Saturday, 18 July 2015
23 July 2021

“Why UN/EU Resolutions on Iran Human Rights Issue Don’t Work? “

2011 May 23

Reza Parchizadeh

Since the Revolution of 1979 in Iran, there could be found numerous independent or joint resolutions and statements on the cases of the violation of human rights in Iran issued by the United Nations and the European Union (formerly, the European Community). These typically concise declarations – plus many more long-winded declarations on the Iranian nuclear project, however, seem to be just not working; for the violation of human rights in Iran has obviously escalated in a dramatic manner since the previous decade, especially since the disputed presidential elections of June 12, 2009.

According to Human Rights Watch World Report 2011, in 2009, the last year for which figures are available, the Islamic Republic authorities executed 388 prisoners, more than any other nation except China. During Iran’s Universal Periodic Review before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March 2010, Iran rejected 45 recommendations of member states, including allowing the special rapporteur on torture to visit the country; prosecuting security officials involved in torturing, raping, or killing; implementing policies to end gender-based violence; and halting the execution of political prisoners. In October 2010, the UN secretary-general’s office released its report on the situation of human rights in Iran, pursuant to UN General Assembly resolution 64/176. The report noted “further negative developments in the human rights situation” in Iran, including “excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials, and possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists” following the June 2009 elections.

According to Human Rights House of Iran (RAHANA), figures collated by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, suggest the annual number of executions has almost quadrupled since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first elected in 2005

According to Human Rights House of Iran (RAHANA), figures collated by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, suggest the annual number of executions has almost quadrupled since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was first elected in 2005. There was also a rise in the number of executions of juvenile delinquents. Iran is one of only a handful of countries to continue such executions, in clear violation of international law. In addition, in early 2010, the security forces announced that they had arrested more than 6000 people in the months following the June 2009 election. Those arrested included demonstrators, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists, students, and opposition leaders, some of whom remain in prison without charge to this day. As such, there are, based on a report by RAHANA Prisoners’ Rights Unit, 470 political prisoners in 25 different prisons in Iran.

According to Euronews, on December 21, 2008, the security forces of the Islamic Republic closed in Tehran the offices of the Circle for the Defenders of Human Rights, run by the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. In an open letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on February 8, 2010, Ebadi stated, “The plight of human rights defenders is the worst because the authorities do not want any reports whatsoever on the human rights violations in Iran to leave the country. As a result, most of the known activists in Iran are either in prison or barred from travelling abroad; or they have been forced underground and into hiding. More distressingly, indictments have been issued against some of them for Moharebeh (waging war against God), which is punishable by death”. Soon after, on February 10, 2010, the European Parliament issued a comprehensive resolution on the violation of human rights in Iran. The British Foreign Ministry, in its most recent annual report, has put the number of those executed in Iran in 2010 above 650, arguably the greatest number in the whole world.

In the meantime, according to AFP, Iran’s Parliament called for the prosecution of the opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi in February 2011. Thus, as late as March 4, 2011, the High Representative of the EU, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement on the violation of human rights in Iran which included the clause: “I further condemn the unacceptable repression to which representatives of many political and civil society groups in Iran are now routinely subjected, and call on the Iranian authorities to respect the right to freedom of movement, and communication, of all those held in arbitrary detention or under house arrest”. Not long after this statement, according to UNHCR, the UN Human Rights Council voted in Geneva on March 24, 2011, by 22 to 7, for a resolution, described by Yahoo UK News as a “European-led, US-backed resolution”, co-sponsored by 49 states, “to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran”. Not surprisingly, the Islamic Republic, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), on March 25, 2011, dismissed the UN Human Rights Council’s appointment of the Special Rapporteur as “unjust, unjustifiable and totally political”.

In the meantime, according to AFP, Iran’s Parliament called for the prosecution of the opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi in February 2011

Now, given the fact that both the UN and the EU are formidable political, and by extension economic, organizations to be reckoned with, what is the reason that almost any resolution these body politics issue with regard to the Iranian affairs and especially with respect to the violation of human rights in Iran falls on deaf ears? For example, based on a special report made by the Human Rights Activists New Agency (HRANA), only during last February-March, there occurred at least 13479 cases of violation of human rights in Iran, which specifically include: 8971 cases of violation of workers’ rights, 2408 cases of violation of the rights of social and political activists with regard to freedom of thought and speech, 448 cases of torture and violation of the rights of both criminal prisoners and prisoners of conscience, 392 cases of violation of students’ rights, 89 cases of violation of the rights of religious minorities, 57 cases of violation of the rights of ethnic minorities, and 56 cases of declaration, confirmation, or performance of capital punishment. According to the comprehensive annual report (1061 pages) by HRANA, the sum total of the cases of the human rights violation in Iran during the last Iranian year (March, 21, 2010 – March, 21, 2011) amounts to the appalling number of 6,316,360.

As a matter of fact, there could be counted a myriad of reasons why the Islamic Republic of Iran does not respond to these kinds of resolutions and statements as positively as, for example, Tunisia and Egypt recently did. My focus of concern, however, is that if the Islamic Republic feels free to a great extent to decline the UN/EU resolutions, it is because it has been on a continual process of political and economic isolation by the “Western-inclined” sector of the international community for the past three decades, which has rendered it somewhat immune to counterbalancing measures instigated by the “Western-based” politico-economic organizations. To put it clearly, for these sorts of resolutions to work properly, it is necessary that the receiving party juridically – and not just morally – be bound with their implementation; and as long as the Islamic Republic, due to its lack of integration in the “capitalist” international community, feels no obligation to keep serious international commitments, the resolutions, naturally, do not become binding for Iran either.

Truth is, since the Revolution of 1979, Iran has been under all sorts of heavy sanctions by the generally capitalist international community. As most of the antagonism of the Islamic Republic has been directed at the USA since the Revolution of 1979, many of the international sanctions against Iran, naturally, come directly from or are indirectly initiated by the USA. To begin with, after the entrance of the former Shah of Iran to the United states – given the forebodings of the fact that the Shah had been restored to his oppressive monarchy through a joint CIA-MI6 coup in 1953 – and the consequent retaliatory US Embassy takeover and the Hostage Crisis brought about by the radical Student Followers of the Line of Emam (Khomeini), the USA immediately responded by freezing around $12 billion worth of the Iranian assets. In 1984, in the middle of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, the US Congress approved sanctions that prohibited the sale of the US arms and all kinds of provisions to Iran. The United States also opposed all loans to Iran from international financial institutions. In 1987, the United States further prohibited the importation from and exportation to Iran of any goods or services. In 1995, President Clinton issued a total embargo on all US commercial and financial transactions with Iran. In 1996, the United States Congress passed the exacting Iran–Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) which stipulated that all foreign companies which provided investments over $20 million for the development of oil resources in Iran would be severely punished. During the past decade, the USA, especially with regard to the Iranian Nuclear Project, has also been instrumental in securing the UN resolutions that have led to heavy sanctions against Iran. They include the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1737 (passed on December 23, 2006), 1747 (passed on March 24, 2007), 1803 (passed on 3 March 3, 2008), and 1929 (passed on June 9, 2010).

The European Union, which has usually been critical of many of the US-initiated economic sanctions against Iran and has tried to play an intermediary role in such matters as the vexed Iranian Nuclear Negotiations, has also introduced its rounds of heavy sanctions against Iran. For example, the EU resolution on Iran implemented as late as on July 27, 2010, and last strengthened on October 27, 2010, stipulates, among other things, the “Freezing of funds and economic resources; restrictions on transfers of funds to and from an Iranian person, entity or body; vigilance over activities with Iranian banks; dealing with the Iranian banking sector; restrictions on Iran’s access to the EU’s bonds markets; restrictions on Iran’s access to the EU’s insurance and reinsurance markets; and restrictions on financing certain Iranian enterprises”.

As the Iranian-American scholar Maryam Panah has put it in her The Islamic Republic and the World: Global Dimensions of the Iranian Revolution (2007), “The Iranian Revolution provoked responses from actors regionally and internationally through its efforts to export the Revolution and encourage similar movements elsewhere in the region”. These responses, generally manifesting themselves in the form of heavy sanctions intended to contribute to a general policy of “containment”, have led the Islamic Republic to run rather free of the Western-initiated international regulations, albeit by the skin of its teeth. In a bit of an analogy, it can be claimed that the Islamic Republic, since the Revolution of 1979, has been an acrobat, a trapeze artist, which by treading the narrow line between the former Cold War factions (that still much exist behind the scenes) and occasionally playing them against each other, in addition to creating satellite cores of support and zones of influence in the Middle East, has managed to further its political ends.

For instance, the 2007 US sanctions against Iranian banks, according to Al-Jazeera, ironically ensured Iran’s immunity from the global financial crisis that was about to explode; for Iran was among the few major economies in the world not to be severely affected by the crisis. Iran has also opened its doors to and has relied upon trade with many other developing countries. This is what Al-Jazeera describes as “Iran’s successful and increasing reliance on ‘South-South’ trade, which effectively translates into her own sanctions against the West”. In addition, Iran’s cornering by the Western community has led to its substantially – though not totally – independent manufacturing of arms, especially in the field of ballistic missiles. For example, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the Islamic Republic has so far been successful in developing 16 types of ballistic missiles of which 2 are short range, 8 are medium range, 5 are long range, and 1 is undefined. The role of the two non-Western superpowers, namely Russia and China, plus North Korea, must not be underestimated in helping, in a post-Cold-War clandestine and unsteady alliance against Western hegemony, to bring about this rather precarious counterbalance.

In addition, this crucial fact must be taken into account that the Iranian economy is a largely single-sourced petroleum-based economy. After the implementation of the Western-initiated sanctions on the Iranian oil sale and purchase, the Islamic Republic, by considerably diverting the flow of oil from the “North” to the “South”, though usually at a much lower price – which is tantamount to the underselling of the Iranian oil for achieving political ends, has been able to subsist and to wade through the heavy international sanctions up to this moment. Therefore, with regard to the abovementioned facts, while the economic effect of the sanctions on Iran, generally speaking, has been relatively considerable, its political effect has proved to be minimal so far.

In the end, based on the result of more than three decades of the dual policy of placing sanctions on Iran while defending its human rights by the UN, the EU, and the USA, it can be concluded that this policy, as in the case of North Korea, has proved lame in bringing about the desired outcomes so far. In the words of the Iranian-American university professor, Hamid Dabashi, put forward in his Iran, The Green Movement and the USA: The Fox and the Paradox (2010), “What passes for politics, policy, and punditry in the US/EU theaters of operation has categorically failed to alter the course of a fragile planet in a more sustainable direction”.

Thus, as it seems, the much sought-after change in the Islamic Republic’s domestic and international antagonistic policies is much more likely to come as a consequence of local and national civil rights movements than as that of the combination of international sanctions and resolutions. Given the fact that a strongly-articulated civil rights movement has been going on in Iran for around two years now, it seems that expressing serious, practicable, and humane solidarity with the Iranian civil rights movement by the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States could be a viable option “on the table” for both the neutralization of the threat of the Islamic Republic and the amelioration of the human rights condition in Iran. In addition, steps recently taken by the international community, especially the EU, toward the afflictions of Iran such as “imposing autonomous EU restrictive measures (an assets freeze and a visa ban) on 32 individuals deemed responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran” and also attempted moves to revise the migration laws with respect to Iranian refugees have opened other promising theaters with regard to the question of human rights in Iran.



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