While Iran remains an ongoing security concern because of its nuclear program, we must not divert attention from the severe and worsening human rights situation. As we know, real and lasting security rests on the pillars of human rights, democratic governance and the rule of law.
As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in 2005 the world “must advance the causes of security, development and human rights together, otherwise none will succeed.”
That is why the Parliament and Government of Canada have remained seized of the human rights situation in Iran for many years. We must not waver in our support of Iranian citizens’ efforts to bring about progressive change.
The Iranian government continues to prosecute a brutal campaign of oppression against its citizens. Last September, the UN catalogued the abuses perpetrated by Iran, including torture and cruelty, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, public executions and executions of juvenile defenders, the use of stoning as a measure of execution, violation of women’s rights, violations of the rights of minorities, and restrictions on freedom of assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression. Such brutality has become the hallmark of a government that pays little attention to the dignity of its own citizens. Iran is negligent of both its ancient traditions and its international obligations to uphold universal standards of human rights. . .
Honourable senators, I would like to speak to you about one group in particular. The Baha’i community of Iran is the country’s largest non-Muslim religious minority and its treatment is a case study of the real intentions of the Iranian government with respect to its human rights obligations. . .
The Baha’i faith is an independent, monotheistic, world religion based on the teachings of the 19th century prophet founder Baha’u’llah. Its central teachings include the recognition of the common divine source of all religions and the belief in the fundamental oneness of humanity. Baha’i teachings call for the elimination of all forms of prejudice and urge followers to work for the creation of a global society characterized by peace, unity and justice. . .
The founder, Baha’u’llah, was exiled from Iran to Iraq, then to Turkey and then to Palestine, which was then under the Ottoman rule. Because Baha’u’llah passed away in Palestine, the Baha’i World Centre emerged in modern-day Israel. Today the international governing council of the Baha’i community is based in the city of Haifa.
I have often visited the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, and to me the gardens of the centre there are truly a paradise on earth. The centre in Haifa truly represents Baha’i belief of oneness in humanity. . .
Honourable senators, I turn now to the persecution of Baha’is in Iran. The persecution faced by Baha’is in Iran today has few parallels in human history. This is a community of more than 300,000 people that for more than 30 years has been subject to an often explicit state policy focused on its destruction. The intensity of pressure felt by this religious minority is almost impossible for us, as Canadians, to imagine, yet it is our duty as senators, indeed as fellow human beings, to raise our voices in solidarity with their cause. . .
Honourable senators, I have conveyed to you a situation of clear injustice and oppression, perpetrated against a peaceful people for no reason other than their religious beliefs. The Baha’i community conducts its affairs with transparency and honesty; it keeps no secret about its beliefs and intentions, with members who want nothing more than to practise their religion and serve their country.
We Canadians are privileged to live in a country where diversity is valued and where we enjoy freedom of religion and belief. I believe that we should all speak out where these same freedoms are denied elsewhere, giving hope to our brothers and sisters who live under constant state pressure, in the name of humanity.
Honourable senators, all my life I have worked with Baha’is. Today I stand before you and I ask you to also stand up for the rights of Baha’is.
Honourable senators, Canada’s support for the Baha’is in Iran has been an example of how supporting freedom of religion and beliefs can play a role in our foreign policy. In view of our new emphasis on promoting religious freedom abroad, let us take new steps to call Iran to account for its unacceptable treatment of the Baha’is. Let us stand for the religious rights of Baha’is in Iran. . .