A Move That Makes a Mockery of Human Rights
By Akbar Ganji
The past year has been a horrifying one for the Iranian people. Following the presidential election in June, people poured into the streets for a peaceful protest against widespread election fraud. Government forces and militia opened fire on orders from the Supreme Leader. Some 70 protesters died, including some under torture, thousands were detained, and dozens of political activists and human rights defenders were prosecuted in closed trials and sentenced to long prison terms. The Iranian people’s protests gave birth to the Green Movement.
The United Nations and its Human Rights Council did not do much to defend Iranian human rights defenders and those struggling for freedom. Now, the Iranian government has announced its candidacy for membership in the UN Human Rights Council, and human rights defenders worldwide are in shock.
We are not naïve. We understand that the United Nations is controlled by governments. A majority of its members are authoritarian governments, who stand in opposition to their own people. We are not naïve. We know that many governments around the world violate human rights standards.
We are not naïve. We know that the Iranian government barters some votes with economic incentives. We understand that governments act based on what they consider to be their own national interests.
We are not naïve. We understand that human rights do not enjoy much priority in international affairs. We are not naïve. We know that the authoritarian Chinese and Russian governments have no qualms about economic exploitation of the Iranian people. We are not naïve. We know that the European government’s number one priority with respect to Iran is protecting its trade and economic relations, not doing anything about the widespread violations of the Iranian people’s basic rights.
We are not naïve. We have witnessed how, following the United States’ agreement on the nuclear issue with the Libyan Government, neither the American media nor government pay much attention to the systematic human rights violations by Moamar Qaddafi’s tyrannical government. Accordingly, if the Iranian government reaches an agreement with the US over the nuclear crisis, the American government will forget about Iranians’ human rights.
Nonetheless, accepting Iran for membership in the Human Rights Council would be an explicit endorsement by other member states of the Iranian government’s atrocities. Voting for Iran’s induction into the Council would be tantamount to putting a seal of approval on the widespread and systematic violations of the Iranian people’s basic rights.
The international community and its civil society actors should rush to support the Iranian people. This is the least the victims, prisoners of conscience and the families of the murdered protesters should be able to expect. Iranian people expected support from the UN, and they are still hoping. So far, though, not only has no action been taken, but now we face of the danger of having a regime that has shed the blood of its citizens become a member of the Human Rights Council.
The Iranian leaders should be put on trial in international tribunals on charges of crimes against humanity. Instead, we face the prospect that they could become judges of adherence to human rights standards on the international level. UN standards clearly require Human Rights Council membership to be based on the state’s highest regard for and protection of human rights.
Freedom and independence were two of the main aims of the Iranian people during the 1979 Revolution. Today, my people are neither free, nor independent. As long as a government is not a true representative of its people and the people have no role in determining their destiny there is no independence.
Article 55 of the Iranian Constitution gives the people the right to determine their destiny and emphasizes that “no authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country.” Respecting human rights is the most important yardstick of a government’s legitimacy. The Iranian regime is an illegitimate regime because of its human rights violations and disrespect for the vote of its people. Countries that respect rights and freedoms should say no to Iran’s membership on the Human Rights Council.
Akbar Ganji is a distinguished Iranian political writer and human rights defender. He is recipient of several international honors, including the Martin Ennels Award for human rights defenders.