causes of the student’s illness, and the results will be published as soon as possible,” the minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, said in a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.
Sickness affected more than 30 schools in at least 10 of Iran’s 31 provinces on Saturday. Videos posted on social media showed parents gathered at schools to take their children home and some students being taken to hospitals by ambulance or buses. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)