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News | As EU Delegates Plan Iran Visit, Group Raises Heat on Human Rights

by PAUL MUTTER

25 Oct 2012 03:33Comments

United for Iran issues report on global community's "unsatisfactory, even detrimental" record on Iranians' rights.

HangingMaskedSecurityMehr.jpg[ human rights ] A European Union delegation is heading to Iran this week to meet with members of the Majles, drawing strong criticism from the United States and dozens of other E.U. officials. English MEP Martin Callanan, head of the center-right European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the E.U. legislature, declared that the Islamic Republic ought to be seen as "a geopolitical pariah," with all the economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation that such a position entails. According to Callanan,
The European Parliament has correctly admonished Iran many times in recent months. Yet it still intends to send a friendship mission. Talk about sending mixed signals at a time when we should stand firm in our resolve towards the Iranian regime.

Human rights violations and executions have increased substantially since the last delegation visited in 2007. The Iranians have made it clear on numerous occasions that they do not care for dialogue with the West.

In 2007, Iran executed over 300 individuals, including three minors, drawing protests from E.U. member states. Amnesty International reports that no fewer than 368 people have been executed in Iran so far this year.

The delegation has not made clear what it intends to focus on in its discussions with the Iranian parliamentarians it plans to meet this week, but a second delegation of German lawmakers not associated with the European Parliament is expected to follow them later in the week to press the Majles on human rights, the AP reports.

While the Germans have made such efforts before, to the human rights group United for Iran, the E.U. position on Iran -- while generally condemnatory of human rights abuses -- has been overly focused on the nuclear question and economic concerns:

The EU has been one of Iran's top trading partners over the past few decades, with close to 90 percent of the EU's imports from Iran being energy related. In recent years, it has increasingly leveraged its economic relations with Iran toward the goal of convincing the regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions. [...]

The EU -- and specifically the UK, Germany, and France -- has played a pivotal role in denouncing Iran's concerted attempts to violate human rights and deny fundamental freedoms to its citizens. To strengthen the impact of these policies, they should request that states wishing to integrate with the European Union consistently support international human rights promotion policies on Iran. As members of the P5+1, they must also strive to ensure that negotiations concerning Iran's nuclear program do not overshadow, nor jeopardize, efforts to advance human rights and democratic reform in the country. This can be mitigated by developing a parallel human rights agenda to be advanced independently of, or in concert with, other issues under discussion in high-level talks.

United for Iran, in its review of 16 nations' diplomatic efforts over Iranian human rights -- the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, Turkey, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, and South Africa -- described the overall response of the international community as "unsatisfactory and even detrimental." It noted that while "the United States and the European Union have maintained a marginal human rights component in their foreign policies toward Iran, they have yet to include human rights in the high level talks with Iran." It singled out other nations for "avoid[ing] direct condemnation" on the matter, especially Russia and China, Iran's main arms suppliers and U.N. Security Council protectors, and Turkey, which is one of Iran's top natural gas customers and host to some 5,000 Iranian asylum seekers.

And the E.U., having just expanded sanctions against the Islamic Republic, now faces a possibly awkward human rights situation. As reported here last week, a committee of the European Parliament will announce Friday whether the Sakharov Prize for human rights advocacy has been awarded to one of the two Iranian finalists for the prize, attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who have each been convicted of crimes against the state. Named after the Soviet scientist-turned-dissident who was consigned to internal exile in the Soviet Union, it is not clear what impact the granting of the award might have on Sotoudeh, who is in prison, or Panahi, who has been sentenced and exhausted his appeals but has yet to be summoned for incarceration.

While Sotoudeh and Panahi are among the most prominent Iranians imprisoned on spurious charges, there are many other human rights cases over which Tehran is being pressed internationally. And, according to United for Iran, many areas where even the most vociferous critics of the government's actions can improve their work.

One of the areas United for Iran looks to pressure the international community on is Iran's practice of sentencing people convicted of possessing or dealing narcotics to death. This is of special concern to human observers because on Monday, it was reported that the government had gone ahead and hanged ten men convicted of drug possession and dealing. The executions were originally scheduled for last week and the apparent postponement of the hangings gave hope to organizations like Amnesty International and Iran Human Rights, which had strongly protested the sentences, that they would be commuted.

While Amnesty's efforts are invaluable, Fassihian says, they alone are not enough to pressure the Islamic Republic. "It is incumbent on the international community as a whole and governments to speak out," she stated.

In the cases of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and Youcef Nadarkhani, whose death sentences were commuted following pressure by foreign governments, United for Iran hopes that such pressure will continue.

Iran is a major participant in U.N.-backed drug interdiction campaigns because of its strategic location between Afghanistan -- a major opium producer -- and former Soviet republics. As a result, Tehran receives international funding toward its counternarcotic efforts. United for Iran asks that donors withhold funding until the country reforms the law enforcement and judicial practices that, according to the group, have seen over 1,000 people executed in the past two years following closed trials. Human Rights Watch has similarly described the country's criminal justice system as "abusive" to suspects.

The case of the ten men, though, has not drawn the same level of international censure as previous state executions. Following the U.S. presidential debate this past Monday, a Twitter search on the debate in relation to events in Iran turned up multiple references to the executions with people cynically predicting the news of the hangings would not enter into the debate.

They were proven right. Despite a night that saw strong rhetoric over Iran's nuclear program and controversial president, the candidates did not comment on the executions. As Dokhi Fassihian, the report's author, noted in a phone interview, there was a lot of discussion on the Arab Spring, but little talk about Iran's Green Movement. With so much focus on the nuclear question, human rights inevitably take a back seat to other considerations, for any number of reasons: reluctance to raise an issue that is feared might give the government reason to walk out of talks, studied silence due to monetary and military considerations, or prioritization of other issues.

In order to make clear these conflicting interests (and disinterest), United for Iran has produced a report card for human rights watchers keeping track of U.N. members' dealings with Iran.

The report includes a long list of issues the international community should work on:

* A verifiable commitment that it [Iran] will provide full investigative access to, and cooperate with, UN human rights mechanisms, including the UN Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

* Release of political prisoners

* A moratorium on the death penalty until Iran's laws and practices meet international standards at a minimum

* End to restrictions on the media, free expression, and assembly

* The conduct of genuine, democratic elections, free from vetting and subject to international observation

* The establishment of a National Human Rights Institute that meets the Paris Principles outlined in UN General Assembly Resolution 48/134 of 1993

Though the organization praises the work of the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, it notes that "it took two years -- and after Iranian authorities had essentially crushed the pro-democracy opposition -- for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to reestablish a reporting mandate on the country."

The special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, recently issued a report that strongly criticized the country's human rights record; like Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's speech at the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Tehran this summer that criticized the government's holding of political prisoners, the report was not well received by the government.

Of particular importance to United for Iran is the enactment of measures to protect Iranian Internet users. Alongside the enhanced security measures put in place since 2009 to prevent public demonstrations, the Internet is also falling under increased scrutiny due to the proliferation of Farsi blogs. The arrest of bloggers -- who are often charged with disseminating pornography to ensure public censure and a quick conviction in closed courtrooms -- continues. And despite economic sanctions, United for Iran notes that the Iranian government is still able to avail itself of the latest commercial location-tracking and communications-monitoring systems from China and the European Union to employ against Internet users.

Worse, Western efforts to develop masking software for activists to use so that they can freely browse the Internet in Iran have not always proven successful: the much-touted "Haystack" program, backed by the U.S. State Department, had proven to be a failure by 2010 -- a dangerous failure, in fact, as it was reportedly compromised by the Islamic Republic's online police.

A final example of the challenges United for Iran faces in producing tangible human rights progress in Iran is taking place in the Netherlands right now. The Hague, seat of the International Criminal Court, is currently playing host to the Iran Tribunal, "a grassroots organisation set up by the families of the victims and survivors of the massacre of political prisoners in Iran in the 1980s," as it again holds hearings on the mass murder of perhaps 20,000 prisoners by the Islamic Republic in the 1980s. The Tribunal issued a report this past June that found those detained were often abducted without notice and kept in terrible conditions prior to their eventual executions:

The victims' bodies were buried in undisclosed mass graves. To this day, many families do not know where their loved ones are buried. The Islamic Republic of Iran refuses to give any information about where the graves are located, but a number of graves have been discovered by the families. This difficulty is symptomatic of the effects this atrocity had on the families of those directly victimised by the massacre. Wives, mothers, sisters, husbands, brothers, daughters and sons of victims have suffered extended psychological and emotional damage.

To this day, the Iranian government denies that these killings even took place.

United for Iran hopes that publicizing the records of the 16 powerful U.N. members concerning Iranians' human rights will encourage them to accept that they "have an equal, if not more urgent, responsibility to hold the Iranian government accountable to its international human rights obligations" as they do to ensure its complete compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"It took two years for these states to even begin thinking about addressing the human rights issue through a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council," the United for Iran report says. "Now, these states should advance an international human rights agenda vis-à-vis Iran and ensure that any progress on nuclear negotiations with the Iranian government does not compromise the international community's political will and existing mechanisms to protect and advance human rights in the country."

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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