Iran’s human rights abuses ‘marginalized and sanitized’

iran hum rtsThe prevention of an Iranian “nuclear breakout” capability is inextricably intertwined with the regime’s ongoing massive repression of human rights, says a leading expert. Indeed, negotiations proceed while rights violations continue unabated – and have even intensified – under the “moderate” President Rouhani, notes Irwin Cotler, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Professor of Law Emeritus at McGill University.

First, the prospect of a rights-violating regime seeking to possess nuclear weapons itself warrants concern. Second, the reality of Iran’s repressive treatment of its citizens – and blatant breaches of its international law obligations in this regard – should cause us to question the veracity of any commitments made by the regime in the context of the nuclear negotiations, he writes for The Huffington Post.

Extremist religiosity and despotic politics create a lethal cocktail, analyst Raymond Tanter recently wrote for Foreign Policy: 

Historian Reza Afshari, in his Human Rights in Iran details the game plan for how Iran denies human rights on religious grounds. While other Muslim-majority entities grant some rights, al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Iran are primetime deniers of such rights [he writes, citing evidence from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which conducted an analysis of photographs and satellite imagery’’ and a report of the Iran Human Rights Documents Center [showing] that Iran conducts massive numbers of executions via public hangings by trucks….

Illustrative of the lack of human rights in Iran is Section 186 of Tehran’s Islamic Criminal Code. The code criminalizes membership in and/or support for any group’s members considered as “enemies of God” (Mohareb). …

Cotler-300x168Facing retirement, Cotler (right) is “most proud of what modest involvement I had in the struggles against apartheid and for Soviet Jewry, and representing the political prisoners involved in those struggles,” he told the Globe and Mail, adding a comment about his future plans.

“I’ve always had a dream to establish a Raoul Wallenberg centre for international justice, named after Canada’s first honorary citizen, which would be a unique international consortium of parliamentarians, scholars, jurists, human rights defenders, NGOs and students united in the pursuit of justice, and anchored in and inspired by Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy,” he said.

‘Huge sense of fairness’

On Thursday, Cotler will receive the Law Society of Upper Canada’s inaugural human rights award at Osgoode Hall in Toronto. The society represents some 46,000 lawyers in Ontario, Laura Stone reports for Global News:

Cotler, a former law professor at McGill University in Montreal, was first elected to Parliament in 1999, and served as justice minister under former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin from 2003 to 2006.

“His legislation was the first to criminalize trafficking in persons, which is just one of the worst things that has ever afflicted humankind,” said Martin. “He brought in the first ever prosecution under the Canadian War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act, in terms of the genocide in Rwanda.”

He was at the forefront, you know, of the international struggle against apartheid. And that’s one of the reasons, I think, when I was in Africa and people would come up to me and say, ‘Do you know Irwin Cotler?’ It was the battle against apartheid.

He really has spoken for justice on all of the issues in the Middle East. He lectured in Arab countries and Israel for long before he ever went into public life. I think that in terms of human rights, Irwin Cotler, more than anybody I know – his name is associated with the rights protecting us all. RTWT

iranhumanrightsCotler provides an overview of some of the more serious human rights violations that continue in Iran underpinned by an ongoing culture of impunity, including:

1. A DRAMATIC INCREASE IN WANTON EXECUTIONS: Iran not only executes more people per-capita than any other state but the execution rate has actually escalated under President Rouhani, …

2. CULTURE OF IMPUNITY: 2015 marks the 27th year since the Iranian regime’s 1988 Prison Massacre, where then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the executions of thousands of dissidents, purging opposition to the regime. …Indeed, Rouhani himself continues to indulge a culture of impunity, rewarding and promoting the perpetrators of grave abuses. ….

3. TORTURE: Under Rouhani’s presidency, authorities have continued to use torture to intimidate detainees and coerce confessions to justify trumped-up charges, ….

4. POLITICAL PRISONERS: Iran continues to imprison human rights defenders, students, journalists, bloggers, lawyers, artists, trade unionists, members of the political opposition, and civil society leaders generally. ….

5. PERSECUTION OF BAHA’I: International observers have repeatedly recognized the systematic and widespread persecution of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority, who are singled out for particularly cruel and unusual treatment by the regime. ….

6. PERSECUTION OF OTHER RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC MINORITIES: The Iranian regime continues to target and incite hatred and violence against religious and ethnic minorities, violating their civil, political, social, religious, economic, cultural, linguistic, and educational rights. …”.

7. PERSECUTION OF WOMEN: Despite Article 20 of the Iranian constitution purporting to protect gender equality, Iranian women face widespread and systematic discrimination in many areas of life. …..

8. PERSECUTION OF LESBIAN AND GAY PEOPLE: Iranian law criminalizes same-sex relations and allows the courts wide discretion in determining sentences, which can include corporal and capital punishment. …

9. THE PERSECUTION OF JOURNALISTS AND THE ASSAULT ON FREE SPEECH: While the Iranian regime continues to espouse principles of free speech and free press, any rhetorical commitment is mocked by reality. …

10. ASSAULT ON THE RULE OF LAW AND THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY: The Iranian legal system is characterized more by the assault on the rule of law — or law by theocratic rule — while lacking any semblance of independence for the judiciary and the legal profession. …

11. IRAN AND THE UN UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW: The UN Human Rights Council recently concluded its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Iran, which … demonstrated that the Iranian government has continued its massive violations of human rights in breach of its own undertakings….

12. INCITEMENT TO HATE AND GENOCIDE: The Iranian regime continues to engage in the persistent and pervasive incitement to hate and even genocide. Throughout the years, high-ranking government officials and religious leaders have called for the destruction of Israel, with the 21st-century beginning with Supreme Leader Khamenei calling for “the annihilation of the Jewish State”…


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Election rout sends potent message to Modi

INDIA MODI SUIT.jpg-largeNarendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, set tongues wagging last month when the pinstripe he wore for a tête-à-tête with US President Barack Obama was revealed not to be a pinstripe at all. Rather, the stripes were formed of the premier’s full name — Narendra Damodardas Modi — in tiny letters through the fabric, The Financial Times reports:

Just two weeks later, Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party has been routed in New Delhi’s local elections by the upstart Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party, led by anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal (below, right), …So could Mr Modi’s sartorial misjudgment have triggered the landslide, in which the two-year-old AAP won an astonishing 67 of 70 seats in Delhi’s local legislature? Not entirely. But it was seen as a symptom that Mr Modi, now ensconced in the corridors of national power, is losing touch with the concerns of the ordinary voters who propelled him there, with such high expectations, just eight months ago.

The verdict in Delhi goes much beyond the numbers, and provides lessons for all political parties, says Praveen Rai, a political analyst at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi:

india Arvind-KejriwalFor the AAP, it should respect the mandate and go all-out to fulfill its election promises. For the BJP, it is time to correct its priorities and work towards a ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) free from corruption, decriminalise politics, and aim for people-centric development [he writes for Reuters]. For the Congress, it is time to accept the ground realities and start purging the people who have brought it to an all-time low.

Politics in the country has evolved from bad governance with corruption to good governance with corruption in the last one decade. The verdict in Delhi is loud and clear – the country needs good governance sans corruption and a government that is fully responsible to the people.

The small political earthquake struck the capital as a young political organization led by an anticorruption crusader trounced Mr. Modi’s governing party by far more than polls or even the most enthusiastic of the party’s supporters predicted, The New York Times reports.

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Democracy under way, but can Tunisia reform?

TUNISIA UGTTJust two days after confidently promising economic reforms to match Tunisia’s transition to democracy, new Prime Minister Habib Essid was forced to say he would roll back a new tax after police shot dead a man protesting it, Reuters reports:

Tunisia has been praised as an example of compromise politics and democratic transition since overthrowing its autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in a 2011 uprising, holding free elections and drafting a new constitution.

But the latest protests have made clear Essid’s economic task list that includes reforms, development and boosting jobs will not be easy in a country reliant on tourism, with few natural resources, high unemployment and heavy state subsidies even with the goodwill of the coalition government.

There appears to be broad agreement across Tunisia’s political spectrum that reforms are needed to consolidate democratic gains and to unlock economic growth and job creation, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service:

Political parties provided few concrete details on their policy preferences during the 2014 campaigns, however, and the new coalition government may struggle to achieve internal agreement. Nidaa Tounes itself exhibits little internal cohesion. The kinds of structural economic reforms that Tunisia’s international partners have recommended would likely face significant opposition from key interest groups that supported Nidaa Tounes (see “The Economy”). Critics have also questioned Nidaa Tounes’s commitment to security sector reform, transitional justice, and government checks-and-balances, with some portraying it as a “soft restoration” of the Ben Ali era.

Potential Issues for Congress

tunisia flagStated U.S. policy priorities in Tunisia include encouraging democracy, advancing trade and investment ties, and working with the Tunisian government to counter terrorism, CRS analysts Alexis Arieff and Carla E. Humud write in Political Transition in Tunisia:

The Administration has requested $134 million in aid for Tunisia in FY2016, more than double the FY2015 request, of which about 60% would be for security assistance. As Congress examines this request and U.S. engagement with Tunisia, Members may consider questions such as:

  • Is Tunisia likely to experience greater political stability following the 2014 elections, or will the new coalition government fracture? Will the completion of the transition period translate into economic investment and growth? To what extent will the government be able to respond to popular pressures to improve service-delivery, address regional inequality, create jobs, and bolster security?
  • How will the Nidaa Tounes-led government approach sensitive issues such as regulatory reform, transitional justice, and security sector reform? How is Tunisia’s new constitution being interpreted and implemented, including provisions guaranteeing civil liberties and gender equality?
  • To what degree are Tunisia-based Islamist extremist groups a threat to U.S. national security? What factors explain domestic extremism and Tunisian participation in transnational terrorism?
  • To what extent is Tunisia a priority for U.S. foreign policy?
  • What types of U.S. aid and engagement have been most effective at achieving

U.S. and Tunisian policy goals? What has been the impact of U.S. democracy promotion assistance on Tunisia’s transition?

  • To what extent can or should U.S. aid seek to incentivize politically difficult economic reforms? What steps, if any, can or should the United States take to promote bilateral trade and investment?
  • To what extent should the United States seek to pair counterterrorism assistance with support for greater legislative and public oversight of the security sector?

tunisia_ugtt(1)But while the government tries to cut spending, of which wages total about a third, Tunisia’s powerful UGTT labor union demands the government negotiate to increase in 800,000 public sector salaries, Reuters adds:

UGTT has already threatened a general strike. Last year, the government tried to raise the retirement age but this was scuttled by the UGTT. A proposal to review the tax system and increase taxes paid by professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, could also lead to strikes and protests.

“The revolutionary atmosphere makes reforms an impossible dream,” Zied Krichen, a Tunisian journalist wrote in a recent newspaper editorial.

But there are favorable indicators. A drop in global oil prices may make trimming energy subsidies easier. Tunisia also wants to take advantage of its newfound political stability to attract investment and create new businesses and jobs to ease tensions over tougher reforms.

“The reforms are going to be painful, but we don’t have a choice,” said Moe Jodi, an economics professor at Tunis University. “We have to take advantage of the fall in oil prices, the new political stability and also the growth in Europe to push reforms and a clear economic plan right now.”

U.S. policymakers have praised Tunisia’s transition, and President Obama has invited newly elected President Béji Caïd Essebsi to visit Washington. Congress has shaped U.S. transitional support to Tunisia and new defense cooperation, the CRS report adds:

 The Administration, in consultation with Congress, has allocated over $610 million in aid since 2011—much of which was reprogrammed from appropriations made for other intended purposes—and has proposed to double the annual aid appropriation for Tunisia in FY2016. U.S. engagement and aid nonetheless remain modest compared to states such as Egypt and Jordan, which are regarded as more intertwined with U.S. national security interests. The FY2015 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (P.L. 113-235) allows additional funding for loan guarantees and for the Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund, which seeks to strengthen Tunisia’s private sector. The FY2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 113-76) also provided funding for these purposes, but prohibited a planned Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) “threshold” grant because Tunisia’s income level is too high to qualify for a full MCC compact.

Despite a relative lack of conflict, Tunisia remains a potential locus of regional struggles among rival political ideologies, and among violent extremist groups vying for prominence and recruits, the report concludes:

Key questions include whether Tunisia’s new elected government is likely to remain cohesive, and whether it will advance political and economic reforms, foster civil liberties while engaging in counterterrorism, and satisfy popular demands for quality-of-life improvements. Tunisian leaders have welcomed U.S. assistance since 2011, but the local appetite for outside policy influence, now that the transitional period is formally over, remains to be seen.

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Azerbaijani dissident ‘trapped in Baku’

An Azerbaijani dissident married to a U.S. servicewoman has spent the last half-year living in the Swiss embassy in Baku, denied protection by the American embassy there, notes Michael Weiss, the editor in chief of the Interpreter, an online journal that translates and analyzes Russian media.

The 35-year-old human rights defender Emin Huseynov (above) has long been persecuted by the authoritarian government of Ilham Aliyev and since August 2014 has been hosted by the Swiss embassy for humanitarian reasons after he went into hiding last summer, fearing his arrest was imminent, he writes for Foreign Policy:

As chairman of the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), a local NGO, Huseynov is one of many victims of an intense government crackdown on free speech and civil society that has taken place in Azerbaijan over the past year — a crackdown that has surprised even hardened human rights monitors. In May 2014, Anar Mammadli, the chairman of the highly regarded Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (EMDS), was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for spurious charges which included tax evasion and illegal entrepreneurship; his real crime, according to human rights monitors, was reporting on the Aliyev government’s election-rigging.  



Meanwhile, the executive director of EMDS, Bashir Suleymanli, got three-and-a-half years in jail. Then in July, Leyla Yunus (right), a noted democracy and peace activist working on the reconciliation of the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis, was arrested on a suite of similarly concocted charges that include high treason and spying on behalf of Armenia; her husband, Arif Yunis, was also taken into custody on treason and fraud allegations. Finally in August, two Azerbaijani legal activists — Rasul Jafarov and Intigam Aliyev — were rounded up. That same month, fearing for his life, Huseynov went into hiding. 

“Through the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Emin Huseynov has worked tirelessly to defend journalists and promote media freedom in Azerbaijan,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04). “I appeal to President Aliyev to immediately allow Mr. Huseynov to leave the Swiss Embassy and give him safe passage out of Azerbaijan. Sadly, the persecution of Mr. Huseynov is part of a larger crackdown on human rights activists – I have met some of their family members and friends, and join my voice to those calling for their release.”

Emin is the older brother of Mehman Huseynov (right), a photojournalist working with the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety 

Another dissident, Said Nuri, was summoned to the prosecutor’s office and interrogated for six hours, Weiss adds 

They asked me about affiliation with the U.S. government, if I was CIA. They asked about my relationship to NGOs, journalists. How did I get asylum and then citizenship? Why did I travel to Ukraine so often? Why did I have pictures from the Maidan [the central square in Kiev then roiled in revolution]? They were accusing me of espionage and all these questions related to U.S. government and U.S.-funded programs, the National Endowment for Democracy, and so on.” RTWT 

europ nhoodWestern governments are too tolerant of the regime’s rights abuses, according to a new report from the London-based Foreign Policy Center, which notes that the ‘Azerbaijani way of modernization’ merely simulates anti-corruption and political reform. 

“Azerbaijan is a country in a tough part of the world; it is surrounded by several countries that are not friendly to its interests. ….Yet, in the areas of human rights and democracy, progress has not been as steady, and has even backslid,” says Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of a hearing  on Capitol Hill this afternoon. “The recent closure of the Baku bureau of Radio Free Europe Radio/ Radio Liberty is not the way to encourage relations between our two nations.”

Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats | 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Feb 12, 2015 1:00pm to 4:00pm


Audrey Altstadt, Ph.D. Fellow Kennan Institute Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

The Honorable Richard Kauzlarich Adjunct Professor School of Public Policy George Mason University (Former American Ambassador to Azerbaijan)

Svante Cornell, Ph.D. Director Central Asia-Caucasus Institute School of Advanced International Studies Johns Hopkins University.

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