Latest Report on Human Rights in Iran

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Rouhani’s Focus is Mostly Outbound

Since President Rouhani’s election, most of the international media’s attention on Iran has justifiably focused on Tehran’s foreign policy and its nuclear program, since both these issues affect people outside of Iran. These issues seriously affect the Iranian people on a patriotic as well as economic level – the sooner Tehran accepts the guidelines of the UN Security Council, the sooner economic sanctions can be lifted and Iranians can go on with their “normal lives”.

Unfortunately, “normal lives” for Iranians is not just a question of economics – for most, “normal” is a distinct lack of freedom and basic human rights. Even if Rouhani does miraculously manage to defuse the nuclear debacle, his success would be hollow if the abhorrent state of human rights in Iran should remain as it is today.

Apropos: In the latest 20-page report to the UN General Assembly by Dr Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the human rights situation is summed up in the first paragraph:
gender discrimination, as well as systemic and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, continue to characterize the human rights situation in the country“.

 

More Violations in Iran

This report is really worth the 20-page read, but for now, here’s a quick glimpse at what we take for granted – and what Iranians cannot:

  • Lack of Digital Freedom: Tehran views the freedom of the internet as a threat and does not hesitate to curtail it – internet cafes are shut down, connection speeds are “throttled”,  millions of websites are blocked (including some 1,500 “anti-religious websites”), and journalists/ bloggers are arrested and serving prison sentences.

journailist wiki internet

  • From Torture to Executions:  On the whole, Iranian prisoners are systematically mistreated, underfed, lack medical treatment and undergo punishments and torture and announced executions – which represent only a fraction of all executions in Iran – are still a travesty (724 in 18 months).This situation has not changed since Rouhani took office, as can be gathered by the execution of 16 Sunni “Insurgents” a few weeks ago.
  • 10,814 Floggings in 8 months (in Mazandaran province alone): Before they are arrested or executed, thousands of “criminals are flogged – or have their limbs amputated – for such crimes as “sedition”, “acts incompatible with chastity”, drinking alcohol, “illicit” relationships and non-penetrative homosexual acts.” Legal action by the “criminals” and their families is seriously impeded and sometimes, simply disregarded.

The list goes on and on and on and includes legal and systematic discriminations abusing the rights of women, of different religious backgrounds and ethnic minorities.

 

Lack of Transparency, Denials and Accusations (again)

Shaheed’s report also includes a critique on the willingness of the Iranian authorities to cooperate with the relevant UN officials: Just as with its nuclear program, Tehran’s lack of transparency “continues to impede attempts to further ascertain the extent and nature of the country’s human rights situation” through general non-cooperation and specifically by not responding to “3 allegation letters, 9 urgent appeals and a number of questionnaires transmitted to several ministries”.

Tehran’s 56-page response contains the usual sets of denials and accusations that have become the symbols of the regime to any criticism: Not only has “the Islamic Republic of Iran (has) incessantly demonstrated its determination to cooperate” with Shaheed, but his report is “tainted by politicization”, “biased”, “inaccurate”, “unconvincing and lacks credit and does not merit public trust or confidence” and is “unacceptable” being based on “falsified and exaggerated data”.

The way Tehran tells it, human rights have never been better in Iran and anybody who says different is simply lying…either that, or they are lying.

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Iran Shirks Responsibility, Exudes Self-Confidence

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Lacking concrete details about the Geneva talks, can we draw any conclusions at all?

We think we found at least one in a recent tweet from Foreign Minister Zarif himself: “we just started a process to close an unnecessary crisis and open new horizons.”

From the Iranian perspective, then, for some unknown reason the nuclear crisis was thrust upon Tehran – which is just doing its best to sort it outfor the benefit of all concerned.

Iranian-source reports about Foreign Minister Zarif’s powerpoint presentation seem to corroborate this sense by emphasizing the one-sided nature of Tehran’s demands:

  • Accepting Iran’s nuclear right for developing, investigating, producing and using nuclear energy.
  • Employing truth-finding strategies.
  • International cooperation for fulfillment of Iran’s rights.
  • Halting all the sanctions imposed on Iran.
  • Cooperation in common interests and concerns.

If Iran does not recognize its own responsibility for the current situation the world is in regarding its suspect nuclear program and resulting from years of feet dragging, angry denials and non-transparency,what chances do we have of actually resolving it?

Iran watchers shouldn’t be surprised: more than a hint of this was already included in President Rouhani’s UNGA speech, when he reminded the world that Iran’s “nuclear technology, inclusive of enrichment, has already reached industrial scale. It is, therefore, an illusion, and extremely unrealistic, to presume that the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of lran could be ensured through impeding the program via illegitimate pressures”.

In other words, Rouhani says, Iran has gone too far to stop now. So why not make one-sided demands if you’re Tehran?

Following this line, a few days before the start of the Geneva talks an Iranian representative at the UN in New York challenged the authority of the Security Council – whose permanent members they were about to meet – to enforce global peace and security, including through sanctions. A coincidence? Not at all: Undermining the UNSC is just another negotiating tactic meant to place the blame on someone else.

Our (preliminary) conclusion: if the P5+1 does not convince Iran to recognize its own responsibility for the nuclear crisis, Tehran will grow increasingly confident about its ability to realize most of its demands with minimum cost. In that scenario the crisis will not be resolved, only contained momentarily – until it explodes in the future.

Update from November 6th: Amitai Etzioni suggests a  “A ‘Syrian’ Approach – to Iran“.

The P5+1 should handle negotiations on  Iran’s nuclear program just as it did with Syria’s chemical weapons program by requesting/ordering Iran to provide (access to) relevant information under a tight schedule:

  1. Iran should provide within a “few weeks” a list of all nuclear sites including details of all activities that could be related to a nuclear program meant to build a bomb: centirfuges, eniriching, stockpiling etc…
  2. Within a few more weeks, a “swarm of IAEA inspectors” should visit all (!) the listed sites to inspect and verify the information provided by Iran.
  3. The inspectors and intelligence organizations should focus on possible “intent” by looking for evidence of nuclear triggering technologies, computer modeling of explosions, test of “implosions” etc…

How Clean Can Iran’s Slate Be?

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Tehran Promises a Clean Slate

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated that he wants to begin the next round of talks with the P5+1 with a “clean slate” on its nuclear program.

In order to do so, he promised a serious package that will most probably include two main points: stopping uranium enrichment to 20% and increased transparency to nuclear sites. Both issues have been bones of contention between Iran and the IAEA, the UN National Security Council and the P5+1.

After years of ignoring UN Security Council resolutions and IAEA guidelines and denying any wrong doing, these concessions offer a significant change in Iran’s approach to the negotiating table – a change that President Rouhani promised to deliver.


 

A Not-So Clean Slate

But the nuclear standoff with Iran is not dependent on these two concessions because by themselves, they do not guarantee that Tehran won’t build a bomb.

In fact the two issues which Tehran is placing on the negotiation tables will be seriously undermined by two other issues that are being kept off the table: The underground enrichment facility in Fordow/Qom and the heavy water nuclear facility in Arak.

Fordow – Underground and IRGC

The Fordow facility, disclosed by Iran in 2009 only after the site became known to Western intelligence, is a distinct example of Iran’s lack of transparency to date and another reason to disbelieve the peaceful nature of the nuclear program.

The facts that it is underground and that it is under the management of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has already criticized Rouhani for being too moderate, can easily hamper any promises of transparency in the future.

Rouhani and Zarif may be willing to even bring a temporary shutdown of Fordow to the table but they probably will not be able to fulfill such a promise.

 

Arak – the Plutonium Alternative

The heavy water reactor in Arak is suspiciously off any negotiation table to date although it is key to opening up a second path to develop nuclear bombs with Plutonium in addition to Uranium.

Since 2006, the UN Security Council mandated that Iran suspend construction of the Arak reactor to no avail – it is to be operational by 2014 and can produce enough Plutonium to arm two nuclear bombs a year.

The stated purpose of the Arak plant is to develop isotopes for medical reasons but the sheer size and capacity of the facility is akin to swatting a fly with a sledge hammer prompting an ISIS report from June to deem it “unnecessary“.

Transparency is a thorny issue in this case as well: To date, Tehran has still not provided the IAEA with the update design information since 2006 and has denied access to its heavy water production plant repeatedly.

The biggest problem is that once it becomes operational, any attempt to destroy it will lead to massive radiation contamination due to the nature of heavy water facilities.

Bottom line, any agreement between Iran and the P5+1 should include Fordow and Arak because anything less will be just a gesture of goodwill that may in the near future prove to be a fatal mistake.

Can Rouhani Meet Washington’s Expectations?

obligations

With all the excitement surrounding the by-now legendary Obama-Rouhani phone call, insufficient attention has been paid so far to the actual substance of the declared US position on resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis. We believe a quick review is in order.

In his UN speech President Obama clearly stated:

“We insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Following suit, National Security Advisor Susan Rice took advantage of her CNN interview this week to expand on the president’s comments. The starting point for rehabilitation of Tehran’s international status, she said, begins with full compliance and full transparency vis-à-vis the IAEA and UN Security resolutions:

The United States has not spoken about a right of Iran to enrich. We have said that, as a member of the NPT, in the context of Iran meeting its international obligations.

That means fulfilling its responsibilities under the IAEA resolutions as well as the U.N. Security Council resolutions, that once it’s done that, we would recognize that it, like every other nation, as a good standing member of the NPT has a right to the use of peaceful nuclear energy.

Now, that is obviously a very long-held position and it’s not a new position expressed by the United States or by others. But we’re some distance from that being achievable obviously because right now Iran remains in noncompliance with its obligations under the Security Council resolutions.

The references by senior US officials to UN Security Council and IAEA resolutions are not just empty words, but rather carry with them very concrete meaning. For those who’ve forgotten: UNSC resolution 1929 from June 2010, the last such resolution on the Iranian nuclear crisis, states clearly in its operative section that Tehran must (wording taken directly from the resolution itself):

  • suspend all enrichment-related activities
  • cooperate fully with the IAEA on all outstanding issues (“particularly those which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear programme”)
  • comply fully and without qualification with its IAEA Safeguards Agreement
  • act strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol
  • ratify promptly the Additional Protocol
  • discontinue any ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facility
  • not acquire an interest in any commercial activity in another State involving uranium mining, production or use of nuclear materials and technology
  • not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons

On the ground, Iran continues to defy its obligations to the IAEA and the UN Security Council, continues to deny access to critical sites (including, but not only, Parchin), continues to enrich uranium, and continues to advance its heavy water program. At the end of the day, its actions run contrary to the international community’s expectation it address concerns about activities which indicate a military nuclear purpose.

These are the facts – quite a challenge for Rouhani, no matter how sophisticated (and nice) he is.  Time will tell if he’s really up to the challenge.