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What Should Obama (and the rest of the world) do about the Islamic Regime in Iran?

By Reza Ghorashi

The adventurist policies of George Bush and Neo-cons who presumed they can unilaterally do to other countries whatever they wish, including "regime change" has been nothing short of disaster. The world is still suffering from consequences of these policies. It is natural that in reaction to such policies many prefer and advocate non-intervention. This attitude was reflected in the low key approach of Obama administration toward post election protests in Iran. In early stages of protests this policy may have been wise and helpful. Iranian authorities found it difficult to accuse Obama administration of intervention in Iran's "domestic" affairs. The pendulum, however, may have swung too much the other way now.  This non-intervention in "internal affairs" of another country puts decades of achievements in the realm of human rights at jeopardy.  Hiding behind "national sovereignty" to commit all kinds of atrocities and human rights violations against your own people is neither new, nor unique to the Islamic regime. But in today's world no government should be able to do it. At least there must be a high price for these actions so the types of Islamic regime in Iran think twice before committing them.

Principles of "sovereignty" and" equality" have been the back bones of "nation-state" system that emerged in western Europe three centuries ago. Although it is safe to say that in practice the system has held neither.  These two principles are about inter-national relations. "Accountability" to own people (citizens) was the principle that would separate nation-state system from previous autocratic monarchies, theocracies, and empires who would justify their rule on their "subjects" on the basis of divine intervention rather than social contract.

Establishment of international organizations such as the United Nations on one hand and emergence of a large number of newly independent ex-colonies on the other brought the issue of national sovereignty to the forefront after the Second World War. There was a heightened sensitivity among the newly independent countries with their fresh memory of colonial occupations and interventions. International organizations had to tread very carefully when it came to sovereignty if these countries were going to participate. "Interfering" with internal affairs of other countries became sacrilege. Break out of the Cold War and the need for allies made "Western" political leaders to close their eyes to the atrocities that these despotic allies were committing against their own people.  In the Soviet side it was even worst; the leaders themselves were guilty of such violations.

The burden fell on the shoulders of NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) such as the Amnesty International to keep an eye on violation of human rights of people by their own governments. Decades of vigilant exposure of such violations have paid off to the extent that violating inalienable rights of citizens is no more a taken-for-granted "internal" affair of the state. One major turning point was when the world refused to accept Chinese government's argument that events of Tiananmen Square were its internal affairs. More recently, establishment of ICC (International Criminal Court) is another significant step to hold states and statesmen accountable. Demonstrations and protests of Iranian people, the support that they have received from people and governments all over the world, and the brutality of the Islamic regime in its response may well be another turning point. No state should violate its own citizens' human rights. Islamic Regime of Iran is no exception and should not be permitted to hide behind this false sovereignty argument and fueled xenophobia to justify its actions.

People of Iran are locked in a very serious struggle for democracy. The Islamic regime has no future. Indeed it does not belong to present either. It is centuries behind the time. The regime knows that, and the fact that this is about its survival. That explains the savagery of the regime and its tugs, as is reflected in tortures, rapes, and killings of decedents that is being revealed nowadays. This is a war that people of Iran have to fight relying primarily on their own. But they sure can use some help. The helpers, however, must be careful in steps that they take. Some of people on trail in the kangaroo court in Tehran are accused of "espionage" for talking to or sending e-mails to foreigners.

Those not accused of "espionage" in these show trials are charged with attempt to change the regime via a "velvet revolution." This is a serious crime that could result in years of prison and even death penalty. What is exactly a "velvet" revolution? It is any form of peaceful descent or criticism of the Islamic Republic regime and particularly the "Supreme Leader." Those accused of these "crimes" are not ordinary people. An ex vice-president and an ex vice speaker of parliament; many others who have served as cabinet ministers and Parliament representatives are among them. The list may be widen in the near future and include ex president Khatami ; ex speaker of parliament Karrubi, and ex prime minister Mussavi. One wonders how legitimate is a regime that such high official are "foreign spies" and attempt to overthrow it via a velvet revolution! The fact is, according to the regime any form of decent is unlawful. Any criticism of it by non-Iranians is interfering with its affairs.

The Islamic regime must be confronted with these egregious claims and violations of human rights. The means and content of such confrontation is important.  The fact is that while today's  way of life has become "global," be it in economic, environmental, social, or cultural sense, our mind set is still "National." Nation-state system is still the major actor in international arena.  Political leaders' intentions are, at best, to serve the interests of our nation, not the entire humanity. Global issues such as universal human rights have too often become another tool to use against our enemies. National political leaders, including past US administrations, have abused this weapon frequently.  National leaders, Obama administration included, suffer from lack of credibility to seriously challenge human rights violations of other countries. What should they do?

A "first best" solution to this problem would be creation of genuine  global organizations ala ICC that are able to deal with violation of human rights of a people by their own state,  without fear of being accused of bias or having hidden agenda.  This solution takes some time and preparation. Meanwhile, and as part of the preparation, it is good to enhance standings of NGOs such as Amnesty International. Giving prominence to their reports and findings, and demanding their unimpeded access to the victims of governmental brutalities would put some pressure on states that violate their own people's human rights.

A third option is to use existing international forums and organizations such as the UN. Here, depending on choice of issue and means, Obama administration can help cause of Iranian people. If not chosen properly, the actions may hurt the cause. Demands such as freezing uranium enrichment, as was made by Bush administration was mistaken and back fired. The Islamic regime used that as evidence of colonial policies and double-standards of the "Western" powers. The economic sanctions that followed were a mistake as well because  they were either ineffective or worse; hurt the people rather than the regime. To do nothing about the current situation and accept Ahmadinejad as president of Iran is wrong also. Obama administration and the rest of the world should demand that Islamic regime adhere to the international norms in treating Iranian citizens. Violation of Inalienable human rights such as freedom of expression and peaceful association are not "internal affairs" of any state. Citizens who peacefully protest are not committing any crimes. The United Nation's Security Council should pass resolutions demanding Islamic regime to respect such fundamental human and democratic rights. More specifically, the resolution should demand freedom of media. The Islamic regime has monopolized all radio and television stations. There are no privately owned radio or TV stations in Iran. Journalists, foreign as well as native are constantly harassed, denied access to the public, and barred from filing reports. Citizens who speak with them may end up going to jail. Newspapers are constantly shut and put out of business. Internet is constantly meddled with.  Demanding a change of policy in these areas will be welcomed and have support of Iranian people.

The response to the Islamic regime's almost certain refusal to acknowledge these violations should not be economic sanctions.  As was mentioned above, they are ineffective and hurt the wrong people. Rather, the sanctions should aim Iranian officials (not citizens). They should be denied access to international forums.  Mr. Ahmadinejad is planning to attend UN's General Assembly meeting this fall.  Iran is a signatory to the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  A resolution by the Security Council demanding the Islamic regime to adhere to this declaration and permit international observers and representatives to inspect prisons and investigate reports of extrajudicial atrocities by the Revolutionary Guards and Basiji militia is a good first step. If refused, Islamic regime's membership in selective International organizations should be suspended. Despite their claim to contrary, the Islamic leaders, for that matter all despotic regimes, are very sensitive to recognition of international bodies. As if such recognition provides them with legitimacy that their own people do not grant them.  Denying the regime this will put pressure on it and intensify its already tense internal power struggle. To confront Islamic regime of Iran on its human rights violation is not only moral, it is a the right policy that will help people of Iran in their quest for democracy.

... Payvand News - 08/16/09 ... --

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