Sanctions against Iran undermine human rights

23 June 2010

Sanctions against Iran undermine human rights

Attention to the situation in Iran is desperately needed. But sanctions against the country will hit ordinary people hardest, argue Harry van Bommel and Nikita Shahbazi. Focusing on human rights would be much more effective.

Last week the Dutch regional daily, the Friesch Dagblad (10th June, 2010), presented a report on UN Security Council Resolution 1929, a resolution which includes punitive measures against Iran imposed in response to that country's enrichment of uranium. The European Union is preparing on its own account even more stringent sanctions. Iranian human rights activists are of the opinion that Iran should indeed be dealt with, above all because of its oppression of the country's people, but not by means of punitive measures which also affect the general population. In this we are in strong agreement with the Iranian opposition.

In a recent letter to Parliament, Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen wrote that the Netherlands, together with other countries, believes that Europe should take additional measures to strengthen and broaden those taken by the Security Council. He wants to see a more effective sanctions regime against Iran's nuclear energy policy. According to the opposition the regime is at the present time using the nuclear programme to distract attention from the human rights situation in Iran. Since the disputed elections of 12th June 2009, Iran's tone concerning its nuclear programme has become harsher. Last winter President Ahmadinejad announced that his country had now succeeded in enriching uranium to 20 percent in order to be able to meet medical needs. On the same day protests against the regime were nipped in the bud and on the eve of the announcement several people were arrested.

Given these facts we believe that attention to human rights in Iran would be more effective than would more stringent sanctions. A number of different regimes, including Burma, Iraq under Saddam, and North Korea have been subjected to various kinds of sanctions in recent decades. The regimes in these countries have never paid the slightest attention to the United States' and EU's demands for reform. The Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has spoken out many times against economic sanctions, including recently on the occasion of the anniversary of the protests. The Iranian people will be hit by the sanctions and the country's democratic movement weakened, because of which the radical Islamicists will gain support amongst the general population. That is why we are advocating political sanctions against Iranian leaders responsible for the repression of the regime's opponents.

Resolution 1929 has been effected after months of negotiations. Russia and China, after much humming and hawing, have agreed to it, but Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon would not do so. Turkey and Brazil recently achieved an important diplomatic success by breathing new life into an agreement which had previously fallen through. Exchange of low enriched uranium will, according to this accord, take place in Turkey, and Iran will be provided with material which it can make use of in the medical sector. The adoption of Resolution 1929 will undermine this promising agreement. Countries, including the Netherlands, which are on a collision course, are pushing their policies through. The parallels with the situation in Iraq at the beginning of the century are alarming. We are in agreement with the governments of Turkey and Brazil that the agreement, and unremitting inspections, as well as debates over these, present the best means to keep this problem under control. In addition, the pursuit of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons is the first priority. Pressure on Iran must give its people the confidence to continue demanding democracy.

We share concerns over Iran's potential development into a nuclear weapons state but attach little value to more stringent sanctions. Only an outspoken emphasis on human rights, in combination with more guarantees of security for the Iranian regime, can offer a way out of the impasse surrounding the country's nuclear programme. Iran is sensitive to this. In 2003 Iranian President Katami proposed a dialogue with the US on the basis of mutual respect and recognition. In exchange, Iran would renounce its support for Hamas, support the disarming of Hezbollah in Lebanon and supply completely transparent data on the Iranian nuclear programme. At the time, the proposal was ignored.

Now that power relations between China, the US and Russia have changed, it is time to reach a sensible settlement in which the interests of all countries are taken into account. More stringent sanctions and a subsequent threat of military intervention serves to isolate Iran still further and makes its people a double victim, of the regime and of the international community. The Iranian people are thus not helped by this, while Europe and the world become no better.

Harry van Bommel, MP, and Dutch-Iranian writer Nikita Shahbazi are both members of the SP.

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