By Larry Fine
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 18 (Reuters) - A U.N. General Assembly committee narrowly approved on Friday a resolution expressing serious concern over a long list of human rights abuses in Iran after turning back a delaying tactic by Tehran.
The assembly's social and humanitarian committee voted 77 to 51, with 46 abstentions, to call on Iran to fully respect its people's right to freedom of assembly and speech, and to end harassment and persecution of opposition groups and rights activists.
"The use of torture or the execution of children, the denial of freedom of expression, the targeting of women and specific religious groups -- all of these things are continuing and in some instances worsening" in Iran, said Canadian Ambassador Allan Rock, who submitted the resolution.
Iranian envoy Paimaneh Hastaie argued the measure was politically motivated and that Iran was cooperating with the United Nations by welcoming human rights observers and launching educational programs for women and children.
"The content of this resolution has nothing to do with the living reality in Iran and contains distortions in many human rights areas," she said.
A motion by Iran to put off a vote on the resolution was narrowly defeated, 77-70 with 23 abstentions, before the 191-member committee approved it.
The human rights vote came ahead of a scheduled Nov. 24 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency board in Vienna on whether to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions over its nuclear program.
Opponents of Friday's U.N. measure argued that resolutions targeting individual nations politicized the cause of human rights and showed a double standard on the part of wealthy nations.
Approving it sent a message the United Nations was "studying human rights situations in developing countries but is closing its eyes to development of human rights in strong industrial countries," said Sudanese envoy Idress Said.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Anne Patterson hailed the result.
"It was revealing the countries that spoke in favor of Iran, like Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba and Sudan, are all other major human rights violators," she said. "We hope the Iranian people get the message that the international community is with them and supports free expression and the observance of their human rights."