UN Schizophrenic on Iranian Human Rights

 

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Warning – House of Cards spoiler ahead.

In the last season, Frank Underwood “requests” Jacky Sharp to do all she can in order to impeach the president. Her reaction is that Frank’s request is “just shy of treason” to which Frank pragmatically answers “just shy, that’s politics.”

Remember his answer while reading this post…it will help you understand.

 

UN Appoints Iran to Key Human Rights Committees

The UN appointed Iran to several key committees on human rights including the “Commission of the Status of Women.” If reading this sentence sounds legitimate to you, you must be an Iranian hardliner or an experienced politician.

The state of Iranians’ human rights, even under President Rouhani’s presidency, represents one of the most repressive regimes in the world. In our earlier post, we outlined how Rouhani is taking a stand on women’s rights even if it is against Supreme Leader Khamenei but his efforts have still not reached the women of Iran.

The outcry by human rights watch groups was answered harshly by Tehran with praise for the country while claiming that thousands of NGOs in Iran are “actively pursuing their goals in different areas such as social, economic, environmental, women and human rights”.

 

Human Rights Boiling Over in Tehran

Following the latest report of UN Special Rapporteur for Iranian human rights, Ahmed Shaheed, which blasted, one gets a decidedly weird feeling that either the UN bodies are having big problems communicating with each other or that it’s simply politics.

The scathing report which proves that human rights are not yet improving in Iran despite Rouhani’s promises to do so was met with denials and denigrations from Tehran. Although Tehran’s response might be based on lies, it sounds like a legitimate form of defense.

Since then reports of human rights transgressions leak out daily. Protesters have hit the streets and are picketing parliament and the infamous Evin prison and violence has taken its toll. Prison guards, bolstered by IRGC troops attacked the political prisoners leading to over 30 wounded while Rouhani kept conspicuously quiet.

 

Insult Or Just “Politics”?

Placing Iran on any human rights committee is an insult to all the victims of human rights in Iran and around the world. Asking Iranian diplomats, mostly men, to work within a UN committee to strengthen the rights of women is simply outrageous. Yes, Rouhani might be championing this cause but the facts are still dismal.

So why would the UN do so? Two reasons come to mind and both are political.

The UN might want to send a supporting message to Rouhani to help him deal with Khamenei and his IRGC cronies.

Or the UN might want the Iranians to work from within human rights committees in order to make them feel that they are not on opposite sides.

In any case, the victims of human rights abuses are probably turning in their graves or swallowing the bitter taste of being the pawns of ruthless politicians once again.

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Rouhani and Khamenei Clash on Women

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Khamenei Wants Women At Home

The perception of women’s role in society in Iran seems to be yet another battleground between elected President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei. Following the international “Women’s Day”, Khamenei shared his thoughts on women which leave no room for doubt as to Khamenei’s roots in the Islamic Revolution.

In order for the “issue of women to be healthy, logical and precise,” Khamenei advised that it is necessary to “empty our minds of this talk that Westerners say about women, [such as] about employment, about management, about gender equality”. Deeming gender equality “One of the biggest intellectual mistakes of the West” he questioned the validity of giving a “masculine job” to women adding his disappointment that women would actually want a “masculine” job.

Women, according to Khamenei, should remain home-makers and suffice themselves to being “the source of peace for the man and…for the children”. Women should stay at home because “a woman who is humiliated, who is insulted, who has pressure of work, cannot be a housewife, cannot be the manager of the house.”

 

Rouhani Wants Equality for Women

Only one day after Khamenei’s speech, Rouhani offered his own vision of women in Iran which differs starkly from that of his Supreme Leader: “We will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination…Women must enjoy equal opportunity, equal protection and equal social rights”.

Without mentioning Khamenei, Rouhani made it a point to speak about women’s rights to employment: “We have a long road ahead to reach our goal. Valuable steps have been taken for women to have a presence in the fields of science, schooling, work, employment”. He later took a less veiled stab at Khamenei ‘s views: “This talk is true that the home is the foundation for society, and reform begins in the home, but if we ignore half of the population of the country, we will not see real development and growth in that country… Is it even possible to marginalize 50% of the members of society?”.

Finally, Rouhani took away Khamenei’s basis by undermining the religious basis for discrimination against women: “Those who are scared of women’s presence and excellence, or have other views, are asked to please not attribute these wrong views toward religion, Islam, and the Quran”.

Unfortunately, in the short-run, Rouhani needs Khamenei more than Khamenei needs Rouhani. Rouhani can find himself under house arrest with Tehran’s opposition leaders at Khamenei’s whim and was curtly reminded of exactly this by the head of Parliament himself, Ali Larijani.

Rouhani under Pressure from Economy

rouhani_money_2 Iran’s economy is going schizophrenic: on the one hand, sanctions are loosened and energy deals are booming and on the other hand the average Iranians are suffering. Where’s all the money going? The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the winds of over Tehran.

 

 

Business is Booming

As sanctions loosen up, Iran is riding a tidal wave of new business ventures with its neighbors to capitalize on its vast energy resources: While China is planning to reach a $200 billion a year trade with Iran within 10 year, Russia is ready to ink a$20 billion oil-for-goods deal. Other countries in the region and in Europe are following suit and have sent trade money-laden delegations to Tehran. In order to accommodate for the boom in business, Iran has launched a huge floating gas export terminal and is getting ready to lay pipelines to its regional neighbors. The $7 billion sanction relief under the nuclear agreement and approximately $100 billion relief once all sanctions are lifted should place Iran’s economy in great shape. The IMF has gone as far as to state that a final  nuclear deal would cause Iran’s economy to “soar“. In fact, Tehran’s stock market has risen steadily since Rouhani’s presidency up until about a month ago when the reality of the economic situation finally sank in.

 

But Money is Scarce

As the Norouz festivities came and went, dark clouds of pessimism remained over most Iranian families: sharp price hikes in commodities (24% electricity, 20% gas, 20% water, 50% petrol…), increased taxes, cuts in subsidies and skyrocketing interest rates have contributed to an alarming decrease in the purchasing power. At a rate of 40% inflation and 12.6% unemployment, salaries are being increased by less than 20% – in fact the real wages are less than 65% of what they were 2 decades ago. Iran’s vice president reported that 43% of 850,000 industrial units remain closed due to “the weakness of the economy” while in a recent poll, only 20% of the companies actually planned to increase wages meaning that the situation is going from bad to worse. As fishmonger Shahin Anbarani’s in Tehran simply put it – “People don’t have any money“. Rouhani’s big middle class support might be disillusioned by the fact that the economic turnaround he promised did not materialize but, to be honest, Rouhani’s promises might be hard to keep after decades of mismanagement. The massive surge in privatization in Ahmadinejad’s presidency was funneled  to key regime players in the IRGC whose extent in the Iranian economy is conservatively estimated at 1/3 of the GDP. Khamenei who acknowledged that the earlier privatization efforts were not beneficial and is betting on the “Year of Economy and Culture with National Determination and Jihadi Management” will have to find the golden path between his hardliner stronghold in the IRGC and Rouhani’s popular promises for change. And politics are not the only problem – warnings of a looming drought have led to water shutdowns which seem to be on the increase.

 

Some (Not Enough) Shifts in Priorities

Rouhani’s greatest challenge is prioritizing and those left out are losing heavily: Hezbollah, long supported by Tehran, is spiraling into an economic crisis of its own due to cutbacks from Tehran, the raging war in Syria and an increase in sanctions on other contributors.

Having said that, money is still being channeled out of Iran: Tehran has invested too much in Assad to back down now and is still supporting him financially and militarily adding 30,000 tons in aid to a $3.6 billion line of credit.

And although Iran should be saving quite a bit of money by downsizing its nuclear program under the nuclear deal, the fact is that contrary to the Western negotiators’ beliefs, there have not been any serious cut backs in the program. And if it is up to Khamenei, which it is, there won’t be any cutbacks in the future either.

If Rouhani wants to bring about the economic turnaround he envisioned, he will have to fight Khamenei and the IRGC chiefs to really change priorities. Unfortunately, his support outside of Iran as a moderate has placed him at odds with the IRGC hardliners so that leaves him with only one valid option: convince the Supreme Leader to change priorities.

Iran Against EU Office in Tehran

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On April 3ed, the EU issued a press release which called to “exploit the current window of opportunity” in the nuclear talks with Iran to “be more active in addressing the human rights situation” in Iran beginning by opening a EU delegation in Tehran.

This resolution, which sounds legitimate in the eyes of Europeans, was met with wall-to-wall resentment in Tehran.

Here are a few examples of their responses which simply reinforce the suspicions that the regime in Tehran is not ready for change in human rights in Iran.

 

EU delegation is another “Spy Den”

Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahhedi Kermani didn’t mince words: “They (the EU) must learn a lesson from the closure of the US spy den because this people will not let another spy den be set up in Iran.” Kermani was referring, of course, to the US embassy which was taken over in 1979 leading to the hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Not a very inviting thought for the EU delegates who are supposed to run the outpost in Tehran…

In fact, Kermani dismissed all suspicions against Iran on the subject of human rights: “They (EU) are showing maximum shamefulness and immodesty…(and) are expressing strange expectations and accusations and claim that human rights are not respected in Iran.” What is “shameful” is that Kermani actually believes that human rights are respected in Iran and that capital punishment for accusations as vague as “insulting Islam“, “insulting the Prophet” or “enmity against God” is legitimate. He obviously didn’t read the latest UN report which showed an alarming rise in hangings and in discrimination to women and minorities – that’s probably because internet is illegal in Iran meaning that Foreign Minister Zarif and possibly up to 45 million Iranians are breaking the law daily. So much for basic freedoms…

 

EU delegation is a “Cheap Act”

But it isn’t only mullahs, clerics and “hardliners” who are stonewalling the EU’s request for opening a delegation in Tehran.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani belittled the EU’s resolution by simply calling it a “cheap act” that was a result of the EU being “deceived” by “seditionists in the international arena” who support “disharmony in the society”. To paraphrase Kermani, Larijani’s response seems to show “maximum shamefulness and immodesty”.

But then again, perhaps Ali Larijani is simply falling in line with his brother Dr. Javad Larijani, the secretary of Human Rights Council in Iran. Javad who deems homosexuality a disease, expects the West to be “grateful” for rising execution rates, believes that “stoning (is) not in contrast with human rights” and views Iran as a “pioneer in human rights in the world” added more insight last month by stating that human rights is an “illusory ideology” that “is very unrealistic”. If the chief of human rights in Iran believes that human rights are basically an “illusory utopia”, how can anyone inside or outside of Iran expect any change?

Both Larijani brothers have repeatedly criticized any critics of human rights in Iran and have led the attack on Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur by pointing out that his report is inaccurate because his information is not first hand while at the same time repeatedly denying hi entry into Iran. “Maximum shamefulness and immodesty” indeed…

And how about “moderate” politicians such as Zarif? Quite simply, Iran “will not allow any parliamentary delegation from Europe to travel to Iran on the conditions included in this European Parliament’s resolution” and the EU isn’t in a “moral position” to “express views on the situation of human rights in other countries”. As far as Zarif is concerned, the EU should accept what Iranian citizens understand – there can be no criticism against the regime in Tehran on human rights abuses or on any issue. Period.

 

EU Delegation a Fantasy or a Reality?

So while Tehran continues to block any criticism on the states of human rights in Iran, the P5+1 continue to try to reach a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue and many EU countries are rushing to Tehran to rekindle relations and business. In the meantime, Iranian human rights are abused daily and Iran’s aspirations for a militarized nuclear program is simply put on hold, ready to be re-activated at any time Tehran feels it profitable to do so.

The EU should understand this message loud and clear: Although the manner and style of Tehran has changed significantly under President Hassan Rouhani, any expectations of real change are “illusory and very unrealistic”.