As the Obama administration looks forward to another round of nuclear talks with Iran on June 16, bipartisan senators are chiding the White House to not forget to press human rights issues with the Islamic Republic.
Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pointed out to President Obama in a letter last week that a new president hasn’t brought some sort of spirit of reform and renewal to the theocracy — in fact, quite the opposite.
“Many around the world were cautiously optimistic that the election of President Hassan Rouhani would improve the human rights situation in Iran. Unfortunately, it appears that the situation has, in fact, deteriorated since President Rouhani took office on August 4, 2013,” Kirk and Wyden wrote.
“According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, for example, at least 35 journalists were in detention at the end of 2013. Amnesty International reports that several students and labor rights activists are prisoners of conscience in Iran, detained for peacefully exercising their rights. Human Rights Watch also highlights a number of human rights lawyers and other rights defenders who remained imprisoned at year’s end and further reports that ethnic minorities —including Arabs, Kurds, Ahwazis, and Baluchis — continue to face restrictions and discrimination,” they continued.
“Iran witnessed a sharp spike in executions in the latter part of 2013. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center reports that more than half of the 624 executions that Iran carried out in 2013 occurred after Mr. Rouhani took office, and further reports that 188 people have been hanged since the beginning of 2014 alone.”
Wyden and Kirk called the assault on religious freedom “particularly dire,” including against Sufis, Sunnis, Christians and Baha’i.
“In addition to these worrying trends, President Rouhani released a draft Charter of Citizens’ Rights on November 26, fulfilling a campaign promise he made to release such a document within 100 days of taking office. Rather than expand or strengthen human rights, the Charter appears designed to further entrench existing discrimination. Its enumerated rights are explicitly subject to the Iranian constitution or Iranian law and it specifically limits those rights to religious minorities recognized under the Constitution — a grouping that is limited to Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians, and specifically excludes Bahá’ís and others,” the letter continues.
“President Rouhani’s positive statements regarding rights and freedoms in Iran, while welcome, must be accompanied by concrete improvement. Thus far, these statements have done little, if anything, to bring about such improvement, and the people of Iran continue to face severe and systematic abuses. Indeed, in his latest report to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that ‘[t]he new administration has not made any significant improvement in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and opinion, despite pledges made by the President during his campaign and after his swearing-in,’ and that ‘[t]here have been no improvements in the situation of religious and ethnic minorities, who continue to suffer severe restrictions in the enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights,'” Wyden and Kirk wrote.
“The United States’ current engagement with Iran provides an unprecedented opportunity to emphasize and elevate the human rights situation in Iran. We urge you to seize this opportunity and to ensure that, whatever the nature and scope of the U.S. dialogue with Iran, human rights issues are a consistent and vital element of the conversation.”
Wyden separately noted that “Tehran’s continued abuse of its own citizens and targeting of minorities should serve as another reminder of the Iranian regime’s brutality.”
“These blatant violations of human rights cannot be ignored as the Administration engages with the Iranian regime on ongoing nuclear negotiations,” Kirk added.