The delegates of all 192 member states of the United Nations should shun the speech of Iran's president this week in the General Assembly, preferably by leaving the hall when he begins speaking. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad occupies the second highest position in one of the most most brutal governments on earth. The oppression has only intensified since the clearly rigged Iranian election in June.
Despite dire warnings, tens of thousands of regime opponents protested in the streets of Tehran last week. One of its more recent victims, Amir Javadifar, a 24-year-old student, was arrested in Tehran for protesting against Ahmadinejadís re-election in July. The security forces clubbed him so badly that he was treated in hospital before being taken to the notorious Evin prison. When called to collect his sonís body, Javadifarís father was told to say that his son had died of a pre-existing condition. The medical reports indicate that he had been beaten, sustaining several broken bones, and that his toenails had been pulled out. "My son was not involved in politics. He loved his motherland--that's all," said his father.
Last Friday, Ahmadinejad made an especially venomous speech denying the Holocaust. Last April, he staged a similar performance at a UN conference intended to deal with racism. The UN Secretary General said afterwards, "I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian president to accuse, divide and even incite." There will no doubt be more of the same this week at the General Assembly--another good reason for delegates to boycott him.
Iran is a country with immense human, cultural and hydrocarbon resources, which is vitally important to regional peace and world stability. Its people continue to be repressed by a Supreme Leader and president, who practise state terrorism, flaunt genocidal rhetoric, and are plainly seeking to build nuclear weapons.
Those who judge that there are only two policy options available--continued appeasement of the regime in Tehran or bombing strikes against presumed nuclear weapon development sites--are gravely mistaken. A much better choice would be for all responsible governments to begin working with all democratic opposition groups in Iran.
Among them is the PMOI/MEK, which, because of politics and commercial interests trumping fundamental legal principles and human rights, is still listed as a terrorist organization in the US and Canada. The 27 European Union countries early this year de-listed it, following decisions by seven European courts unanimously holding that it could not be considered a terrorist group.
Until recently, governments throughout the West sought to weaken and demonize the PMOI/MEK. In fact, it today seeks for Iranians the rule of law, separation of religion and government, a nuclear-free Iran, equal rights for women and all religious and ethnocultural minorities, normalized relations with all governments and representative democracy for Iranians. In June 2001, it renounced violence against the regime in Tehran.
The government in Tehran through its Revolutionary Guards has long sought to destabilize the entire Middle East and beyond. The world's best hope in Iran is probably Maryam Rajavi and her National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) in which the PMOI/MEK is the largest component.
About 3400 PMOI/MEK supporters live in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Some of them fled from Tehran in 1981, and others have lived in Iraq since the mid-1980s as refugees when I understand no other country would accept them. Among them are former political prisoners as well as leaders of student movements in Iran. There appears to be considerable support for the PMOI and Ashraf refugees among those many Iraqis who want their country to be independent from Tehran.
The Maliki coalition government in Iraq officially indicated last September that the Ashraf refugees would be allowed to stay in Iraq, but its former National Security Adviser (Mowaffaq al-Rubaie) has been quoted as stating otherwise: "Iraq will hand over members of the Iranian opposition to Iran." The ongoing designation of the PMOI/MEK as a terrorist group in the US and Canada is still being used as a pretext to maintain pressure on Ashraf residents and justify their expulsion to Iran, where it is a capital offence to support the PMOI/MEK.
In Canada, the Liberal government of Paul Martin added the PMOI to its list of proscribed entities in mid-2005. The only explanation by government officials at the time was that it "met the threshold of being a listed entity." The timing was bizarre given that only two years earlier the regime had brutally murdered Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi in Evin prison after she attempted to photograph a student protest in Tehran.
Only last fall, a Canada-led campaign won a major victory at the United Nations. A General Assembly committee defeated Iran's call not to consider a long list of human rights indignities alleged against it. The vote on censure, which highlighted regime abuses, including flogging and amputations, then passed. Despite this, the Harper government decided late last year to continue listing the PMOI as a terrorist organization in Canada.
Ten Iranian Canadians have been on a hunger strike in front of the American Embassy in Ottawa since July 29th. On July 28th, Iraqi security forces attacked unarmed Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf, using guns, axes and clubs. They left eleven people dead and many injured; 36, who also continue a hunger strike, were taken into custody and remain so without being charged with any offense and despite an Iraqi court order releasing them. Unchallenged, the Iraqi military are still in Ashraf and can commit further criminal acts.
The PMOI/MEK and its supporters in Ashraf have worked for peace and reconciliation between the Shiite and Sunni communities in Iraq. They represent the aspirations of the Iranian people for a democratic society of peace and the rule of law. It is time that all 192 member states of the UN to follow the EU lead and seek long overdue democratic and other governance reforms in Iran.
The residents of Ashraf continue to be protected persons under under international law, pursuant to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The United States retains its Convention obligations despite having transferred responsibility for their protection to the government of Iraq. If the government of Iraq is unwilling to abide by the convention, the United States under the established principles of international law is obliged to resume primary responsibility for their security.
President Obama, who has called for a "constructive dialogue" with Tehran, knows that this cannot be productive with continuous concessions by one side only.
Human dignity is ultimately indivisible in the world today. The Archbishop of Canterbury in the UK yesterday spoke out in Asia for the residents of Ashraf, in particular the 36 who remain in custody in Iraq. If other political and religious leaders do likewise soon, their release can probably be obtained and the hunger strikes in various capitals can finally be ended without loss of life.