A Call for Human Rights Protection in Iran
18 Aug 2009 11:26
Human Rights is a universal concern.
By SAM SASAN SHOAMANESH at The Hague | 18 Aug 2009
In the aftermath of the June 12 presidential election, the world has witnessed Iran confront the most serious internal unrest since the decisive events of the 1979 Revolution. The emergence of an increasingly unified internal stance against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his camp constitutes the most significant challenge to the hardline faction and its foreign and domestic policies. To many, even the viability of the political system since the conception of the Islamic Republic is at stake. The violent crackdown of the demonstrators, and even reformists sanctioned by the Iranian authorities, is reflective of the consequent anxiety across the ruling elite. In a desperate attempt to silence the opposition, rogue elements have attempted to link protests to mere foreign conspiracy plots to overthrow the regime through a 'velvet style revolution' or 'velvet coup' -- tactics aimed at justifying the severe measures employed to crush a highly sophisticated mass grassroots movement calling for change.
With an influx of information reaching media outlets from Iran, it is clear that a highly repressive, unrelenting and violent crackdown has been authorized by the highest echelons of the Iranian state. With the initial round up and detention of thousands, who were taken to Iran's notorious prisons, where many were allegedly subjected to torture and perished while in detention, and with scores of others injured and killed in the streets of Iran, these rogue elements have demonstrated that they have no qualms about exercising brute force in silencing peaceful demonstrations. The recent purge through 'show trials' of key figures allied with the reformist faction is yet another desperate attempt to crush any objection to the authority and design of those who stand to lose by reform.
To date, the opposition has stuck to its position and deems the government illegitimate. Presidential hopeful, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has emerged as the leader of the mass movement calling for change, has repeatedly requested the annulment of the election results, vowing to continue the struggle of the people. Mehdi Karroubi, another reformist politician, former speaker of Majles (Parliament) and candidate in the recent presidential election, has been rather vocal in his opposition to the election results and ill-treatment of demonstrators and those in detention. Despite violent state reaction, sporadic mass unrest has persisted; given the dynamic on the ground, it can reignite at any given moment.
In this volatile political climate, what can be done to uphold the Iranian government to its obligations to honor the dignity and human rights of the country's citizens? While the post-election rift is an entirely domestic issue and its outcome is to be worked out internally by Iranians, the loss of innocent life and repeated violations of human rights are matters that should concern all of humanity. The international community has a Responsibility to Care and the ruling establishment in Tehran must recognize that they cannot continue to act in this manner with impunity.
Time is of the essence. There is ample opportunity for the international community to spearhead a firm protest condemning the deplorable human rights situation in Iran. In particular, those with substantial economic ties with Iran (e.g. Germany, France, Italy, Brazil) can work most effectively alongside relevant UN bodies and NGOs to project the cause for human rights.
The author hopes the following proposals will be helpful in any diplomatic communiques with Tehran, or initiatives to be employed to ease the suffering of the Iranian people.
1. Continue to issue statements, expressing grave concern over the state security apparatus' excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and killings in largely peaceful protests. Such statements must categorically deny any intention to interfere in Iranian domestic affairs; deploring rather, all violence against innocent civilians and demonstrators in right to peaceful protest.
2. Request the Iranian government to honor its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Iran ratified the ICCPR in 1975. The post-election crackdown constitutes direct violations of the safeguards enumerated in the ICCPR. Notably, the right to peaceful assembly (Article 21); life (Article 6); prohibition against torture and ill-treatment (Article 7); and humane treatment when deprived of liberty (Article 10).
3. Support the triggering of UN Human Rights Committee mechanisms; investigating alleged violations of the relevant provisions of the ICCPR.
4. Demand the Iranian authorities to uphold the guarantees enshrined in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CIRI) and honour their constitutional obligations. This is critically important and presumably more effective than making reference to international legal obligations of the Iranian government. The safeguards contained in the ICCPR, listed above, are also provided in the CIRI, amongst other guarantees which appear to have been compromised in the post election crackdown. In particular, prohibition against oppression (Article 2.6.3) and attempts to monopolize power (Article 3.6); people's participation in determining their political destiny (Article 3.8); administrating the affairs of the country on the basis of public opinion expressed by the means of elections, including the election of the President (Article 6); prohibition against abrogating legitimate freedoms (Article 9); presumption of innocence (Article 37), and prohibition against extracting confessions or information by way of torture (Article 38).
5. Call on the UN Human Rights Council to dispatch a Special Rapporteur to report on the human rights situation on the ground.
6. Request the immediate release of all those detained during the post-election unrest (civilian, military personnel or otherwise) as well as all prisoners of conscience, abolishing the special courts created to summarily try the demonstrators and the opposition.
7. Request for a delegation of the Iranian Red Crescent and/or the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit detainees and independently report on conditions of detention.
8. Call for the abolition of all torture and accountability for all wrongdoers among prison authorities. While the Kahrizak camp has recently been ordered closed, other torture houses must be shut down. Iran's prisons must be repopulated with professional staff who are adequately trained on the limits of state power over detainees/citizens. The same is suggested for the country's intelligence services.
9. Request the Iranian authorities to initiate independent and transparent criminal investigations into the beatings, arrests, ill-treatment (i.e. torture, rape, etc.) and murders of demonstrators; including those who perished during the student protests of 1999. Such measures must bring all perpetrators to justice and afford adequate reparations to the victims' families. Title and status should not shield the culpable.
10. Call on the Iranian government to respect freedom of the press and permit journalists to report on events as they unfold.
11. Highlight that the continuation or escalation of violence by the arms of the Iranian state will further isolate the country, jeopardizing economic and diplomatic ties.
12. The reformist block has called for initiatives to make the political system transparent and respectful of the law, "confronting all those who violate people's rights, regardless of their positions and levels ...and guaranteeing that such crimes will never happen again." At a time when such indigenous calls are being voiced, possible options to respond to such aspirations include:
a. The establishment of a wholly independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by experts to investigate and ascertain the truth regarding the post-election violence, including the allegations of deaths while in detention, disappearances, rape and other forms of physical and mental torture. If necessary, the international community must be prepared to provide the required expertise in establishing such a Commission.
b. Iranian authorities may seek to ratify the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court. Ratification, by consequence, will (i) require an adaptation of the domestic legal environment to bring it in line with human rights standards enshrined in the ICC Statute; (ii) act as a deterrent for the commission of crimes falling under the Court's jurisdiction (e.g. crimes against humanity), and (iii) potentially provide accountability for the violation of such grave crimes in the future.
13. Encourage the Iranian authorities to pay heed to the challenge of a significant segment of the Iranian population, influential figures and official clerics contesting the results of the June election. In good faith, the Iranian authorities ought to entertain the referendum option being proposed by the opposition movement; or at a minimum, fully investigate the charges of election fraud, joining domestic and international observers. These are but a few examples of reasonable re-conciliatory mechanisms through which to address the current political crisis.
In the 21st century, states must not be able to invoke state sovereignty as a shield to treat their citizens as they deem politically convenient. Violation of the "social contract" and fundamental rights of mankind should never constitute "politics by other means." Domestic constitutional guarantees and inviolable fundamental human rights must be respected at all times.
The author is an international lawyer and has worked for several international legal institutions. He is currently a legal advisor with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands and has had extensive training in general and diplomatic negotiations and conflict resolution by the United Nations in Vienna, Harvard Law School and the ICC, among others. He is the co-founder and Associate Editor of Global Brief. The views expressed in this article have been provided in the author's personal capacity, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ICC or Global Brief.
This is a condensed and modified version of the original published by MIT International Review.