“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must –at that moment– become the center of the universe.” –Elie Wiesel
Human rights abuses including, but not limited to, slavery, genocide, political persecution, and religious discrimination, are imperfect and irreparable stitches in a nation’s narrative tapestry. While these scars mark a society’s past flaws and honor progress, untreated, open wounds poison the international system and people worldwide. As individual countries, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental agencies work to end human rights abuses, United For Iran, an independent non-profit organization, is shining a spotlight on the international community’s insufficient efforts to end human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran).
In October 2012, United For Iran issued a comprehensive report on Iran’s human rights crises and the world’s response to them since 2009. After the disputed legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s June 2009 reelection, a pro-democracy movement erupted in the streets of Tehran, spread throughout the country and the world. Iranians demanded their civil and political rights, and while receiving extensive media attention, the peoples’ movement ultimately failed to secure reform. At least eight were killed in protests during Ahmadinejad’s victory speech, and in the months following, a tightened government reign led to an exponential increase in state executions. According to Amnesty International, 112 people were executed in the eight weeks between Ahmadinejad’s election victory and his re-inauguration. Cumulatively, Iran executed at least 388 people in 2009, detained in excess of 6,000 people by the end of 2010, and convicted more than 600 people in unfair trials. From 2010 to 2012, the government executed approximately 1,250 Iranians.
In the more than three years since the Green Revolution swept Iran and the world after Ahmadinejad’s re-election, Iran continues to persecute its people. United For Iran’s October 2012 report identifies international action to improve the human rights situation in Iran as minimal compared to global attention and investment in the democratic transitions of Iran’s regional neighbors. “Toward an International Human Rights and Democracy Agenda: An Assessment of the Global Response to Iran’s Human Rights Crisis since 2009” identifies Iran’s human rights abuses and assesses sixteen states’ efforts (or lack thereof) to end rampant government abuses of human rights in Iran. Among the countries surveyed are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and emerging democratic powers, including South Africa and Brazil. Using three indicators, the report grades the sixteen states on their respective human rights foreign policies toward Iran from June 2009 to September 2012.
Arguing that countries with close ties to Iran and countries without, or with limited relations, can advance the democratization process and human rights in Iran through foreign policy, United For Iran’s report issues a series of recommendations for each analyzed state. Among its overarching recommendations is extending the appointment of U.N. Special Rapporteur to Iran. Dr. Ahmed Shaheed was selected by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011 to investigate and report on human rights violations in Iran. His most recent report to the United Nations General Assembly was released on October 16, 2012.
United For Iran recommends extending Dr. Shaheed’s appointment until the Iranian government implements a series of human rights measures, including, but not limited to:
Stating global powers’ efforts, specifically the United States and European Union, have focused on forcing Iran to comply with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, United For Iran’s report argues these powers have an equal, if not greater, responsibility to ensure Iran’s compliance with international human rights standards. United For Iran further argues that any advancement in nuclear negotiations should not compromise the protection and advancement of human rights in Iran.
While providing a meaningful overview and analysis of countries’ recent diplomatic actions and efforts toward Iran’s human rights issues, United For Iran’s report seems overly idealistic in its recommendations to some countries. For China, the report states, “China should utilize its diplomatic weight to encourage Iran to cooperate fully with the U.N. Special Rapporteur, including allowing unfettered visits.” It is important to note that China not only has its own human rights issues but also receives a significant portion of its crude oil supply from Iran. While human rights issues should undoubtedly be at the forefront of the international agenda, it is understandable why China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, given its domestic agendas, may be unwilling to change its Iran policy.
Similarly, the report’s recommendations for the United States may overestimate the country’s abilities to steer Iranian internal affairs. With severed diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, America’s dealings with Iran for over thirty years have been consumed by sanctions and other efforts viewed by the Iranian government as hostile. Whereas United For Iran calls on the United States to work with other states to promote a human rights agenda in Iran, it is conceivable that efforts by the United States to meddle in Iranian affairs may be viewed as antagonistic and ultimately impede, not promote, progress.
The report’s technology recommendation for the United States is also cause for apprehension. The document states:
“The US should work with like-minded states and major technology companies to encourage greater freedom of information and internet access in repressive states, including investing in new and diversified research and technology, such as satellite internet and other means of circumventing online filtering, content blocking, and surveillance.”
Although the Iranian government should not hinder its people from accessing information, it is negligent and potentially catastrophic for a country, specifically the United States, to attempt to counter Iran’s domestic media and information policies. Not only may this lead to backlash from the Iranian government, but it also has the potential to spark retaliation and permanently sabotage international efforts to improve human rights in Iran.
As the international system struggles to institute a multipolar-power structure and successfully implement and maintain transnational social standards, some argue it is imperative that governments, organizations, and individuals work together. However, with all countries facing copious domestic issues, from political injustice to poverty and natural disasters, some may question why their government should be involved in fixing another country’s problems. Ultimately, we need to question the sanctity of state sovereignty and determine the extent to which individual countries, and the international community as a whole, have the right and obligation to “cross the border.”