Shaheed’s UN reports and marginalized civil society in regional Iran

Execution of Kurds and others in Iran in 1979 (Jahangir Razmi)

Execution of Kurds and others in Iran in 1979 (Jahangir Razmi)

By Jamal Ekhtiar:

Another issue covered by the Special Rapporteur and the UN rights system is civil society, but the UN has been unable to address some vital problems of Iran’s severely deprived regions. Yet again the UN focusses on issues facing central Iran and overlooks other problems that need care and attention.

Civil society is defined as an “aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens, individuals and organizations in a society; including family, private sphere, and what is independent and distinct from government”. The notion of civil society, connected with elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary and other organizations that make up a democratic society, has been growing in central Iran, while the severe, systematic limitations put in force against nationalities like the Baloch, Ahwaz, Kurds, etc. has prevented the growth of an active civil society in those parts of the country.

Compared to central Iran, regional Iran suffers the main human rights problems, although the attention is still on the center. Throughout the past century of modern Iran, most resources have been allocated to the center, resulting in its growth, and the development of a civil society representing the will and interests of citizens of the dominant nationality; this can be contrasted with the grievances of a regional Iran suppressed by the center.

Regional Iran has been deprived of opportunities for growth and development, resulting in a weak civil society that is not strong enough to challenge the government for its rights, while sadly the language of the central civil society is no different from the discourse of the government with its Persian national agenda. The dominant religious and national identities in Iran are intertwined, enforcing discrimination against other nationalities with different national and religious identities. Even though the government in Iran has a religious identity, along with this its national identity plays its role in an undemocratic way and systematic discrimination by the government reinforces this dominance of one ethno-religious identity. Unfortunately central civil society has the same mentality and it endorses this unfair treatment of several nationalities wrongly defined as minorities.

The dominant nationality has built its civil society to the exclusion of regional Iran, at the expense of Balochistan, Ahwaz, Kurdistan and other parts. Lack of development in those areas has led to the absence of a strong civil society in regional Iran including in individual, family, organizational and other aspects and levels.

A brief comparison, between the center and the regions, of the numbers of civil society organizations, media, institutions, etc. shows this gap. The central dominant identity, with its strong developed economy and society, has many NGOs, media and civil society organizations, both inside the country and in the diaspora. These organizations advocate the rights of citizens with a focus on the center. Their language-discourse is different from regional Iran and further reinforces the center and voices its problems, while in fact regional Iran has been more severely denied basic rights. At its best, this one-sided civil society advocates citizenship rights with a double-standard approach, but the ethnic national causes of peoples in Balochestan, Ahwaz, Kurdistan, etc. demand a solution beyond citizenship rights and discourse. The cause of Balochestan, Kurdistan and other nationalities is for national rights instead of being simply limited to citizen rights.

Journalists, civil activists, organizations and all elements of Persian-dominated civil society deal with human rights concerns with a double standard mentality. This is apparent if you review and study the output of the media, including foreign media with Persian staff, organizations and different components of Iranian civil society. Unfortunately they don’t operate conscientiously, independently and according to norms and standards of human rights, democracy and modern society. They overlook concerns in regional Iran and even sometimes enforce the position of the central government instead of supporting true causes in regional Iran. The government sees Baloch dissidents as terrorists and central civil society has the same approach, instead of challenging the government and advocating for rights of deprived Balochestan.

An example can best clarify the double-standard approach of the Persian dominated civil society of Iran. These days we repeatedly hear news of executions in Balochestan, Ahwaz, Kurdistan and other areas in regional Iran, but the response of civil society is weak. This has been the usual manner of civil society in response to issues of oppressed nationalities in Iran; in harmony with the government they either keep silent or, more irresponsibly, they label dissidents of Balochestan and other  nationalities as terrorists, shutting their eyes to state terrorism and looking at the issues from an ethno-religious perspective. But if a citizen puts a ribbon on her/his finger in Tehran, they make uproar and praise this. This is not just a claim – a glance at their activities, posts and publications proves this.

Unfortunately many journalists, civil and human rights activists have the same mentality. They practice self-censorship on minority issues and cautiously mention rights violations or never talk about them. They talk about the denied identity of Iranian lesbians but never talk about the stolen history of the Kurds, Baloch and other nationalities in Iran. This is done under the fake notion of national security, unjustly accusing Baloch, Kurds, Ahwaz and others of separatism, terrorism and conspiracy.

Nothing is more valuable than the lives of humans, but they talk without compassion about the execution of Baloch citizens or the execution of Kurds simply for their membership, support and affiliation with political parties like the KDPI, Komala, KDP and other political factions that are unjustly banned from carrying out their activities in Kurdistan-Iran. If political parties like the KDPI, KDP and others have guns, it is just to protect themselves; to a degree they represent the rightful cause of Kurds in Iran. They are not terrorists but in fact it is the Iranian central government that denies their rights and imposes state terrorism.  Qassem Suleimani and the Qods Force, a division of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which conducts special operations outside Iran, even attacks them in Iraqi Kurdistan and hundreds of their members have been terrorized in recent decades. A dissident in Balochestan, Kurdistan or Ahwaz receives far more severe punishment than a dissident in Tehran.

Undeniably civil society in Iran has a duty to adopt a democratic approach towards regional Iran, and to campaign for an end to the systematic exclusion of the Baloch, Kurds, Ahwaz and others, a halt to state terrorism and measures to redress the historical deprivation of regional Iran and develop those regions to prepare the basis for economic, social and civil development with no more discrimination. The government of Iran should adopt policies to promote respect for everyone in Iranian society instead of its systematic propaganda against different nationalities.

The United Nations and other organizations and the focal point for international human rights efforts in Iran, UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, should monitor and address problems concerning civil society in Iran to assist its equitable development for the benefits of all Iran’s peoples.

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.

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