Children’s Military Indoctrination Highlights Iran’s Rejection of Human Rights Standards

The Newsy report cites this park as having attracted the ire of international human rights groups, in part because it recalls attention to Iran’s use of child soldiers during the 1980 to 1988 Iran-Iraq War. Furthermore, although not mentioned in the report, the video’s release closely coincides with IRGC statements objecting to Iran’s status as a signatory of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. The hardline paramilitary’s statement specifically focused on the issue of the militarization of youth populations, noting that if Iran elected to abide by the convention it would likely have to stop recruiting children into the IRGC’s civilian militia, the Basij. 

As Al Arabiya reported on Monday, spokespersons for the IRGC believe that Islamic law imposes a “duty to fight” upon all people over the age of puberty. This age is codified in the Iranian legal system as 15 years old for boys and only nine for girls. Those ages are also considered the benchmarks for legal responsibility, meaning that Iranian citizens can be sentenced to death for crimes committed at these ages. 

In addition to rejected international principles prohibiting the use or training of child soldiers, various Iranian officials have also dismissed international condemnation of the ongoing execution of juvenile offenders. In these cases also, Tehran is openly defying international law codified in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as other documents. At least one juvenile offender was hanged in September as part of a series of mass executions mostly targeting nonviolent drug offenders. 

Legislative initiatives are reportedly underway to make it more difficult to sentence drug offenders to death, according to human rights activists. But similar initiatives have failed in the past and the latest initiatives are unlikely to gain much more traction, especially given the clear opposition to any sorts of reforms from powerful hardline factions including the IRGC. Meanwhile, the reform efforts make no mention of juvenile executions, despite the frequent international condemnation of such cases. 

These were of course highlighted in the UN human rights report that was released this week. That report also called attention to a wide range of ongoing human rights abuses, which seem to reflect the absence of expected moderation under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani. The 19-page document authored by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also made mention of the arbitrary detention of political prisoners, the use of violent punishments like flogging, and the specific persecution of religious minorities. 

This latter problem was underscored by a recent report from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which was picked up by the Christian news source the Christian Times on Wednesday. It points out that at least 25 Christians were arrested in a single series of raids on private residences. It was only one in a series of such actions, as the Iranian authorities apparently step up punishment of such minorities as part of an effort to reaffirm the Islamic Republic’s fundamentalist Shiite identity. 

But the Christian Times goes on to argue that this effort has actually backfired on those authorities, as conversion to Christianity is increasing in spite of the persecution and the fact that such conversion is illegal in the Islamic Republic and potentially punishable by death. The article asserts that the overlap among Iran’s government authorities and religious authorities has led some Iranians to regard the government’s failures as failures of Islam. Similarly, the government’s repressive activities and its religious justifications for such things as juvenile executions and child soldiers may contribute to negative perceptions of Islam, even within the overwhelmingly Muslim population of Iran. 

If this is true, it arguably reflects a stronger reaction from the Iranian population than from much of the international community, which has been subject to various criticisms regarding alleged willingness to look the other way on some of Iran’s human rights violations. Although these things have been brought to attention by the UN and by various independent human rights organizations, they have seemingly been absent from actual foreign policy discussions in the West. 

Human rights organizations have accused Western nations including the United States of being excessively preoccupied with the Iran nuclear deal and the prospect for increased trade deals with the Islamic Republic, to the extent that they are effectively overlooking human rights issues even when the IRGC publicly defends the training of child soldiers. 

An editorial appeared in Ground Report on Wednesday which added to these criticisms. It pointed out that Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf had both been addressed in the first presidential debate, but human rights and Iranian internal policies had not. That commentary can also be extended to the vice presidential debate, which took place on Tuesday evening and similarly skirted human rights issues while addressing Iran’s impact on national security. 

The ground report argues that Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and its contributions to international instability cannot be effectively halted until the international community addresses Iran’s internal human rights abuses and its promotion of a radical extremist interpretation of Islam. Toward this end, the article recommends that the United Nations begin by initiating a formal inquiry into the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, which killed upwards of 30,000 people, mostly members of the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.  

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is also the PMOI’s parent organization, has recently uncovered new information regarding that massacre, and has demonstrated that many of the government figures who played leading roles in it are still highly placed within the Iranian regime or government-linked institutions to this day. Some of these, such as Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi, have openly and proudly acknowledged their role in the massacre. Such casual rejections of criticism are noticeably similar to the IRGC’s reactions to outcry against child soldiers and related human rights issues.