Renewed Calls for International Action on Iran Human Rights

But the statement narrowly focused on the standing ban on women’s attendance at male sporting events, suggesting that this is a problem that can be effectively addressed by the international community in order to take “an important initial step toward ensuring that women – and others – enjoy the freedom they’re entitled to.”

Toward this end, Human Rights Watch announced that it was initiating a new campaign, #Watch4Women, which will begin by urging the International Volleyball Federation to bar Iran from hosting any future tournaments until it ends its ban on women in stadiums.

The activist group’s apparent hope is that this initial step will help to galvanize support for women’s rights and human rights in general, and eventually encourage more comprehensive changes, possibly culminating with the dissolution of the current regime. This hope was expressed somewhat more directly by author Nina Ansary in an interview published on Thursday in IranWire.

Ansary’s book, Jewels of Allah, highlights the accomplishments of Iranian women through history. She find that at the same time that the Islamic Republic has suppressed the rights of women, it has also given rise to a counter-current of grassroots feminist activism, which has actually made some gains in the 36 years since the Revolution. She acknowledges that these gains have been modest, but emphasizes that they are “better than nothing” and demonstrate that the movement has not been cowed by the ongoing repression.

Thus Ansary concludes that the women’s rights movement could be an “instrumental force” in bringing about long-term change up to and including the end of theocratic rule. In addition to women’s rights activists, these observations are sure to be of interest to Iranian dissidents, particularly given that the National Council of Resistance of Iran is run by a woman, Maryam Rajavi.

One might expect that the efforts of dissidents and women’s rights activists will be complemented by similarly “instrumental forces” from other groups, including marginalized ethnic and religious groups and labor activists. These groups also have resisted ongoing pressure and a crackdown that has apparently been worsening over the past several years, and have not given up their efforts.

Over the past several months, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and other Iranian news outlets have repeatedly highlighted protests by Iranian teachers, aimed at improving upon the poverty level wages paid to the profession by the state, as well as securing the release of dozens or possibly hundreds of teacher activists who have been imprisoned for past demonstrations.

But this is not the only labor group that has been paid unlivable wages by the state while also being marginalized by other means. For instance, Al Monitor reported on Wednesday that employees of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization recently staged a protest alleging below-poverty earnings, mismanagement, and general corruption.

The group alleged that higher level employees were hired on the basis of political affiliations and not competence or qualification. And this situation in turn contributes to a peripheral human rights concern that has been highlighted by some organizations: poor environmental policy contributing to ecological disasters like the drying of Lake Urmia.

The human rights platforms of all of the above groups have enjoyed special attention this week in light of the ninth report by Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Iran. His report highlights various human rights issues including attacks on women’s rights and a virtual epidemic of executions. But it also calls attention to the regime’s resistance to engaging with the world community on any of these issues, and this was something that the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Impact Iran highlighted in a video that they released on Thursday.

The video and corresponding statement called upon Iran to allow Shaheed into the country to examine the human rights situation directly. Throughout his roughly four year tenure in the position, he has been barred from communicating openly with Iranian citizens, and the regime has responded to each of his reports by simply denying their accuracy and objectivity, without citing any evidence to the contrary.

Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director for the International Campaign expressed hope that the international community would demand the same transparency on human rights that it recently sought on the nuclear issue through the negotiations that concluded in June. But critics of current Western policy toward the West have questioned how much of that transparency was actually achieved, and thus how much the same policymakers could realistically achieve in other areas.

Highlighting this point, it was reported on Thursday in Al Arabiya that former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani had admitted in an interview that the Islamic Republic considered pursuing nuclear weapons technology during its 1980 to 1988 war with Iraq, that it sought help in this regard from Pakistan, and that it continued to entertain the possibility of a nuclear deterrent thereafter.

While Rafsanjani fell short of gratifying Western and Iranian dissident suspicions of ongoing, active pursuit of nuclear weapons, his statements contradict the official Iranian line that the regime has never sought nuclear weapons capability. This talking point was apparently maintained by all Iranian officials throughout the probe into the past military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program, which was recently completed and is pending a December 15 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The lateness of this admission is certain to raise additional doubts about the regime’s transparency, especially if such information is not contained in the IAEA report. And critics are sure to generalize those doubts to the human rights situation and other matters of Iran policy.