Canadian MPs Decry Iran Human Rights Violations


House of Commons hosts Iran Accountability Week, with MP Cotler calling rights violations “crimes against humanity.”

By Michael Wilner, Benjamin Weinthal

Bob Rae, David Sweet, Wayne Marston, and Paul Dewar, Irwin Cotler kick off Iran Accountability Week and to launch the Iranian Political Prisoner Global Advocacy Project - May 27th, 2013

Bob Rae, David Sweet, Wayne Marston, and Paul Dewar, Irwin Cotler kick off Iran Accountability Week and to launch the Iranian Political Prisoner Global Advocacy Project – May 27th, 2013

Canada’s Parliament hosted Iran Accountability Week last week, documenting the  Islamic Republic’s human rights violations, particularly its clerical  leadership’s use of domestic and international terrorism to stymie  dissent.

Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister and current  Liberal MP, spearheaded the week of events in Ottawa. He and his fellow  parliamentarians from a broad range of parties in the House of Commons condemned  the assault on the human rights of the Iranian people.

“We are witness to  state-sanctioned assaults that are tantamount to crimes against humanity,  including the highest per capita rate of executions in the world; the  imprisonment and silencing of more journalists and bloggers than any other  country; the persistent and pervasive assault on women’s rights; the targeting  of religious and ethnic minorities, particularly the Baha’i and the Kurds; the  criminalization of fundamental freedoms of speech, association and assembly; and  the imprisonment of opposition leaders, human rights defenders, and the lawyers  who would defend them,” Cotler said.

Iran Accountability Week in Canada  coincided with increased US congressional focus on Iranian government human  rights violations and new US Treasury sanctions targeting Iranian officials for  stamping out personal freedoms.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) told The  Jerusalem Post, “I applaud my friend, Irwin Cotler, for his leadership on the  Iran Accountability Week in Canada, and for his efforts to mobilize other  parliamentarians to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran.”

Kirk,  who works with Cotler on an intra-parliamentary committee addressing the Iranian  issue, added, “It is my hope that the US Congress and governments throughout the  world will join Canada in the campaign to speak out against the atrocious human  rights abuses of the Iranian regime. I look forward to working with Mr. Cotler  to increase awareness of this issue through our Iranian Political Prisoner  Global Advocacy Project.”

A series of remembrance dates fell last week,  including the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Baha’i leadership in  Iran, the 25th anniversary of the 1988 massacre of thousands of Iranian  political dissidents and a report showing 2,600 political prisoners in  Iran.

The Canadian parliamentarians jump-started a campaign to “adopt” Iranian prisoners of conscience to draw attention to individuals who are  imprisoned because of their religious and political views.

Cotler wrote  in a Huffington Post Canada column last week, “I will be advocating on behalf of  Nasrin Sotoudeh, as well the seven imprisoned leaders of the Iranian Baha’i  community. As a lawyer, Ms. Sotoudeh represented political prisoners – including women, lawyers, journalists and children sentenced to death – until,  while visiting one of her clients in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2010, she  was arrested and became one of Evin’s inmates herself.”

Iran arrested the  Baha’i leaders – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid  Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm – in 2008, accused  them of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda  against the Islamic Republic” and sentenced them to 20 years in  prison.

Cotler said it was a sham judicial process that failed to meet  all established international legal norms.

The Canadian House of Commons  invited leading US experts on the Iranian nuclear weapons effort and human  rights violations to deliver testimony.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director  of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said before the  legislature’s International Human Rights Subcommittee, “There is little  indication that the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Basij  [militia] are playing a less sinister role in this year’s [Iranian presidential]  election. Indeed, there is every reason to expect that the 2013 presidential  election is likely to prove even more fraudulent than the 2009 election, which  unfortunately means the regime is therefore more likely to give more freedom to  the IRGC and the Basij to prevent public protests.”

He added, “In the  days and weeks prior to the coming June [14] election, Revolutionary Guards  officers have openly declared they intend to manipulate the course of the  election: Hojjat al-Eslam Ali Saidi, representative of the supreme leader to the  IRGC, infamously declared that ‘engineering elections is the natural duty of the  Guards.’” Dubowitz, a leading international expert on Iran sanctions, made a  series of policy recommendations, including designating the entire IRGC as both  a terrorist entity and a human rights abuser.

Dr. Matthew Levitt,  director of the Stein Program on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence at the  Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also testified at the Ottawa  hearings. He told The Jerusalem Post: “Today’s focus is going to be not on the  traditional issues: The human rights abuses, which the Canadians are quite  familiar with as a lot of their citizens or dual citizens have been at the hard  end of those abuses.”

He said his testimony covered Syria and  international terrorism.

“The UN Charter talks about human rights, and as  a basic human right, when Iran or Hezbollah target civilians – whether it’s  terrorism abroad or what they’re doing in Syria – those are not just terrorist  activities, but human rights abuses. Life, liberty and security of the person:  That last one is often overlooked as a human rights issue. Canada has been at  the forefront on this,” Levitt said.

The Subcommittee on International  Human Rights and the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee  unanimously adopted motions calling on Iran to stop “state-orchestrated policy  of wanton executions” and “release its political prisoners, particularly the  seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders, whose 20-year sentence at their advanced age is  a virtual death sentence.”

The motions asked that Iran cease using  stoning and flogging as punishment and “desist from its persistent and pervasive  assaults on the rights of women.”

Benjamin Weinthal is a European affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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