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Iran: Human Rights Abuses & Democratic Aspirations

Iran: Human Rights Abuses & Democratic Aspirations

Iran: Human Rights Abuses & Democratic Aspirations \ Over the course of 30 days starting mid-April 2023, the Iranian regime executed more than 200 prisoners, signaling a message to the restive population who have continued their anti-regime protests and strikes since September 2022. Reports of ongoing human rights abuses, including executions, in Iran represent a clear and disturbing challenge to international norms and the principles of justice, dignity, and respect for human life.

On Friday, May 19, 2023, Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirhashemi, and Saeed Yaghoubi were executed in the central city of Isfahan simply for their participation in the protests. They were found guilty on spurious charges and never faced a fair trial. Their deaths and the ongoing executions in Iran underscore a pressing need for a robust U.S. foreign policy that champions these fundamental human rights. Silence and inaction continue to embolden the regime in Tehran to use torture, violence, and executions against protesters in the streets or in prisons.

Reports from organizations like Amnesty International have repeatedly highlighted troubling instances of human rights abuses and ongoing executions in Iran. These include allegations of unfair trials, restrictions on freedom of speech, and a disturbingly high rate of capital punishment.

The United States Congress has also been very vocal, in a bipartisan way, on the ongoing human rights violations against Iranian people, especially women. On May 18, 2023, two important bi-partisan U.S. House Caucuses, the Iranian Women Congressional Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and Nancy Mace (R-SC), and Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus, co-chaired by Representatives Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) held a hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss the eight-month-long uprising, the regime’s brutal crackdown, the prospects for the future, and the correct U.S. policy. The Caucuses invited Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) for the Transitional Period, to address the hearing online from her headquarters in Paris. Rajavi raised the issue of how the regime is trying to, “maintain its survival” and “relies on brutal suppression of protests, including increased executions and widespread arrests. People are no longer willing to tolerate the current conditions, and the situation will not return to the pre-September period. The Iranian people seek a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear republic.”

Rep. Mace Introduces Maryam Rajavi at the First Assembly of Iranian Women Congressional Caucus

The Democratic chair of Iranian Women Congressional Caucus, Congresswoman Jackson Lee added, “I introduced H.R.S. 310, a bipartisan resolution with 36 co-sponsors. We have all witnessed the courage of women and youth in the 2022 protests in Iran, calling for social freedom and political change.” Congresswoman Mace added, “Mrs. Rajavi, your virtual presence here today serves as a beacon of hope and a beacon of light for those who strive for freedom and equality in Iran.”

Speakers from Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus explained how the Biden Administration has several tools at its disposal to apply additional pressure on the regime in Tehran. Congressman McClintock referred to the recent bipartisan House Resolution 100, which reached the majority within the first 50 days of the new Congress concluding that President Biden already has the bipartisan congressional mandate to take actions.

It is against this backdrop that recent reports of executions, even in the absence of specific details, contribute to the mounting concerns about Iran’s human rights record and the need for clarity in U.S. policy. A U.S. foreign policy that puts human rights at its core can play a crucial role in addressing these issues. By prioritizing respect for human rights, the Administration can exert meaningful pressure on the Iranian regime. There are multiple avenues through which the U.S. can emphasize human rights in its Iran policy. One effective approach is public diplomacy – calling out human rights violations and rallying international condemnation. As of the writing of this piece, the Biden Administration has not taken a position on the recent executions that took place on May 20th and May 21st where eight young men were killed by this regime. As it stands, the Iranian regime has retained its record to execute prisoners every six hours since the beginning of 2023.

Furthermore, the U.S. can use its considerable economic influence to push for the protection of human rights in Iran. The enforcement and expansion of sanctions targeting entities involved in human rights abuses or setting conditions on any engagements that Iran might seek in future negotiations is a good starting point. In addition to its own sanctions, the United States can urge its allies to join in with targeted and enforcement of sanctions against individuals and entities known to be responsible for human rights abuses. These sanctions can include travel bans, asset freezes, and other economic penalties.

Through these pressure tactics, the U.S. should consider engaging constructively with the Iranian people, recognizing their call for change and their sacrifices for freedom and democracy. It is critical that any U.S. policy towards Iran be consistent with its own commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights. This includes treating human rights not as a selectively applied tool of foreign policy but a consistent tool to press for accountability. The recent reports of executions in Iran underscore a grim reality: human rights abuses are continuing unabated. In response, a robust, consistent, and principled U.S. policy is needed – one that elevates human rights to the heart of recognizing the Iranian demand for change of this regime. Only then can the U.S. credibly champion the cause of human rights and justice, encouraging a respect for human dignity that transcends geopolitical interests.

In doing so, the United States can partner with the international community through UN Special Rapporteurs, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, and treaty-monitoring bodies to investigate, report on, and highlight the ongoing human rights abuses in Iran. There are many cases where serious crimes under international law have been committed by the current and former Iranian officials, and legal mechanisms can be used as a pressure point on the regime in Tehran.

Lastly, given the Iranian government’s history of controlling internet access to suppress dissent, the international community has a moral obligation to provide tools and resources to help Iranians bypass censorship and maintain access to reliable information. The enduring protests in Iran, despite the regime’s use of violence and executions, demonstrate that the movement for a free Iran is characterized by a range of strategies and tactics, from peaceful protests and civil disobedience to civil society activism and international networking, reflecting the diversity and determination of the movement and offering hope for a more just and democratic future in Iran. The United States must do its part to support the Iranian people and their call for a secular republic.

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