The EU parliamentary delegation to Tehran stirred up, once again, an issue of human rights in regards to MP Schaake’s head-dress. Although there is merit to this issue since Shaake is very pro-Iranian (she strongly supported opening an EU delegation in Iran) but she is also very pro-women’s rights, the storm over Shaake’s head-dress overshadowed the main problem with this delegation’s visit: besides meeting with the government officials, the delegations did not meet with any opposition leaders or human rights activists as outlined in last year’s EP resolution on EU delegations to Iran.
The furor over Shaake’s head-dress may be a visual symbol of the problem of human rights in Iran but the real problem is that although the EP is very vocal about the problems of human rights in Iran, the delegation did absolutely nothing to deal with these issues in Tehran.
Adding insult to injury, the EU delegation was barred by the Iranian authorities from speaking to foreign media while in Tehran.
The EP Resolution on Iran
Back in in March 31st 2014, the European Parliament issued a resolution concerning its strategy vis-a-vis Iran. The gist of this resolution is that the EP should help to promote better relations with Iran while keeping up the pressure to improve the state of human rights there.
Here are some soundbites from the resolution and their resulting impotence:
- It stated that “any future Parliament delegations to Iran should be committed to meeting members of the political opposition and civil society activists, and to having access to political prisoners” – the last delegation met only with regime leaders.
- It calls for the opening of an EU delegation in Tehran as “an efficient tool for influencing Iranian policies…on issues such as human and minority rights” – no such delegation was ever opened.
- It welcomed the “release of several prisoners of conscience in Iran, including the human rights lawyer and Sakharov Prize winner Nasrin Sotoudeh” – since then Sotoudeh was sent back to jail.
- It called “on the Iranian authorities to release all imprisoned human rights defenders, political prisoners, trade unionists and labour activists, and those detained after the 2009 presidential elections” – all of them are still in jail or under house arrest.
- It condemned “the restrictions on freedom of information, freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, academic freedom, freedom of education and freedom of movement, as well as the repression and discrimination on the basis of religion, belief, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation that persist, inter alia against the Baha’i community, Christians, apostates and converts” – all of these issues have paradoxically gone from bad to worst under Rouhani.
- It called “on Iran to cooperate with international human rights bodies and its own NGOs by acting upon the recommendations of the UN and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)” – Tehran simply dismissed the UN Special Rapporteur’s report and the UPR as “politically motivated”.
- It stressed that “women’s rights should, without fail, remain an area of special focus in any dialogue between the EU and Iran” – Even under Rouhani’s “moderate” government, Iranian women still suffer from legalized gender segregation and massive discrimination.
- It considers that “Iran should use its considerable influence in Syria to stop the bloody civil war and calls on Iran’s leadership to adopt a constructive role in the international efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis” – meanwhile, Iran is spending approximately $15 Billion a year in Syria and is now sending troops to fight Assad’s war which has killed 200,000 and injured over one million Syrians.
As such, when the EP chief Catherine Ashton visited Iran, she stirred up controversy not over her head-dress but over the fact that she met with human rights activists and lawyers in the comfort of the Greek embassy.
This resolution was harshly criticized by Tehran and perhaps that is why the last delegation did not even try to meet any opposition leaders, nor did the issue of human rights figure prominently in its discussions in Tehran. Instead, the delegation focused on talk regarding the upcoming nuclear deal and the promise of trade in the future.
Meanwhile, EU MP’s denounce regime
Meanwhile a group of 220 MP’s have signed a petition to “end the executions, free political prisoners, stop the repression of women and respect the rights and freedoms of the Iranian people” while expressing “our solidarity with the ten-point plan of the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, which calls for a democratic pluralistic republic based on universal suffrage, freedom of expression, abolition of torture and death penalty, separation of church and state, a non-nuclear Iran, an independent judicial system, rights for minorities, peaceful coexistence in the region, gender equality and commitment to Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. The petition was not only focused on human rights: It accused Iran as being “at the heart of the crisis in this region and not part of the solution. If fundamentalism and extremism is to be uprooted in this region, Iran’s destructive influence and interference should end.”
The reaction from Iran was, as usual, dismissive: The foreign office criticized the EP for meddling in Iranian politics and went as far as to say that such a petition never existed which sparked reaffirmations from MEP’s as to the validity of the petition.
Although the EP seems set on trying to help create an environment of rapprochement with Iran, it remains impotent since it did not yet decide what are its red lines as to the changes required by Iran’s regime to do so. Without these red lines, there is a lot of talk but nobody is ready to walk the talk. The EP has to decide what is more important: to open trade doors with Iran or to pressure the regime into improving human rights. Only then, can a European delegation reach visible political solutions.