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.

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  • 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.

Can Rouhani Meet Washington’s Expectations?

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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.

Honesty Still not the Best Policy for Nuclear Iran

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Reading through the transcript of this week’s ABC interview with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif raises many questions regarding his sincerity (as well as that of his bosses, Khamenei and Rouhani).

On Nuclear Transparency

When asked about any open issues between Iran and the IAEA, he made it sound as if Tehran’s nuclear program was totally transparent and had received the IAEA’s seal of approval.

ZARIF: And the IAEA said that although Iran had not declared these activities, now that we see those activities, none of them had been diverted to military use. So there is no question that Iran never had military intentions.

FACT: The September 2011 IAEA report shows that the “the Agency is increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

Add to that further non-transparency activities such as the clean-up in the Parchin military base. “No question that Iran ever had military intentions”? Depends on who’s talking.

To refresh his memory, Mr. Zarif should take some time to read David Albright and Christina Walrond’s ISIS report, “An Appeal to Iran“.

On the Nuclear Fatwa

ZARIF:  Our leader has a religious verdict that the use of nuclear weapons, even possession of nuclear weapons, is contrary to religious doctrine.

The first problem is that this particular fatwa, unlike thousands of others, was never publicly presented by Khamenei – let alone shown or approved by the government and parliament in Tehran.

The second problem is the actual nature of all fatwas: they can be rescinded by Khamenei at any time by simply saying so – that’s the by-law of this law. Or as Rouhani stated in his own thesis: “No laws in Islam are immutable

On Enriching Uranium

ZARIF: … We have not been able to get a single gram of uranium from them for the past 30-some years.

It sounds so simple. Nobody’s selling Tehran 20% enriched uranium, so Tehran fulfills its rights to enrich its own uranium.

Zarif must not be aware of the international community’s repeated offers to supply Iran with uranium all the way back in 2009. Tehran, to date, has refused to take advantage of this offer which would definitely reduce suspicions.

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On the “Myth of the Holocaust”

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the Holocaust a myth?

ZARIF: No, the Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody is talking about the myth. It’s a — if it’s said, I haven’t seen it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Says it right there.

ZARIF: If it’s said, it’s a bad translation, and it is translated out of context that they have — they are using it. He was talking about the reaction to somebody talking about the historical incident and requiring research about that historical incident and said, what is it that people are upset that somebody is simply asking that we should do some studies of that? …

Better to listen to Khamenei’s exact words.

Western countries allow no freedom of expression, which they claim to advocate, with regard to the myth of the massacre of Jews known as the holocaust, and nobody in the West enjoys the freedom of expression to deny it or raise doubts about it.”

Mr. Zarif – with all due respect to your position and in regards to the regime in Tehran, Khamenei’s word is law…yours still isn’t.

Bottom line: Rouhani has changed the overall tone of voice, and he should be welcomed for doing so. Too bad the old lyrics still ring true.

Thoughts on Rouhani’s Address at the UN

 

 

 

The Tone Changed but the Song Remains the Same

Rouhani’s speech at the UN General Assembly is a great study in rhetoric and political schizophrenia.

Were one to read parts of Rouhani’s speech at the UN General Assembly, one might believe that it was Obama on the podium: numerous mentions of hope (14 times) peace (8 times), moderation (6 times), change (4 times) and democracy (4 times). These anchors of good will were backed by several denouncements of extremism and racism, an open hand to the US (“Iran…does not seek to increase tensions with the United States”).

But, of course, Rouhani’s speech did not end there. The rest of his speech is filled with inconsistencies, ambivalence, veiled threats and a large sprinkling of hypocrisy.

Rouhani should have spoken unequivocally about the three issues that would bring about a real change in the discourse of the West (or the North, as Rouhani smartly put it thus excluding South America) with Iran, but did not:

  • Iran’s general disrespect of human rights at home
  • Iran’s military and financial support of Assad
  • Iran’s consistent transgressions of UN and IAEA guide lines

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Rights for Iran but not for Iranians

As far as human rights were concerned, Rouhani said absolutely nothing.

Actually, that’s not true.

He did talk about the “need to promote and reinforce tolerance” and that “human society should be elevated from a state of mere tolerance” but he wasn’t talking about tolerance at home. Rouhani is asking for tolerance for Iran but he is withholding that tolerance for the Iranian people who are living under an extremist law which disrespects their basic human rights.

He then went on to attack the effects of economic sanctions which “violate inalienable human rights, inter alia, the right to peace, right to development, right to access to health and education, and above all, the right to life…(and), cause belligerence, warmongering and human suffering” but there was no mention of the rights of women, gays and countless minorities whose rights, and in too many case, their rights  were stolen from them.

No Intervention in Syria (Except by Iran)

As to the burning issue of Iran’s support of Assad’s regime, Rouhani’s speech can only be deemed hypocritical.

Rouhani expounded on the “human tragedy in Syria” as “a painful example of catastrophic spread of violence and extremism in our region”. He then went on to say, that Iran had warned  the international community that “militarizing” the situation through infusion of arms and intelligence into the country and active support of extremist groups” was not a viable solution.

Rouhani went on to “defend peace based on democracy and the ballot box everywhere, including in Syria” while ignoring the fact that Assad is in power not through a ballot box but through a bloodline and a strong arm.

Finally he added that the “Pursuit of expansionist strategies and objectives and attempts to change the regional balance through proxies cannot be camouflaged behind humanitarian rhetoric.”

Rouhani must have momentarily ” forgotten” that Iran has openly supported Assad politically, financially and militarily from the outset by issuing a line of credit of $5 Billion, by deploying Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops and officers, as well as its proxy Hezbollah troops, and by regularly shipping military equipment.

Ready to Talk on the Nuclear Issue, But…

Rouhani did talk quite directly about the nuclear issue that has led to the breakdown of fruitful communications between Iran and the UN/West. It is Iran’s repeated transgressions from IAEA guidelines that have led to what he lamentably called the  “imaginary threat…the so-called “Iranian threat””.

He stated the usual Tehran dismissal of any military aspect to the Iranian nuclear program (“Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defense doctrine…our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program”) and he stated his willingness to “engage immediately in time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency” which will definitely be a favorite sound bite / headline for optimists around the world.

And yet, Rouhani has still not made any part of Iran’s suspect nuclear program any more transparent and Iran is still, to this date, openly transgressing numerous IAEA guidelines.  Furthermore, he made it quite clear that Iran would continue Uranium enrichment and stated the obvious: “Nuclear knowledge in Iran has been domesticated now and the 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.”

And lastly, there is the veiled threat that featured at the beginning of his speech: “Any miscalculation of one’s position, and of course, of others, will bear historic damages”.

At the end of the day, Rouhani’s speech seems to have been targeted to Khamenei and other leaders at home  and not the leaders in the West who might change their views on Iran.

So much for hope, peace and change.

Who Really Controls Iran?

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Rouhani, Khamenei & Jafari

Rouhani’s inauguration approaches (August 4). The general surprise at his win over Khamenei’s protégées – two of them endorsed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps – (IRGC) – might show that the Supreme Leader is not as Supreme as he may want to be, and/or that the IRGC might have potential unrest on its hands.

Or perhaps Khamenei finally realized that Rouhani could be an asset in two key inter-related fields close to his heart: the nuclear standoff and the resulting sanctions.

In any case, although Khamenei and the IRGC issued messages of cooperation with Rouhani, they cannot be anything but ambivalent about any future move by Rouhani that diverges from strategic policy.

 

Rouhani as a Juggler

As his campaign and post-election declarations indicate, Rouhani has no intention of stopping Tehran’s nuclear program, peaceful or not. But being the “Diplomat Mullah” that he is, he knows that sanctions will only be lifted with greater transparency and removal of even the smallest sign of any military aspect of the program.

As long as the suspect parts of the program are not halted, Khamenei and the IRGC will most probably support Rouhani. It is hard to imagine, however, that the IRGC will back Rouhani on real concessions.

To do so, he will have to negotiate with the West while negotiating simultaneously with Khamenei and the IRGC, a seemingly impossible situation in which he will be damned if he does (make concessions) and damned if he doesn’t.

 

So, Who is Really in Control?

Who controls Tehran? How much leeway does Rouhani really have? Can he realistically sell a more appeasing version of Tehran to the West?

Rouhani obviously received the people’s support, but that support can be ignored if Khamenei decides to overrule it.

Rouhani’s relationship with Khamenei is reportedly a good one, but Khamenei’s partnership with the IRGC is much stronger: Khamenei cannot forget that the IRGC supported his bid for the office of Supreme Leader (while the clerics didn’t). Since he took office, the IRGC’s power has grown exponentially.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the sanctions Rouhani will try to lessen actually helped the IRGC to consolidate its power by eliminating foreign competition, increasing the profitability of smuggling by IRGC operatives, and providing legitimacy to Khamenei’s paranoia of the West.

For now, Rouhani has breathing room facilitated by his voters and a relatively sympathetic and hopeful West. But when push comes to shove, he will find it hard to juggle with one hand tied behind his back.

 

The IRGC & Khamenei vs. Rouhani

Iranian presidents have come and gone, but the regime’s overarching goals linger on.  And since the raison d’etre for the IRGC is “to actualize Islam in people’s life (sic) and transform society into an ideal Islamic society…while preserving the principles of the revolution“, its duty is to protect and uphold the Khamenei’s control – of which it is a major part.

Former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani summed up the IRGC’s power base quite succinctly when he said: “(the IRGC) controls the economy as well as domestic and foreign policy and they will not be satisfied with anything short of the entire country…only the supreme leader could rein in the Revolutionary Guards” and conversely, since Khamenei’s word is law, “as long as the supreme leader supports the IRGC, any action it takes is legal“.

 

We have much more to say about the IRGC; our next post will focus on its control on politics and politicians in Iran.

Rouhani’s Promised Change Is Relative

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Promises of Change

Rouhani’s ticket was based on one word: change.

Now elected, the question is: will he change the budgetary priorities – the nuclear program, violent proxy groups and Bashar Assad – set by Khamenei?

His voters found in him a man who understood that the Iranian people do not have to carry the burden of a mismanaged foreign policy headed by stubborn hardliners who found pride in thumbing their noses at “the West”.

Rouhani promises “reconciliation and peace” but more importantly he promises “good international interactions to gradually reduce the sanctions and finally remove them.”

His main priority right now is to change the whole tone at the negotiating table in order to alleviate sanctions. With titles such as “liberal”, “moderate cleric” and “top nuclear negotiator”, he seems to be the right man for the job.

Rouhani’s talk appeals to Iranians as well as “the West” but it remains to be seen if he can – or even wants – to walk the talk on a nuclear tightrope held by Supreme Leader Khamenei. In other words, Rouhani has to kill the sanctions AND keep Khamenei’s nuclear ambitions alive.

How Much Will Change?

To be sure, after years of stale dealings with Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and Jalili, who, in Rouhani’s words “brought sanctions to the country…Yet, they are proud of it“,  western negotiators will find in Rouhani a breath of fresh air. He is sure to change at least the tone of Tehran’s foreign policy. This will probably mean that there will be less fiery rhetoric against the West at future P5+1 meetings.

But…although Rouhani can change the tone of foreign policy, nuclear policy is dictated by only one man in Tehran – Khamenei – and as long as Khamenei is in power, the nuclear program will stay on track. Furthermore, Rouhani is not anti-nuclear by any means – as can be judged by his answer to allegations that he had halted the nuclear program on his watch “It’s good if you study history…We suspended it? We mastered the (nuclear) technology!”.

Khamenei, who over the last few years catapulted himself to the front-stage may take a tactical step back and allow Rouhani the necessary space he needs to bring about the promised change in atmosphere. In fact, Khamenei may have found in Rouhani a way out from his predicament of being to hardline for the West as well as Iranians.

Changing the Tune, not the Lyrics

Yes, Rouhani will bring with him a marked change to how Iran is perceived and accepted by the West and hopefully for him and the Iranian people, he will be able to alleviate sanctions.

Khamenei, the IRGC and the whole structure of government in Tehran are bound to free the reigns a bit and give Rouhani some leeway. In fact the ”IRGC says its ready to cooperate w/Rowhani. IMO only until he has helped end sanctions & restored their businesses“. What happens after he successfully achieves that is left unsaid.

Rouhani is quoted to have said “It is good to have centrifuges running, provided people’s lives & livelihoods are also running“. So he clearly wants the centrifuges, but also wants the people to live better. In other words, unlike way back in Pakistan, Rouhani does not believe the people should “eat grass” for the sake of the nuclear program, but that a way needs to be found for Iran to have its proverbial cake and eat it too.

At the end of the day, Rouhani’s drive for change is focused mainly on the way the nuclear issue was handled by his compatriots but not on the aspirations themselves. His job now is to allow Khamanei to continue with budgetary priorities which favor the nuclear program, support for violent proxy groups and Bashar Assad. And these are priorities which Rouhani, as a longstanding member of Iran’s National Security Council, is extremely familiar with.

Update from June 17th Press Conference

In Rouhani’s first official press conference, hopes for change are mixed with “more of the same” rhetoric.

  • Yes, there will be “greater transparency” BUT this is only because “Our nuclear programmes are completely transparent” – some IAEA and the P5+1 negotiators would beg to differ.
  • Just in case there was any misunderstanding, Iran’s “nuclear activities are legal” BUT enrichment will continue. Meanwhile, AEOI Director Fereydoun Abbasi stated today that Tehran has “No plan for enriched uranium beyond 20%” – disregarding the fact that enrichment up to 20% was one of the reasons for the nuclear debacle.
  • And as to the sanctions themselves – “The sanctions are unfair…illegal and only benefit Israel.”

 

Khamenei’s Nuclear Priority Under Attack


khamenei nuclear priority under attack

Khamenei’s Nuclear Priority Requires (more) Time & (a lot of) Money

In spite of his own “nuclear fatwa” banning the production of WMD’s, Khamenei’s $100 billion nuclear gamble and its effect on the Iranian economy make sense only if Tehran is really building a bomb.

In order to cross all the red lines to the point where he doesn’t have to hide anymore, Khamenei needs time and money – both of which he will have as long as he stays in power.

Khamenei has Time & Money as long as he is in Power

Khamenei needs time – from prying IAEA and foreign officials – and Jalili, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator and the closest presidential candidate to Khamenei – has provided just what he requires.

Jalili’s strategy for ending the nuclear crisis and the resulting sanctions is a mixture of foot-dragging denials, accusations, non-transparency and non-cooperation. The result? The fifth round of P5+1 talks in less than a year , ended in April “Without Accord or Plans for Another Round“.

But Khamenei not only needs time from pressure from outside of Iran – he needs to continue to dictate his priorities and channel the necessary resources to fulfill his nuclear ambitions.

He needs a president who will be manageable. In order to do that, he not only rigged the elections by overseeing the disqualification of presidential candidates who “dared to differ“, he then proceeded to “urge” the remaining candidates “not to appease the West“.

Jalili, the ideal presidential candidate for Khamenei, is bound to protect him internally and give him four more years…more than enough to obtain a latent (at least) military nuclear capability.

Khamenei’s Priorities Openly Attacked

But it seems that Khamenei miscalculated a bit: the cost of his nuclear gamble is not easy to swallow when there is less to eat.

Iran’s economy has been hard hit by mismanagement of many of Khamenei’s priorities (a suspect nuclear program, support for Syria & terrorism – to name three) and more Iranians are questioning the price tag of his policy. While protesters on the street simplified it by chanting“Khamenei” & “Dictator” in Esfahan, some presidential candidates were more articulate:

The Supreme Leader believes that his priorities are those of Iran and does not like to be questioned, criticized or attacked – ask Hossein Mousavi, the 2009 opposition leader, who is still under house arrest for doing just that.

How will Khamenei  react to such open criticism from his people and from his presidential candidates? Will Rezaee, Velayati and Rohani join Mousavi’s plight? Will Tehran crack down on protesters?

But more importantly, will Khamenei receive the money and time he needs to finally take his nuclear program out of its closet?

Time will tell…but for once, the clock might be ticking just a bit against Khamenei.

Until then, the Iranian people will have to get over their pessimism.

Earlier related posts:

here’s a Persian version – please share.

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