Iran: The West plays hard over nukes but is less vocal on human rights abuses

Dealing with Iran is becoming an increasingly difficult task for the international community. The Persian state poses two problems in particular: its contravention of human rights, and its nuclear aspirations.

Dealing with Iran is becoming an increasingly difficult task for the international community. The Persian state poses two problems in particular: its contravention of human rights, and its nuclear aspirations.

Last week, Dokhi Fassihian, director of the Democracy Coalition Project, bemoaned the tendency of the Obama administration to reserve the use of political muscle over Iran for the discouragement of nuclear development. This neglected, she argued, the pressing need for action against Iran’s woeful human rights record.

She pointed out that:

“From 1984 to 2002, the UN Commission on Human Rights mandated a special representative on human rights for Iran. Toward the end of that period, the country saw modest and gradual improvement, particularly under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami [(1997-2005)].

“Ever since that mandate was discontinued by a slim margin in 2002, conditions have dramatically deteriorated.”

She now calls for the United Nations, whose General Assembly meets on the 14th September, to reissue the mandate.

Her case is backed up by persuasive evidence:

• “Iran executes more people per capita than any country in the world – a number which has increased four-fold under Ahmadinejad.”

• “By November 2009, five thousand Iranians were in prison, hundreds tortured and raped, and dozens put on show trials and sentenced to death or long prison terms solely for their peaceful demands for free and fair elections.”

• “Iran leads the world in jailing journalists, and leads Saudi Arabia by a wide margin as one of two countries left in the world that still executes juvenile offenders.”

This draws attention to a key conflict of interests in United States, United Nations and European Union foreign policy towards Iran. The country already possesses an acute sense of victimisation with regard to its treatment by the West. Mixing defence with humanitarian demands in the conditions of the sanctions may increase the chances of Western demands being ignored.

The UN imposed a new round of sanctions in June, as punishment for Iran’s continuation of their uranium enrichment programme. They were, however, seen to be fairly weak, largely due to the lack of full co-operation from Russian and China. Yesterday’s news that UN inspectors recorded a 15 per cent increase in the country’s low-enriched uranium supplies over the past three months shows that Iran is refusing to be deterred.

According to the New York Times:

“With further conversion, that is enough to produce roughly two weapons.”

Add to this the news that the UN investigation was hampered and this is particularly worrying. Defence is seen by many as the primary issue. Tony Blair’s insistence in his memoirs that he “would not take a risk of [Iran] getting nuclear weapons capability” is not an unusual sentiment in America and Israel.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s highly influential essay in the Atlantic last month exposed how seriously Israel are taking the Iranian threat, and thus put pressure on America’s leaders to act first. He interviewed several leading Israeli political figures, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and found “a consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July.”

He also quoted Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, denying the holocaust as fiction, made up in order to enable “the filthiest, most criminal people, who only appear to be human, from all corners of the world.” The news yesterday that Iran almost certainly backed an attempted coup in Bahrain, is seen as further evidence of their threat to Israel, as it represented an attempt to extend territorial control into the Arab Peninsula.

But the focus on the nuclear program means that while the West may speak out against human rights abuses, this is rarely backed up by coercive force. The EU today slammed the setencing to death by stoning of Sakineh Astiani as ‘barbaric‘. But public censure does not seem have been particularly effective. The Iranian Foreign Minister Ramin Mehmanparast was unmoved in his defence today of Iran’s right to apply its own legal measures:

“Unfortunately, [they are] defending a person who is being tried for murder and adultery, which are two major crimes of this lady and should not become a human rights issue…

“If releasing all those who have committed murder is to be perceived as a human rights issue, then all European countries should release all the murderers in their countries.”

The 65th session of the UN General Assembly starts a week today. There remains hope that, particularly given the extensive press coverage of Astiani’s fate, action can be taken over human rights abuses.

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