Tensions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the international community have reached new heights. While the United States and the European Union have imposed drastic new sanctions against Iran to compel it to change or be more transparent about its nuclear development program, discussions in Washington and in Israel about a military strike have intensified. Iran has threatened to block the Straight of Hormuz, which would potentially harm the world economy, and to unleash a conflagration, if attacked, that would reach beyond the Middle East.
As is often the case, the governments involved in this dangerous escalation of tensions are ignoring the interests of those who have the most at stake, namely, citizens hoping for peace, democracy and human rights, and whose very lives would be devastated by a war.
More important than focusing on Iran’s putative nuclear threat is the grave human rights situation in the country. If human rights in the country could be brought up to higher standards, there can be no doubt that the international community would have a reliable partner regarding compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Violations of human rights and Iran’s international conflicts are part of the same syndrome. Iran’s rulers need conflict with Israel and the West to divert attention from their repression of civil liberties, to demonise their internal critics as unpatriotic and treasonous, and to justify their bloody security lockdown on dissent. Israel, the US, and the EU have not disappointed them. In fact, tensions with Iran also serve the political interests of both governing and insurgent parties abroad – demonstrated most strikingly through statements made by American presidential hopefuls.
What is happening in Iran regarding human rights shocks even long-time human rights advocates who have seen harsh crackdowns by totalitarian governments. Since Iran’s tainted 2009 presidential elections, security and intelligence agencies have assumed control over most governmental structures, most notably the Judiciary, and have taken violent steps to stifle dissent. Executions have skyrocketed with over 600 in 2011, most for drug-related crimes that do not warrant capital punishment according to the United Nations. Mass, secret executions are taking place following unfair or non-existent trials, with the apparent goal of intimidating the population.
Members of Iran’s intellectually rich and diverse civil society have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and ill-treated, subjected to show-trials and harsh jail terms, or driven into silence or exile. Those hardest hit have been the human rights and women’s rights organisations, alongside students, independent lawyers and independent journalists. The country’s leading opposition figures have been under an illegal “house arrest” for nearly a year. University students have been denied education for having participated in demonstrations or otherwise expressed their views, and for their religious beliefs. The universities themselves have been purged of many leading scholars.
The Iranian government is trying to choke off the flow of information from the outside world by jamming satellite TV broadcasts and restricting internet access, and continues to violate privacy and communications using technology imported from Europe and China. Meanwhile the state television cooperates in demonising and convicting dissidents, and the government is planning its own “halal” internet.
Prior to the present political crisis, the US and EU had, albeit slowly, come to the realisation that they should focus on human rights, a policy that would demonstrate Iran’s increasing rejection of its international legal obligations and express solidarity with the Iranian people. Robust UN resolutions were passed, including a Human Rights Council resolution establishing a Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran. A number of Iran’s former friends in the international community, as well as people from across the world, joined calls to stop human rights abuses in the country.
Regrettably, Western governments have allowed the Islamic Republic to sidestep these pressures and to cast itself as protecting its sovereignty and culture, and as the potential victim of an unprovoked military strike – a posture that tightens its own grip on power. Human rights violations in Iran are generally off the front pages, supplanted by bellicose and self-serving exchanges that mask the suffering of the Iranian people. But ultimately, the international community needs to understand that a long-term strategy aimed at peace and cooperation with Iran will only succeed if human rights form its central demand.
Image from: http://missionfreeiran.org/2010/11/18/dec11-pr/
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