The Palm Beach Post
January 3, 2012
An alarming report published recently by the International Atomic Energy Agency concentrated attention on Iran's push to develop nuclear weapons.
But on Dec. 19 - nine days after international Human Rights Day - the U.N. General Assembly reminded the world of another fundamental, problematic dimension of the Iranian regime's behavior - treatment of its own citizens.
U.N. member states endorsed two new reports - one by Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran and the other by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon - that expressed grave concern about Iran's continuing assault on human rights. A resolution, introduced by Canada, gained 89 countries voting in favor and 30 against, with 64 abstentions. All of the Western democracies supported the nonbinding resolution.
The resolution identified a range of heinous acts carried out by Iranian government agents, including the frequent use of torture, flogging and amputation, infliction of capital punishment for vaguely defined crimes, often through coerced confessions, frequent public executions and secret group executions, infliction of the death penalty against minors, and execution by stoning - despite a government rule against it - and by prolonged strangulation. It has been reported elsewhere that Iran executed more than 450 people in 2011, one-third of them in secret executions.
U.N. members also expressed deep concern at "pervasive gender inequality and violence against women" in Iran . Both U.N. reports focused on the persistent arrest of women working for the Campaign for Equality, also known as the "One Million Signatures" campaign, which seeks to bring attention to gender inequality enshrined in Iranian law.
The resolution noted the extensive imprisonment of journalists and bloggers, the forceful breakup of demonstrations, unfair trial practices, and arrests and death sentences for the vague charge of "enmity against God." The U.N. resolution called on Iran to immediately release those detained "for simply exercising their right to peaceful assembly and participating in peaceful protests."
Iranian violations of the rights of minorities, including Christians, Jews, Sufis, Sunni Muslims, Zoroastrians, Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis and Kurds, also were cited in the resolution. It particularly highlighted persecution of members of the Baha'i faith.
The U.N. also called for Iran to launch an impartial investigation of allegations of killings and other abuses in the crackdown by police and paramilitaries that followed the 2009 presidential elections, widely perceived as fraudulent. Iran was pressed to prosecute those responsible for the post-election abuses and to ensure that the upcoming 2012 parliamentary elections "reflect the will of the people."
These findings remind everyone that it is vital that all member states support the U.N.'s efforts to improve the human rights situation in Iran . This includes pressing Iran to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and to allow him to visit the country, to allow for the fair investigation of and public reporting on human rights violations, to stop imprisoning and executing those who express dissent, and to release those already imprisoned. For all of Iran's bluster and denial, its leaders are sensitive to criticism. Iran withdrew its application for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2010 after an international outcry about how it treats its own people.
The realization that such a country may soon possess nuclear weapons adds impetus to highlight its human rights record and press for change. Soviet physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov pointed out that "the defense of human rights (is) the only sure basis for genuine and lasting international cooperation."
Iran must be pressured, by the U.N., the U.S. and others, to alter its human rights record before we can hope to make genuine progress on other issues of global importance.
Rachel Miller is Palm Beach County regional office director of the American Jewish Committee.