Iran a Partner for Peace?!
Kofi Annan, in his role as U.N. special envoy to Syria, recently made the shocking announcement that Iran has offered "encouragement and cooperation" in dealing with Syria and "should be a part of the solution." Annan's statement seems to indicate, without offering any supporting evidence, that Iran has assisted efforts to prevent the Assad government from massacring its own citizens.
The reality is closer to the opposite. Last March, WikiLeaks published e-mails detailing thousands of Iran's state-sponsored Islamic Revolution Guards killing Syrian troops for refusing to fire on innocent protesters. Furthermore, leaked documents from the Syrian president's office show that Iran has given over $1 billion to the Central Bank of Syria, thereby helping Assad to overcome severe sanctions imposed by the U.S., the EU, and the Arab League. Enlisting the help of Iran, a nation that brutally murders and represses its own population while funding global terrorism, to solve a neighbouring humanitarian crisis that the country is guilty of aiding and abetting is an absurdity. Iran is doing as much as it can verbally, financially, and politically to prop up a dictatorship that is now claimed to be responsible for the murder of as many as 12,000 citizens, as reported by Amnesty International. In fact, Iran is amongst the nations with the worst human rights record.
Last October, U.N. Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed reported to the General Assembly that Iran was responsible for "a pattern of systemic violations of ... fundamental human rights." Human rights law is made up of a series of treaties and conventions that afford individuals, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or national origin, certain inalienable civil rights. While Iran has signed and ratified several human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1975 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1994, history has proven the country's outright violation of international law time and time again, continuing unabated with impunity.
Moreover, the institutions tasked with reporting on Iran's violations have been outright silent or have turned a blind eye. In fact, the first time the U.N. special rapporteur published a report since 2002 on "the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran" was in October 2011. The U.N. special rapporteur has since issued only a single report in March 2012, reaffirming the U.N.'s disapproval of the Iranian government's crimes but failing to recommend any concrete remedial actions. Neither the International Criminal Court (ICC) nor the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ever attempted to bring a case against the Iran or its officials for war crimes or incitement to genocide, nor has the special rapporteur made any calls for such proceedings. Such inaction has led to ignorance and delusion. Worse still, as Kofi Annan's comments so aptly demonstrate, it has led to an outright rejection of the truth.
Ruining religious freedom
Iran's widespread persecution of religious minorities is a prime example of its flagrant disregard for human rights. Article 18 of the ICCPR guarantees everyone "the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." While Article 13 of the Iranian constitution labels Judaism and Christianity as "recognized religious minorities," individuals are allowed to practice these religions only "within the limits of the law" -- i.e., sharia (Islamic) law. As a result, rights enumerated in the constitution are, in practice, denied to religious minorities. Between 2008 and 2010, as many as 276 Christians were arrested merely on the basis of their religious status, charged with the crimes of "evangelism" and "activities against Islam." For example, on November 13, 2009, pastor Youcef Nadarkhani received a death sentence for apostasy and evangelism. Nadarkhani has now spent 1,000 days in prison without being given a trial.
The state of affairs is even bleaker for those of the Bahá'í faith, whose religion is not "recognized" by the Iranian constitution. Since 1979, 200 Bahá'ís have been systematically murdered by government order. Since 1980, 640 Bahá'í properties have been seized. In June 2004, government forces destroyed the house of Mirza Abbas Nuri, the father of Baha'u'llah (the founder of the religion), and in 2007, a government letter restricted Bahá'ís from participating in high-earning businesses and sensitive business categories including tourism, film, and computers.
A woman's dystopia
The ICCPR also guarantees certain protections for women, such that no marriage shall be entered into without the "free and full consent" of both partners, and that all persons regardless of gender are "equal before the law" and are entitled to the "equal protection of the law."
Before the Iranian revolution, women's rights were enumerated in a statute called the Family Protection Law. The law was eliminated in 1979 post-revolution, and a woman's equal rights in marriage, divorce, and child custody were abolished. Currently in Iran, girls are forced to marry as young as nine years old and are banned from obtaining a divorce unilaterally, except under the most extreme conditions, such as where the husband is suffering from insanity or has disappeared for more than five years. Women are also banned from marrying non-Muslim men and are routinely beaten by the police in public if they fail to wear the traditional garb (a veil). In court proceedings, women are deemed to be worth half of a man so that, for example, in a will, a daughter can inherit, at most, half the amount that a male sibling receives.
Attempts to change this statutory misogyny have proven to be in vain. An innovative movement called the "Campaign for One Million Signatures" calls on the Iranian authorities to provide greater equality in the areas of marriage, divorce, adultery, and polygamy. It has been stifled by the government, with a reported 47 arrests of the movement's founders and 18 attempts to block the campaign's website.
Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires governments to refrain from subjecting children "to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," including capital punishment. Unlike the ICCPR, Iran ratified the CRC with the following reservation: "If ... the convention is or becomes incompatible with the domestic laws and Islamic standards at any time ... the government of the Islamic Republic shall not abide by it." Reservations like these are often made by signatory nations to a treaty in order to guarantee that the provisions do not violate local law.
However, though the practice is common, the particular motivations and concerns that underlie Iran's reservation are problematic. Iranian law falls so far short of the level of protection that the CRC provides that it renders the CRC's ratification completely ineffective. For example, the CRC defines adulthood as reaching the age of 18, but the Islamic Penal Code, ratified in 1991, determines the age of adulthood at the point of maturity, ordinarily at the age of 15 (though it can be younger). Iran continues to be the sole country in the world to execute children since 2009. In 2011 alone, five children aged between 16 and 17 were executed by the Iranian government for alleged offences ranging from murder to mere protest. In 2005, the world was horrified as Iran publicly hanged two teenagers for the crime of homosexuality.
Article 3 of the CRC sets out that no action must be taken contrary to the "best interests of the child." The Centre for Monitoring the Impact of Peace (CMIP) compiled a report in October 2006 concluding from a collection of 115 Iranian textbooks that children were being taught "a hate curriculum" consisting of preparation "for war and martyrdom" against the West, and particularly against the United States and Israel. For example, a picture book aimed at children aged 10 showed veiled girls carrying rifles and provided material for 13-year-olds to familiarize themselves with weaponry, explosives, and military tactics. Amongst other things, this undoubtedly violates Article 3.
While many are aware of the practical existence of "positive" lawfare -- the abuse of Western laws to achieve strategic gains or political ends -- fewer people are familiar with its underlying goals. One of these is the prevention of application of human rights law in situations where it is needed the most.
The international community has outright failed in its application of human rights law to Iran. Equally, they have failed to hold the Iranian state accountable for its gross violations of the law. This form of "negative" lawfare, turning a blind eye to the law's violations, has created an environment that legitimises a statement such as Kofi Annan's.
Kofi Annan's congratulations to the Iranian government for its assistance in the Syrian crisis could be described as a byproduct of such "negative" lawfare and remain absurd. Moreover, it suggests that the Iranian government is in a position to respect individuals' human rights. The international community must not propagate this myth any longer.
The role of international law in preventing such abuses does not appear to be of sufficient weight. As Iran continues to so brazenly violate the law without punishment and even amidst congratulations, it becomes an example for other nations to follow.
Sam Cramer received a law degree from the University of Manchester and is a student fellow at The Lawfare Project. Sam Kahan is a law student at the University of Cambridge and a student fellow at The Lawfare Project.