This is the third in the series of interviews conducted by Iran Press Service with prominent Iranian scholars, experts, intellectuals, political activists and economists about different aspect of the situation in Iran today.
In this interview, Dr Karim Lahiji, the veteran and undefatigable human rights activist details the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In more than 200 nations that are members of the Council of Human Rights, the situation of human rights in the majority of them is worth than bad.
Iran Press Service – The last session of the United Nations Human rights Commission seems to have badly deceived most human rights organizations, defenders and campaigners like yourself. Does, in your view, the outcome of such meetings, harms the situation of human rights in regimes like that of the Islamic Republic of Iran?
Dr Karim Lahiji – Unfortunately, this Commission had become a place for political bargaining. Just think that the representative of Libya had become the Chairman of the Commission. What that means, if not that the Commission has lost the philosophy of its being.
Thought it was necessary to reform the Human Rights Commission as it was, yet, considering the structure of this body of the United Nations, one was not expecting miracle, taking into account that out of the more than 200 nations that are members of the world body, the situation of human rights in the majority of them is worth than bad.
The United States wanted the new Commission be filled by only democratic nations. This is an ideal, but not compatible with UN charter, where all nations can become member of all its Commissions except the Security Council, and are considered as equal, regardless of their regimes and sizes.
That’s why that immediately after the creation of the Council of Human Rights in place of the Commission, some members with quite bad human rights records applied for membership, like the Islamic Republic of Iran or others which their human rights records are not better than that of Iran, like Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, some African countries etc..
Nevertheless, our hope was placed in some Latin American countries like Argentina or Brazil, some African nations like South Africa and of course European countries…. But that also was a fiasco, unfortunately. After Sudan refused accept a delegation from the Council concerning the Darfour tragedy, we realized that one can not expect anything concrete and serious from this new body, which, under maneuvering from Algeria, decided to bypass the case of Iran.
What surprised us was that even countries like South Africa and Brazil, despite being new democracies, voted alongside Iran, Algeria or Sudan and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the atmosphere at the UN and the Human Rights Council is a reminder of the cold war period of seventies and eighties, only replaced by the war of North against South, which claims that the bloc of the North, with records of Abou Ghraieb and Guantanamo, can not give lessons to others.
I made this lengthy observation of the situation to explain the difficulties we as human rights organizations and defenders face and why there is little hope that such institutions could help improving the situation of human rights in countries like Iran and others.
IPS – Why a regime like the IRI that its constitution is against basic human rights would become member of the Council of Human Rights and why such a regime should be allowed to a member?
K L – In international relations, nations also look at their honour and prestige, rank and dignity. International courtesy is a fundamental principle of international relations. This is not a written law, but accepted throughout centuries. Take the case of the 15 British sailors. That principle of courtesy dictates that when such an incident happens in one nation’s waters, the one which is on the wrong side make an informal apology and the incident is closed, those detained are set free the morning after, without transforming the issue into an international crisis, with the results we saw from the interviews the sailors gave to the press concerning their ordeal.
Even if these people were in Iranian territorial waters, which apparently they were not, even if they were war prisoners, which they were not, this is not the way they should have been treated. A regime that reserves such a treatment to non convicted prisoners is not an honorable, dignified government. Maybe the leaders of this regime think membership of a body like the Council of Human Rights will bring them that honnour and dignity which they have not in their essence.
IPS – Can you please tell us how the situation of human rights in Iran today is?
K L – Simple: Probably one of the darkest in its long history. Islamic Republic of Iran is the regime with the highest number of hanging and executions after China. But comparing the 65 millions inhabitants of Iran with China’s 1.4 billion; Iran sits high above any other nations in the world. The only Convention this regime has signed is that of the children. But we know that in IRI, not only children under 18 get capital punishment sentences, but also the verdict is carried out, in total disregard for the only Convention they have signed. Prisoners are tortured as widely and as systematically as ever; corporal punishments like cutting of hands and fingers, extracting eyes, whipping etc are current, plus psychological tortures. Appalling situation of minorities, ethnics and religious, as seen by the widespread executions in Kurdistan, Khouzistan, Azarbaijan and Sistan and Balouchistan, under the pretext of anti-State activities, while in fact we know fully well that most of the people executed in these regions are demanding and fighting for their natural cultural rights to mother language, to schools, to writing and reading etc…
The way the IRI handled the case of the British sailors is countrary to the international code of courtesey.
The situation of women, already considered as second class citizen under Islamic laws, is getting worse. Only last week they arrested several women campaigners while they were collecting petitions calling for improvement of women’s situation. Remember the brutality of the security and police forces last year against a peaceful meeting by women demanding basic rights and the arrest of more than 40 participants, among them a lawyer. As you see, even collecting signatories for basic rights is a crime in IRI.
How the shameful discriminations against Iranian women can be accepted in this 22 century? Is it acceptable that these women be placed in the same cell as common law prisoners just to humiliate them and force them to confessions and repentance? How can such a regime be allowed to be member of the Council of Human Rights that can not even get its representatives permission to visit Iran?
IPS – Supposing that the Council of Human Rights gets serious, but the question is that how would you cope with a regime that its Constitution is based on a religion that determine people’s social behviour, dressing, eating, culture and insist that those are the rules that every citizen must abide, a Constitution based on discrimination and segregation?
K L – As you know, in every resolution concerning the IRI, it is stated that the regime must abide by international laws and make sure that its constitution is compatible with the universal declaration of human rights. Of course, the problem with most UN’s resolutions is that they are not mandatory. This is a problem for the United Nations and its Security Council to look at, to determine what it can do to bring its members to obey by its Charter, to respect human rights.
But the situation is not that hopeless. A country under sanctions is also isolated. Remember South Africa’s international isolation under apartheid? IRI is not in a much better situation. It is isolated politically, economically, scientifically, and this isolation can go further. As far as I remember, the Security Council condemned Iran three times in less than a year with unanimity, that includes Muslim nations like Indonesia and Qatar, or South Africa, despite all the efforts Tehran deployed to drag this nation at its side. Considering the scope of the isolation and the effects of the resolutions, there is no doubt that the situation of human rights would be affected. The outcome is clear, either the IRI comes to understanding and reconciliation with the international community or it continue the present path and its fate would n ot be different than those reserved to the regimes of the Saddam Husseins, the Milosevics, and others.
IPS – Don’t you think that, in order to make a short cut, it is better that the Iranian people take the issue in their own hands, to awake them to the situation, to the dangers of this regime for them and their future?
K L – I’ve always said and wrote that the history of the world tells us that right is to be taken, not to be given. If Iranians wants to wait that the West, the United States, Europe would bring them democracy and human rights on a golden plate, this will never happen, for the good reason that it has never happened. If they want to get rid of these appalling, humiliating, insulting and disastrous political, social, cultural, economic situations, they have but to fight, the path taken by the Iranian women. Unless they do so, unfortunately, they should not expect to see the end of the dark tunnel they are in. ENDS LAHIJI
Editor's not: A lawyer for many Iranian political dissidents, Dr. Karim Lahiji is the president of the Iranian League of Human Rights in exile, the vice-president of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues.