Following our earlier post on this issue, keep your eyes and ears open on the October 31 for the next UPR review on Iran. And let’s hope that this time, Tehran will decide to keep its promises.
As we’ve outlined in past posts, despite his promises for change, Rouhani’s record for doing something about the abuses of human rights in Iran is definitely not good.
In fact, whenever it comes to answering questions on human rights, he becomes evasive. But when it came to the point of jailing journalists, whether foreign or local, Rouhani chose to simply lie.
But this time, 135 Iranian journalists decided that enough was enough and issued an open letter to Rouhani stating, in nicer words, that he was lying.
This is in tune with the regime’s attitude towards human rights: as far as most Iranian leaders in the regime are concerned, specially the human rights chief Javad Larijani, there is no problem of human rights in Iran.
What they find hard to understand is that if they are evasive and lie about human rights, it makes it harder for the world to believe them on other issues as well and in the nuclear issue in particular.
For a few weeks, it seemed that the terror of ISIS had brought a thaw in the strained relationship between Riyadh and Tehran: Foreign ministers met and promises to strengthen relationships were exchanged.
This short spring was finally cut off when the Saudi FM, Prince Saud al-Faisal, icily stated that Iran is “part of the problem” of terrorism and extremism and that Iran should withdraw its troops from Syria (as well as Iraq and Yemen) in order to become “part of the solution”.
He is not alone in thinking this: Tehran DOES support terrorism and IS constantly meddling in countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Gulf States, to name a few. But since Rouhani took office and especially since ISIS went on a rampage, Iranian leaders are blaming everyone, except for themselves, for the advent of terrorism. Apparently none of them can tolerate a dosage of truth that cuts through waves of hypocrisy, accusations and denials.
The Saudi’s Case Against Iran
- Iranian Meddling in the Gulf: Iran’s efforts at “exporting the Islamic revolution” to the Gulf States include supporting Shiite factions and operating spy-terrorist cells – some of which have been apprehended. The Saudi monarchy rightfully fears an Islamic revolution in Saudi Arabia but more than that, it fears Tehran’s aspirations for regional dominance. The (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council ((P)GCC) recently issued a warning against Iran for meddling in its neighbors domestic affairs bringing about loud denials from Tehran which “believes” in “moderation, domestic wisdom, good neighbor process and non-interference in affairs of adjacent countries” to the disbelief of the Saudis.
- The Possible Nuclear Deal: The nuclear negotiations opened Tehran’s doors to the West and unnerved Riyadh to the point of seeking to purchase its own atomic bomb. Once the darling of the West, the Saudis were exasperated by the flow of Western delegations to Tehran and the steady crumbling of sanctions. The Saudis believe that any nuclear deal would only help Tehran create an atomic bomb.
- The Civil War in Syria: While the Saudis simply funded the insurgents to topple Assad’s regime, the Iranians extended to Assad billions of dollars in credit, supplied him with munitions and operated Hezbollah/IRGC troops under the Qods chief Qassam Suleimani. Tehran further exasperated the Saudis (and the West) by repeated hypocritical requests to not interfere in Syria. The Saudis believe that Tehran wants to turn Syria into the next Lebanon, a satellite state that will support Iran at all costs.
- The Crumbling of Iraq: The Saudi’s influence in Iraq dwindled with the rise of president Maliki, a Shiite, who naturally opened his doors to Tehran. But both Tehran and Riyadh were taken by surprise by ISIS’s indiscriminate rampage in Iraq. Facing a common enemy brought the grumbling neighbors together but Tehran’s accusations against the US and Saudi Arabia for the birth of ISIS unnerved the Saudis who are worried that Iran would like to turn Iraq into a supporting state as well.
- The “Revolution” in Yemen: While all eyes were on the atrocities of ISIS, Shiite insurgents swiftly and quietly took over Yemen which had historically been a stronghold of Saudi influence. Unlike the situation in Syria, everything happened quickly, without bloodshed, and the Saudis at first outwardly accepted the change without any outcry. But inwardly, the Saudis were seething: Once again, Tehran’s influence was growing at the expense of Riyadh. For the Saudis, it was obvious that Iran wanted to turn Yemen into another Syria/Iraq/Lebanon.
Tehran at Cross-Roads
It’s obvious that Tehran was initially keen on the budding rapprochement with Riyadh. Many Iranian leaders, specially the smiling Rouhani & Zarif team, viewed a good relationship with Saudi Arabia as part of its “open-arms” to the West strategy. If Tehran and Riyadh could become “Best Friends” (at least for a while), a nuclear deal and elimination of sanctions would be imminent.
But the (P)GCC accusations of Iran’s meddling efforts was viewed by Tehran as orchestrated by the Saudis and any remaining good feelings between the two finally evaporated following the “Iran is part of the problem” speech: ISIS was, Iran accused, a rogue child “funded by Saudi petrodollars” and “every act of terror in the Muslim world was funded by the Saudis”.
Furthermore, the Iranians feel that the Saudis are being hypocritical themselves since what seems to be bothering the Saudis is not the expansion of Iranian influence per se but the fact that this expansion is at the expense of the Saudis. For some in Tehran, a “third world war” has already begun and Saudi Arabia is just another obstacle doomed to extinction.
Finally, the recent death sentence issued by Saudi Arabia on Shiite Sheikh al-Nimr for anti-government speeches and subversion sparked more vitriolic accusations and warnings from Tehran.
Tehran is at a cross-roads: the changing spheres of power in the region, especially the ones fuelled by Islamic fundamentalism, are playing into Iran’s global vision of “exporting the revolution” and Tehran is heavily invested on several fronts at the same time. The danger for Tehran is in over-extending itself into substantiating a veritable Iranophobia not from the West but from its Arab neighbors who are less hesitant to call Iran’s bluffs than the West.
It has been over a year since the Iran nuclear talks have started. At their birth, they were portrayed as a simple exchange between willing sides: The West wanted to get Iran in line in all nuclear-related issues, while Iran wanted its economic sanctions removed. After over a year, it seems that nothing could be more complicated and the nuclear deal remains as elusive as ever.
But the situation just gets more and more complicated. It sometimes even looks as if Tehran is actually trying to sabotage the deal since no deal might be a better deal for Iran. The supreme leader Khamenei narrowed the teams negotiating rope a few times. Take Ali Larijani, Iran’s Parliament speaker, latest take on the negotiations and the issue of centrifuges: “This is something like a trivial matter and we should not bargain over trivial matters” said Larijani, in an effort to conceal that it is precisely the amount of centrifuges that the P5+1 are worried about.
Apart from the number of centrifuges, there are, of course, other obstacles: “the still ambiguous status of the Arak heavy water reactor; the PMD’s (possible military dimensions) which remain unaddressed; the verification methods given Iran’s deceit in the past; unanswered questions posed by the IAEA to Iran; and last but not least, the question of when and how much of the sanctions imposed on Iran will be lifted, whether they will be lifted at all, or, as put by US negotiator Wendy Sherman, they will simply be suspended.”
As far as Tehran is concerned, they are not prepared to compromise in any way its current nuclear program (which Rouhani brokered back in 2005) since any diminishment would seem to diminish the power of the regime. This world view is not limited to the nuclear issue but includes all forms of “interference” which might lead to a “capitulation” of the regime to external pressure.
This view is predominant in Tehran’s exasperating attitude towards accusations of human rights abuses. It is obvious to all except for some hard-core Iranian fanatics, that Tehran’s definitions of human rights do not fit those of the UN/West. And yet, the regime in Tehran keeps on claiming that these accusations are “unfair” and simply “Islamophobic”/”Iranophobic”. Tehran still does not realize that all efforts at denying obvious human rights abuses reflect on the veracity of its claims of innocence in the nuclear issue.
There is also the continued anti-west rhetoric, stating that the Jihad will continue all the time that America exists. The US is still deemed by many Iranian leaders, including Khamenei, as “the enemy” and Tehran has not spared any criticism for the US lead coalition against ISIS.
Furthermore, the Iranians are repeatedly bragging of their military might, parading new missiles, radars and drones which does not rub well with the P5+1 who have not succeeded in linking the nuclear negotiations with Iran’s military developments.
Iran’s FM Zarif, who personifies the Iranian negotiations, further exasperates the West by switching constantly from open optimism to guarded pessimism to apocalyptic warnings. To date, the P5+1 team, as well as the rest of the world, don’t know how to deal with these diplomatic “zig-zags”.
His Supreme Leader, Khamenei, is less prone to zig-zagging and is generally pessimistic and hostile to the West (specially the US) in its efforts to get Iran to toe the line. For him, the US/West is still an oppressive and “arrogant” enemy which has to be outwitted and overcome in order to fulfill his vision of an Islamic Awakening led by Tehran and himself.
To conclude this, one might be influenced by Rouhani’s optimism and positive thinking, especially his belief that a deal is certain. But as we learned from the past – Rouhani is not always the one who holds the power in the regime.
Rouhani is definitely one of the modest up-to-date presidents in Iran as far as communicatons are concerned. He knows how to speak to his local and foreign audiences and understands the power of communications through social media and the internet.
During his election, he promised freedom of speech and access to information. To date, Internet is not available to all, social media sites are off limits (except if you are a leader in the regime), satellite TV is banned for most, journalists are imprisoned…
IRGC official are cracking down on all satellite dishes and are even blocking transmissions through methods that are thought to be cancer-inducing. Why? So that Iranians can’t view TV programs that might cause them to question their respect for the regime in Tehran.
What went wrong? Did Rouhani not really mean to fulfill his promises on human rights or did the hardliners within the regime deter him from fulfilling them?
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to review the state of human rights in 42 states once every 4.5 years. Its recommendations are handed over to the reviewed country which can either accept them or not. The working group in charge of the UPR is composed of UN members, including the State under Review (SuR), but is open also to relevant NGO’s.
The next UPR on Iran is scheduled for the 31st of October.
Iran implements 2.3% of all recommendation from last UPR
In the last UPR on Iran from 2010, a total of 212 recommendations were placed by 51 countries – Iran accepted 126 recommendations.
To date, it has implemented 5 and partially implemented another 30. The unimplemented recommendations represent the suffering of Iranians under a regime which does not tolerate human rights. You can find an interactive map of all recommendations here.
The lack of implementation doesn’t come as a big surprise for people interested in human rights in Iran but it should shake up a bit the supporters of the regime in Iran. More importantly, it should serve as a clear mirror to shatter the hypocrisy of Iranian leaders who keep on denying that the regime in Tehran is a serial offender of human rights.
Two people who should answer to the UPR but won’t
Two people in particular should have to answer openly to the UPR on Iran.
The first is Javad Larijani, Iran’s human rights chief.
Unfortunately, he systematically denies any problem of human rights in Iran, believes that being gay is a sickness and condones the use of torture, stoning and hanging because they are an integral part of Sha’ariah law. He also denies the existence of political prisoners, religious persecution, and basically any reports of human rights violations in Iran. Based on his modem operandi, he will probably evade and/or deny all accusations and follow up with accusations of his own that the UPR is political and does not accept the cultural and religious laws on which the Islamic Republic of Iran was born.
Chances are, he will evade, deny, accuse and rant profusely and won’t come even close to accept, answer or change anything that turns up in the review.
The second person who should answer to the UPR is President Rouhani.
He did live up partially to half of his promises: His open foreign policy led to the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 and to an unceasing list of foreign delegations of diplomats and businessmen to Tehran who are eager for sanctions to be lifted in order to make money…lots of money. The result of his efforts is evident in a big boost in the economy as well as numerous political and economic deals within and outside of the framework of the sanctions.
Unfortunately, Rouhani’s interior policy doesn’t live up to his promises and can be summed up in one word: silence. Rouhani has, for over a year, managed to dodge any questions regarding human rights violations in Iran even when faced with mounting evidence of abuses including state-promoted gender segregation, the highest rate of hangings to date, brutal cases of torture, amputations and floggings, imprisonment of political opponents and journalists, persecution of religious women, gays and religious minorities, clamping down on the freedom of speech and use of the internet and on and on and on.
Here’s a video which outlines the gap between his rhetoric and the reality in Iran.
He has remained silent to date and will probably remain silent.
On human rights and WMD’s
The violations of human rights in Iran and the repeated denials of the regime in Tehran symbolize not only the suffering of the Iranian people but also testify to the regime’s insistence to live according to its own perceptions with total disregard to international norms. The regime in Tehran is not open to criticism from within or from without and prefers to work only through the principles of the Islamic Revolution and the word of their Supreme Leader Khamenei.
It is this mindset that has led to the impasse on Tehran’s nuclear program as a result of multiple accounts of breaches of IAIA requirements and a low level of transparency. The growing suspicions on a military aspect to the nuclear program led to the crippling sanctions which, in a way, brought on the presidency of Rouhani and the need to negotiate. Some commentators believe that Rouhani is focusing first on his foreign policy and that once he inks a nuclear deal he will try to make right on his promises for better human rights. Maybe…or maybe the regime will continue to thumb its nose at its people and the world.
President Rouhani’s speech at the UN Assembly exemplifies his leadership over the last year – great rhetoric with good wishes that are far removed from the actions of Tehran. It’s hard to believe him not because of what he says but especially because of what he wants us to ignore.
Here are a few examples of nicely worded phrases which contradict the reality of Iran.
Speaking about “violence and extremism” in the Middle East, he stated that their (ISIS’s) single goal is “the destruction of civilization, giving rise to Islamophobia and creating a fertile ground for further intervention of foreign forces in our region”. Of course, he doesn’t say a word about Tehran’s role in violence and extremism in the region (Syria is an obvious example), nor its vision of a global Islamic Awakening meant to destroy the West and its form civilization.
He went on to state that “certain states have helped creating it (extremism)” and that “certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hand of madmen” while neglecting to mention that Tehran is a designated regional and global supporter of terror either through its elite Qods forces or through its various terrorist proxy organizations such as Hezbollah.
He then lamented on how these extremists, managed to distort “divine teachings to justify brutality and cruelty” and to “spill blood in the name of religion and behead in the name of Islam” and that “taking the life of a single innocent life is akin to killing the whole humanity” without acknowledging that Tehran is knee-deep in the blood of Iranians who have been harassed, tortured, amputated and executed (over 1,000 in his presidency alone) in the name of Islam creating some harsh similarities between Iran and ISIS.
Rouhani then spoke about “the strategic blunders of the West in the Middle-East, Central Asia, and the Caucuses…and improper interference in the developments in Syria” that “have turned these parts of the world into a haven for terrorists and extremists” despite the well-documented efforts of Tehran to support Assad and the Shiite ex-president of Iraq, Maliki, spurring on ISIS to its current rampage.
He warned that “the experience of creation of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and modern extremist groups have demonstrated that one cannot use extremist groups to counter an opposing state and remain impervious to the consequences of rising extremism” obviously omitting the terrorist organizations that Iran has created and supported to act as its proxy in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Bahrain, Kuwait etc…
Rouhani then placed himself in the spotlight by speaking about “moderate politicians and elites in our region who enjoy the confidence of their peoples” who are ” the true voices of moderation in the Islamic world” and “can take positions of active leadership by attracting the confidence of the people in their societies and establish the strongest national and international coalitions against violence.” What he “forgot” to mention is that being a so called “moderate” leader working within a radical regime has not helped him to accomplish any substantial changes in the state of human rights within Iran nor in its problematic nuclear program. Either you are not such a moderate or moderates within radical regimes are doomed to failure.
Warming up, Rouhani hit on the nuclear negotiations. While clear to all that his goal is the eroding of the crippling sanctions, Rouhani takes pains, as does Khamenei and other Iranian leaders, to state that the negotiations were not “a result of sanctions or threat but rather because of the will of our people“. Does he not understand that the will of his own people is the removal of the sanctions? He then tries to threaten that “any delay in arriving at a final agreement only raises the costs“. Those that pay the cost are the Iranian people. Is it not time to acknowledge that the constantly renewed deadlines in inking the deal are mainly due to the insistence on a military nuclear program, which the people really don’t need?
Furthermore, he placed a lot of emphasis on Iran’s “confidence building approach and our transparency in this process” even though the IAEA is still waiting for answers to the PMD’s (possible military dimensions) and is still blocked from inspecting the suspect military base at Parchin.
Finally, he closed his speech in stating that he won the presidential election based on “Foresight, Hope, and Prudent Moderation” and that the “notion that Iran seeks to control other Muslim countries in the region is a myth fanned in the recent years in the context of an Iranophobic project.” Rouhani may have presented to the West a vision of “hope and moderation” from Tehran but even he cannot ignore the extremist (“mythical”) view of his Supreme Leader, Khamenei, who envisions an Islamic Awakening that will lead to a “century of Islam” modeled on Iran’s experience and leadership.
With so many omissions and contradictions, it is hard to comprehend how he kept a straight face throughout his speech and it’s even harder to understand how anyone can take Rouhani at face value.
During his election campaign, Rouhani’s promises for incremental changes in the state of human rights in Iran captivated his would-be voters and the world media.
Unfortunately, since entering office, Rouhani has completely “zipped” up on these issues. Some say that it is out of fear from retributions from hardliners and even Khamenei himself. Even if this were true, what good is a “moderate” president like Rouhani in the radical and fundementalist regime in Tehran?
Need some examples?
- A video complitaion of all his unfulfilled promises – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdZ7vdPndkQ
- 7 promises achieved out of 76 – http://www.rouhanimeter.com/
- Rouhani dodges questions on the “(Un)Happy in Iran” dancers and imprisoned WaPo journalist – http://www.dailynews724.com/politics/rouhani-dodges-human-rights-questions-in-new-york-h249019.html
- 5 out of 126 human rights recommendations are implemented – http://upriran.org/
Imagine a group of people. They look just like you. They have families, lives, interests, hobbies, everything you know from your own life. The only thing that is different in their lives than those of yours is the job they chose to do: They elected to be journalists in the Islamic Republic of Iran. So now they’re in jail, and no one knows when they will be set free again.
It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Upon his election, Hassan Rouhani was perceived as being a great hope in that aspect. In fact, as early as his first speech in office, Rouhani said “The government that takes its legitimacy from its people does not fear the free media; we will seek help from their constructive criticism.”
Well, apparently that’s over with; Washington post’s Tehran’s correspondent Jason Rezaian (along with his wife Yeganeh Salehi), has been arrested in July. Since then, there have been numerous calls for his release, but the president has remained silent, and has done nothing to aid in that cause, nor has his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Rezaian’s story is a sign of the perils of trying to become a reporter in today’s Iran: “The two have been held for more than eight weeks without explanation or charges. They have not been permitted to meet with their lawyer”, says Douglas Jehl, the Washington post’s foreign editor.
This raises the question about the connections between the Iranian president and those kidnaps, but Mr. Zarif’s recent admission, about not even knowing all of the charges that Rezaian was tagged with, brings to mind the question of control in Iran – and it seems that no one in the government really knows what’s going on inside those Journalists’ prisons cell.
Trying to understand what Iran wants in its nuclear program can be exasperating and even futile.
Obviously, the world doesn’t really know what the chiefs in Tehran want nor can we take their denials at militarizing their program at face value because a) Tehran has a history of breaking the rules, b) Tehran’s nuclear program is far from transparent and c) Tehran might have a lot to gain regionally from a nuclear bomb.
The message to Iran – don’t build a bomb!
Iran with a nuclear bomb will put the P5+1 and the UN in a position in which they will have to demilitarize Iran’s nuclear power by force which might lead to a war that will make the Gulf War look like a neighborhood squabble.
The US is desperate for Iran to sign a deal because the immediate alternative is to increase sanctions against Iran which might cause a further fall-out of support from countries who are hungry to capitalize on Iran’s wealth of natural energy. Increasing sanctions and watching them being circumvented by its own partners would be a real slap in the face which the US would have to answer with military aggression.
So what does the US, the P5+1 and the UN want from Iran? To maintain a transparent nuclear program that includes a longer break-out time for it to build a bomb if it decided to do so.
The messages from Iran – maybe, maybe not
Since Rouhani was elected president, the signals from Tehran were decidedly mixed: Rouhani called for a change that will bring a rapprochement with the West, end the burden of sanctions and allow Iranians to prosper.
But at the same time, the mullahs in Tehran wanted to maintain the nuclear program “as is” regardless of the fact that much of it was based on clear digressions from IAEA rules and regulations that there were military dimensions to the program and that the demand for enrichment and plutonium production countered the civil energy claims.
And since Khamenei is the supreme power, it is enough to view his mixed signals to get the picture: Initially, Khamenei supported the Iranian negotiators encouraging them to practice “heroic flexibility” in regards to giving up parts of the program. But once the P5+1 negotiators tried to block the holes in the initial deal (the heavy water plant in Arak, topping Uranium enrichment at 5%, opening up the Parchin military base etc…), Khamenei’s support withered and strengthened depending on his moods or the rhetoric of the US. Two months ago, he aggressively identified Iran’s red lines and last week he stated that the nuclear talks “were harmful to Iran“.
But Khamenei is relatively stable compared to Zarif. Zarif is consistently inconsistent in creating an environment of optimism mixed with pessimism. His attitude remains cordial and friendly with a “take it or leave it” attitude that may or may not be a bluff. He has constantly repeated that sanctions have not hurt Iran but requests repeatedly for all sanctions to be lifted. He has denied cooperating with the US-led coalition against ISIS but is now ready to cooperate as long as Iran will be repaid in leniency on the nuclear deal. He is quick to smile but is also quicker to blame.
Nobody really knows if there will be a deal or not.
One thing is for sure, Iran seems less desperate than the US for a deal and, as any negotiator will tell you, that gives Iran an advantage.
Although sanctions are still in force, the Iranian economy has benefitted from the negotiations themselves with hundreds of delegations flying into Tehran to sniff out the chances to business with Iran while countries like Russia, Turkey, Iraq and China simply disregard any sanctions.
The “relativity of threats” has also impacted the resolve. In weighing the need to destroy ISIS against minimizing and Iranian nuclear break-out, the West has given the Iranians an extra boost in their ability to make a better deal…for them.