Based on the latest statements from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zaid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, Iran’s human rights situation is, in fact, alarming.
Human rights violations in Iran normally take the form of suppressions of ethnic and religious minorities including ethnic Arabs and Sunnis, restrictions on freedom of the press, expression and assembly, and a crackdown on journalists, human rights defenders and political activists.
In addition, the Islamic Republic continues to rank top in the world when it comes to the execution of people. The second country is China. Tehran is also the leading state when it comes to the execution of children.
There are four major institutions in Iran that are engaged in human rights abuses; the judiciary system, the ministry of intelligence, the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its paramilitary group, the Basij.
The level of human rights abuses increases under the rule of a “moderate” president because the hard-liners, who enjoy the final say in Iran’s domestic and foreign policy, are sending a message to young people that they should not raise their expectations of any fundamental changes in their government’s policies.
Hussein, who is in his last year in office, spoke last week at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. He pointed out: “Iran continues to severely restrict freedom of opinion and expression. My office has received numerous reports of human rights defenders, journalists and social media activists being arrested and detained. Ill-treatment of prisoners is widespread, and in addition, the judiciary continues to sentence people to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including amputation of limbs and blinding.
“Iran also remains the country with the highest reported rate of executions per capita. Many of those executed are drug offenders not guilty of ‘most serious crimes’ under the terms of international law. Since the beginning of the year, at least four children have been put to death, and at least 89 other children remain on death row.
“Last month, the Iranian Parliament passed a long-awaited amendment, which raises the threshold for capital punishment in drug trafficking cases, although some narcotics offenders will still face the possibility of capital punishment. The amendment now awaits approval from the Guardian Council.”
In addition, Amnesty International and the Press Freedom Organization condemned Iran’s inhumane treatment of journalists and human rights activists. They asked for the release of several detainees including Alireza Rajaee, a board member of the Association of Iranian Journalists, and Raheleh Rahemipour, a human rights activist whose brother and baby niece “disappeared” in Iran’s notorious prison, Evin.
While the international community, particularly the Western powers, are viewing Iran through the prism of the nuclear deal, human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities, human rights defenders and political activists have been largely neglected.
While the eyes of the world are distracted by the nuclear deal, Tehran systematically persecutes ethnic and religious minorities and political activists.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
In addition, the international community has paid little attention to Iran’s direct and indirect human rights violations abroad, for example in Syria and Iraq, through the engagements of the IRGC and its elite branch the Quds Force, whose mission is to operate in foreign nations in order to export Iran’s revolutionary principles. With military, financial, advisory or intelligence assistance, Iran is contributing to the atrocities committed by the forces of Bashar Assad and Shiite militias across the region.
Western governments’ Iran policy ought to be multi-dimensional, giving equal weight to several elements — including Iran’s commitment to the protection of human rights. Human rights should not be treated as an inferior issue in comparison to the nuclear deal.
One of the effective strategies to counter Iran’s regional ambitions and interventionist policies is by putting pressure on Tehran over its poor human rights record. This can be done by individual states, coalitions and through the UN.
Those Iranian institutions that violate human rights in Iran and abroad, including the IRGC, are the same organizations that pursue nuclear ambitions and violate UN resolution 2231 regarding ballistic missile activities. If some governments are not prepared to impose sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile activities because they argue that the rules and records are blurry in this area, they can put pressure on Tehran for its human rights violations. When it comes to Iran’s appalling humans rights records at home and abroad, there is no blurriness or ambiguity; the records and rules are very much crystal clear.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh