The Uprising of the Thirsty; An Analysis of the 2021 Khuzestan Protests

The July 2021 Iranian protests were a continuation of protests that have been erupting sporadically since 2016.

The driving force behind the July/August uprising was to protest the perennial water shortages and rolling blackouts stemming from mismanagement of resources, fueling public anger. The latest round of protests erupted on 15 July, starting in Khuzestan soon spreading to other provinces including Isfahan, Lorestan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Tehran, and Karaj. These protests have been coined the ‘Uprising of the Thirsty’.

As nearly 5 million Iranians in Khuzestan are lacking access to clean drinking water, Iran is failing to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to water, which is inextricably linked to the right to the highest attainable standard of health; both are protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESR), to which Iran is a signatory. It is a common cause that Iran’s water crisis has reached a critical point. Even the regime’s state-run media have acknowledged the dire situation, with at least 700 villages out of water.

According to the state-run Aftab News on July 4, 2021, “Of Iran’s population of 85 million, about 28 million live in areas with water shortages and are under pressure in this regard, mainly in the central and southern regions of the country. Water shortages have affected all sections of society, from urban households to agricultural and rural communities.”

It did not take long for the protests to take on a political character, with protesters in various cities calling for the end of the current regime and expanding the subject matter of their protests from water shortages to deteriorating living conditions.

One protester told HRA, “My ideal outcome is to see a regime official resign in response to our suffering. We are tired of all of this misery, poverty, dehydration, neglect, lies, and empty promises.

A protester living in Tehran told HRA, “Besides supporting [the people of] Khuzestan, we are protesting unemployment, high prices, poverty, and the existing problems in the country. We can no longer bear the hardships of life created by unworthy officials. The authorities must address the problems…

In the two weeks of the uprising, Human Rights Activists (HRA) verified 129 videos documenting the protests, 361 arrests, 6 deaths, and several more wounded. HRA’s Spreading Justice team (HRA-SJ) additionally identified individual violators associated with the violent crackdown. The following report analyses the events that occurred as a result of the uprising, those responsible, and concludes with a call for accountability noting that without action, this cycle of abuse will only continue.

Read the full report here.


For further inquiries please contact Skylar Thompson, Senior Advocacy Coordinator Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA) at [email protected]

HRA Presents Spreading Justice at Human Rights Council 48 Side Event

On September 21st, a number of prominent human rights organizations, including HRA, Impact Iran, HURIDOCS, and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation , hosted a virtual discussion in the margins of the 48th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on how online databases can help monitor human rights in Iran and support accountability efforts.


In an announcement of the event, Impact Iran stated, ​​”In recent years, human rights organizations have developed a range of online tools that have strengthened the capacities of rights defenders to advance evidence-based reporting and advocacy aimed at generating a culture of accountability and transparency in pursuit of the realization of human rights for all persons.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran Dr. Javid Rehman delivered the event’s opening remarks, in which he highlighted the important work of the organizations represented by the panel. He mentioned Abdorrahman Boroumand Center’s OMID Memorial, the Spreading Justice’s Initiative by Human Rights Activists in Iran, and Impact Iran’s Iran Rights Index, which is a culmination of work by the Impact Iran Secretariat and coalition members including HRA.

“The individual characteristics of the different databases that are the topic of discussion today… all indicate that civil society organizations have clear goals in their well-coordinated documentation efforts,” Rehman stated. “Each of these databases serves a valuable goal for public information advocacy, memorialization, or support accountability mechanisms.”

In demonstrating how HRA’s Spreading Justice database can contribute to accountability efforts, panelist and HRA Senior Advocacy Coordinator Skylar Thompson outlined the functions and goals of the project.

“Spreading justice is a database of Iranian Human Rights violators, both individual and institutional violators,” Thompson said. “This database, which is available in both English and Farsi, currently contains over 250 profiles, ranging from Iranian president Ibraham Raisi himself to lesser known violators that continually commit heinous acts, and yet fly almost silently under the radar.”

On the functions of the database, Thompson said,  “If an individual were doing research on an individual victim’s case, they could, for example, search Nazanin Ratcliffe and find all violators associated with her case.”

The profiles also include detailed legal reviews prepared by experts in international human rights law. HRA collects information from open source research, and through its wide network of volunteers inside Iran. Volunteers receive training aimed at strengthening organizational documentation capacity, which includes online security, diversity and inclusion, neutrality, informed consent.

“The information that is collected through this network is extremely important to our work,” Thompson said. “It also gives us unparalleled access to victims.”

On the use of the database, Thompson stated that there is a real need for governments to work alongside civil society, in their efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, and added that this was a core motivation behind the development of Spreading Justice.

She continued, “If we can begin to close the accountability gap in Iran, we will begin to see a disruption in the continuous cycle of abuse,” Thompson said. “The truth is that the international community has a number of tools available to hold perpetrators of serious human rights violations accountable, particularly when domestic judicial remedies are unavailable, such as is the case in Iran. The use of these tools is lacking.”

Announcing Spreading Justice: A database of human rights abusers in Iran

HRANA – For fifteen years HRA has maintained a victim-centric approach to documenting and reporting on human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI); The primary focus has been to document rights abuses and highlight the crimes perpetrated against victims. Through the years, while perpetrators have enjoyed widespread impunity, victims have endlessly struggled for justice. 

On the occasion of the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, and alongside the adoption of the resolution on the situation of human rights in the IRI at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council, HRA launches Spreading Justice, a database of human rights violators in Iran. 

At Tuesday’s closing of the Human Rights Council, organizations, member States, and activists alike called for an end to impunity in Iran.  Spreading Justice was created to equip the international community with a tool to work towards holding perpetrators accountable, increasing both social and political pressure, and ending the widespread impunity that is currently enjoyed throughout the country.

The database, housed at, includes unique profiles of both individual and institutional violators; those well known as well as those that seemingly fly under the radar. 

Who is included in the database?

While all known violators will be included, Spreading Justice is primarily focused on new human rights violations. While many individuals or institutions included in the database have been committing violations for several years, there are oftentimes recent events that have contributed to their place in the database. By placing a focus on recent events, researchers are better positioned to collect, document, and fact-check information on the violations in question. 

Along with profiles of individual violators, such as Masoud Safdari, there are also profiles for institutional violators like the Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Court. Profiles of institutional violators are linked to the profiles of affiliated individuals, both individual violators, as well as individual and group victims. This feature aims to aid in establishing connections for research purposes. Similarly, when users click on a victim’s name, they are directed to a list of any violators within the database that may also be affiliated.  

While the existing profiles are complete, users are able to aid in the development of profiles by anonymously submitting additional information. Informed users are encouraged to submit both missing information and information on violators not currently included through an anonymous, easy to use and secure form. All information submitted through this form is verified for authenticity before being added to the database. Utilizing a tool created by a German University, users are also able to submit information on a wide array of physical appearance indicators. Facemaker, the tool mentioned above, mocks a virtual drawing of the violator based on user submissions. These submissions are compiled for internal comparative analyses. 

HRA researchers have spent countless hours collecting, documenting, and verifying the information within the database. All of the information included has been through a strenuous fact-checking process and is verified for authenticity prior to being added. New profiles will continue to be added to the database in real-time as information is collected and verified. 

All of the information, documents, and reports collected on violators are both online and stored internally via PDF. Requests for documents can be made through the Contact Us page. 

How are the violators profiled?

Over the years, HRA has learned what information is most necessary for stakeholders when working towards holding violators accountable. The lessons learned were taken into consideration when building out the database. The individual violator profiles, where available, include a photo or photos of the violator, evidentiary documents (including witness or victim testimony and/or relevant multimedia), verified articles written by reputable media outlets that have mentioned the violator by name, and a detailed legal review written by Brian Currin, a leading expert in international human rights. One can also find information on work history, current residency, travel history, and educational background. 

The profiles include basic information such as full name and any alternative spellings, date of birth, place of birth, and any current institutional affiliation. If a violator has known family members, such as a spouse or child, they are listed by name. Additionally, there is information on physical appearance including, eye color, hair color, height, and weight. Certain aspects of the basic and physical information are categorized into one of three levels of certainty: exact, partial, and approximated. Information categorized as exact is verified and precise. Partial is listed when some part of the information provided is unknown at the time of writing. The approximation category is used when HRA researchers have used approximating techniques with available information to offer a range. Institutional Violators are profiled similarly. Users also have the ability to toggle between both unit and date conversions. 

Violators are tagged and searchable by documented victims, identified rights violations, and any relevant institutional affiliation. All of the profiles are available in a downloadable PDF format. Download links are located at the bottom of all violator profiles alongside a form to submit any missing information. 

How does one use the database?

Spreading Justice is available in both English and Farsi. Users can search the database utilizing a variety of tagged violation indicators including torture, the right to life, labor rights, women’s rights, social rights, prisoner’s rights, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and thought, and more. These searches enable those focused on specific violation types to filter. One can also search tags by institutional affiliation such as the Tehran Islamic Revolutionary Court or the Iranian Cyber Police among others. The database is also searchable by victim name to assist lawyers or researchers working on specific cases. There is additionally an option to search by keyword. Users can find the main search tool on the Spreading Justice homepage

Not simply a database

Spreading Justice is not simply a database, it also offers resources on Iranian power structures and judicial systems, unique reports and analyses on human rights violators in Iran, as well as statistical overviews including a breakdown of the situation of human rights in Iran by province and violation type. 

Similarly to the profiles, all of the information found at including statistics, resources, and reports will be updated regularly. 



HRA encourages readers to share the database with their networks. For any additional information on Spreading Justice please contact Skylar Thompson, HRA Senior Advocacy Coordinator at [email protected]