By Jamal Ekhtiar:
The term ‘minority’ has been wrongly used in UN literature to define sizable nationalities in Iran and minority rights has been a pillar of the UN rights system, but retrograde developments have prevented the realization of even recognized minority rights for several nationalities in Iran.
One of the vital rights issues in Iran is that different sizable nationalities such as the Baloch, Arabs in Ahwaz, Turkomons, Azaris, Kurds and others have been severely suppressed, especially in modern Iran, and increasingly during the reign of Pahlawi and the after emergence of the clerical system in 1978. The United Nations uses a wrong notion of ‘minority’ to define those populations in Iran which, apparently, have not even enjoyed minority rights as set out in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other conventions and treaties of the organization. Moreover some rights for nationalities in Iran that are guaranteed by national laws, including the constitution, have not been implemented in practice. The best example is linguistic rights and rights to study in mother tongue which are guaranteed by constitution. The government not only does not implement them, but it also prevents any civil efforts to protect the rich Kurdish language which is under assimilationist threat.
The size, geography and rights problems of above mentioned nationalities in Iran are clear for the UN; considerable resources and literature have been produced about these matters by the various nationality movements, political parties, experts and other stakeholders.
Denial of rights for the non-Persian components of Iranian society is rooted domestically in the lack of a true will by the state and externally in the United Nations’ deviousness and hypocrisy.
The notion of ‘minority’ for non-Persian components in Iran is ridiculous. The dominant Persian component never releases true statistics and refers to other components as “aghwame Irani” (verbally, ‘Iranian tribes’), even though they have sizable populations with their own histories, languages, geography, culture, civilization, flags, common will and direction. However the upper-hand ultra-nationalism does not even reflect upon and bear truth about this. This is not an opposite racist view: if I am not treated as equal to you in our, let’s say, common home, you cannot expect me to respect you.
These other components comprise a majority of the people in Iran and, in fact, it is strange that a minority should control the country and impose its discourse, while the economic, cultural, linguistic, social, developmental and self-determination rights of others are denied; and if they demand their rights, they are labelled as ‘terrorist’. The United Nations Charter recognizes the right of armed resistance and struggle for suppressed nationalities, but the UN prefers to listen to Iranian Government rhetoric instead of the voice of denied peoples in Iran.
Even if the notion of terrorism were true, it is mostly in the form of a huge centralized state terrorism fighting tiny defenseless terrorists. A responsible state does not label its people as terrorists but sits with them and listen to their demands. Why doesn’t the state and government in Iran implement items in the constitution regarding rights of minorities but instead try to assimilate them and hold back them from any development?
The second factor is external hypocrisy. The United Nations as a forum for international law and justice has historically exploited the rightful causes of different peoples around the world and Iran is no exception. One may argue it is the state members which misdirect the UN and prioritize their own interests, but overall the United Nations has not lived up to its responsibilities and looks rather like a cartoon.
The United Nations has responded to rights concerns in Iran over the past several decades, but always within a limited, controlled and politicized scope. Because of this, in reality the United Nations violates rights for Iranians in parallel with the government in Tehran.
For the last several decades the UN has been talking about minority, minority, minority, blah, blah, blah and more minority, but there has been no change and the organization still complains about “deepening human rights crises in Iran”. It says human rights in Iran have “deteriorated” and “pledges have simply not translated into results”.
In fact these approaches are intended to deceive the public; otherwise the UN rights system would have to admit its failure. The United Nations latches on to some minor rights issues to annually condemn the Iranian government, and it saves major problems for raising in particular years – like the current year – because the West is still in disagreement with Iran and wants to keep up the pressure on the clerical system. This is an important year because they either:
(a) reach a deal with the government of the Mullahs. This means they would take rights concerns off the table in Iran and justify this by using positive language to escape responsibility. The statements of UN rights officials always contain those safety-valves. Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed is a good example with his statements of potential double use, such as this recent one on the OHCHR website: “While I am encouraged by recent conversations, statements, and overtures by Iranian officials, I am concerned by consistent reports that the human rights situation on the ground has yet to improve, and that pledges have simply not translated into results”; or
(b) continue the dispute between Iran and the West, and so the instrumental use of human rights and exploitation of rightful causes by the UN will carry on.
It is undeniable that the situation has increasingly deteriorated in Iran and as it builds more muscles. The potent threat of the illegitimate ethno-clerical system – an intertwining of dominant ultra-nationalism of the upper hand minority nationality with fundamentalist Shi’ism, primarily targeting peoples inside Iran, and secondly threatening neighbors and the region – is continuously growing, despite the comments of Shaheed and the UN.
This is important because a new resolution about human rights in Iran is to be issued in the General Assembly this year and the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Iran has to be renewed in March 2015. For this purpose a serious rights problem needs to be on the agenda and minority concerns is the most reliable topic. Since last March 2014 it has been brought to the table again.
There is a controlled dealing with the issues in the resolutions, recommendations and reports of the UN system. It is not clear what the UN actually means by minority rights. The reports of Ahmed Shaheed briefly talk about this and there is only one specific reference concerning the linguistic rights of minorities. They do not clarify how developmental, linguistic, cultural, social, economic, political and other rights have been denied. We never see a binding resolution to hold the Iranian government responsible and accountable for a specific area which calls for specific improvements within a reasonable time frame. It is true that the Special Rapporteur has been denied a visa and visit to Iran therefore could not evaluate situation of the ground in Iran, but this might not make a difference, because fundamentally the UN rights system and its policy covers marginal issues and ignores vital causes.
The treatment of so-called minority concerns is insufficient and flawed. An equitable treatment of minorities could lead to real development of the country, including the safeguarding of human rights; if only the UN would genuinely walk in this direction. The whole issue is about hegemony and control: if the center controls regional Iran, the state will not be held accountable; but if there is a decentralized system protecting the rights of the other Iran, there will be better prospects for democracy and human rights.
Sadly the government encourages and influences the mentality of citizens from the dominant nationality and so, alongside with its own systematic discrimination, we also see the same ill-mannered denial mentality among citizens and even those who claim to be rights or civil activists. Citizens of non-dominant groups in Iran are treated as third or fourth grade citizens.
- Iran: Shaheed’s UN fact-finding mission versus repeating bygone flaws
- Shaheed and the need for a deeper look into rights to information in Iran
- Shaheed’s UN reports; realization and violations of socioeconomic rights in Iran
- Shaheed’s UN reports and rights to education in Iran
Jamal Ekhtiar is a journalist from eastern Kurdistan. He has been a writer and contributor to various English and Kurdish media over the past ten years. He also works with civil society organisations.