The author emphasized that the UK government has continued to cooperate with each of these countries in significant areas. In the case of Iran, the UK even reestablished long-absent diplomatic relations between the two countries last year but, according to the editorial, squandered the opportunity to use this in order to put appropriate pressure on the Islamic Republic to change its policy on executions.
Now not only has that policy not changed, but the Iranian rate of executions has skyrocketed to levels not seen in 25 years. The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, reports that Iran put at least 966 people to death in 2015 alone. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, meanwhile, puts the figure at 1,052.
In the midst of this situation, the foreign affairs committee of the UK parliament has reportedly warned that the recent policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office “raises questions about how energetically the government is raising human rights issues.” The Guardian editorial explicitly attributes this apparent neglect to the UK’s effort to put trade issues ahead of virtually all else. And this is a criticism that has been levied against the leadership of other Western governments as well, including the US.
The focus on trade at the expense of human rights has been highlighted by political and human rights activists in the midst of a range of state visits between the Islamic Republic of Iran and various Western democracies. Most recently, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi visited Tehran to conclude an estimated 20 billion dollars’ worth of trade deals; and this is scheduled to be followed up by a visit from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on Monday.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran has pointed out that Iran’s executions did not so much as pause during Renzi’s visit, meaning that unless Mogherini addresses the issue of executions, she will be effectively ignoring at least 14 hangings that took place within about a week of her departure.
Of course, as is indicated by the statement from the UK parliament’s foreign affairs committee, some foreign entities are still trying to keep pressure on the Iranian government over the issues of executions and human rights. For instance, the head of the UN High Commission for Human Rights issued a press statement on Thursday calling for a moratorium on Iranian executions for non-violent drug offenses, according to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.
However, this statement arguably reflects undue optimism about the prospects for a change in the Iranian regime’s own policies. That is, the request is specifically for a moratorium pending the Iranian parliament’s debate of a new law that would eliminate mandatory capital sentences for the given crimes.
With regard to a wide range of criticisms of its human rights record, the Iranian government’s response has overwhelmingly been to simply deny that the relevant problems exist. Such denials make official reforms difficult and unlikely, especially when they come with persons affiliated with the regime’s highest authorities, including the Guardian Council and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who have the power to overturn legislation or unilaterally impose policy if they deem it to be in the interest of the country’s Islamic identity.