Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Human Rights Situation in Iran
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):  
    Mr. Chair, we have all watched the developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other countries that are experiencing considerable political and social unrest. Citizens are demanding greater freedom and political accountability and there are signs in many cases that change is indeed coming.
    In recent days, the people of Iran have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities calling for change. Yet again we have seen from the Islamic Republic of Iran the brutal suppression of those who seek freedom of expression and political change. President Ahmadinejad’s regime practises wanton disregard for human rights, the rule of law and international standards of behaviour.
    Take, for example, the ongoing case of Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada being held in the notorious Evin prison. He was forced through torture to make a false confession and is under constant threat of execution. This is but one instance of the total contempt the Iranian regime has for the rule of law domestically and internationally.
    As a member of the foreign affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights, my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to study and report on the realities of the Iranian human rights violations and the seemingly endless reprehensible conduct. It was made clear in its December 2010 report that the committee firmly believed the Iranian regime’s policies and activities within its territory and those it projects internationally constituted gross violations of its obligations under international law.
    The litany of oppression and irresponsible international behaviour literally grows by the day. In recent days we have received reports of the terrible oppression of legitimate and peaceful dissents in Iran. The utter hypocrisies of the Iranian regime is incomprehensible.
    Human Rights Watch remarks:
    Just days ago the Iranian government claimed to support the popular aspirations of millions of Tunisians and Egyptians who peacefully demanded an end to dictatorship…Now Iranian security forces are using batons and teargas to disperse Iranians peacefully demonstrating in support of their Arab neighbors.
    The suppression of these peaceful demonstrations was accompanied by the detention of numerous opposition leaders across Iran.
    This pattern of intolerable conduct is completely consistent with the regime’s human rights records and its intolerable foreign policy objectives. Throughout testimony for the report on Iran, concerns about the policy of Iran’s governing regime’s on human rights related policies was expressed strongly. Particularly notable among these concerns was its support of various terrorist organizations, its incitement to genocide, its belligerent stance towards Israel, the dehumanization and the intentions of its nuclear program.
    In various conflicts throughout the Middle Eastern region, and indeed around the world, the footprints of the Iranian regime are fully in evidence whether it is the support of terrorists or other violations of international law. Its endless contempt and outrageous attacks on Israel are completely unacceptable and must be condemned.
    Within Iran itself, we have witnessed for some time now the personal price paid by those who oppose the regime or simply violate its reprehensible standards of intolerance.
    As with Mr. Malekpour, these include Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi who died tragically in Iranian custody in 2003 for taking a photograph of a protest outside a prison. Her son, Stephan, put it eloquently by saying:
    Through her art, she wanted to inform, connect with and educate people. She gave a voice to the people of those countries she focused on—she even gave them hope.
    Victims Mahmoud Asgari and Ayez Marhoni were teenagers executed by the Iranian regime in 2005 because they were gay.
    Just today it has been reported by Human Rights Watch that there has already been over 100 executions in 2011 by the Iranian regime, including political prisoners.
    In testimony before the Subcommittee on International Human rights this week, Professor Payam Akhavan characterized it as “mass murder in slow motion”.
     The Iranian Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, appeared before our committee and said this morning that the Iranian regime:
—are using the familiar tactics of carrying out political execution at the same time as mass executions of prisoners convicted of criminal offences. These executions may increase if the world is silent.
    Her words represent an appeal to all nations of the world, including Canada, to ensure that the Iranian regime hears the voice of the world community and understands that they will be held accountable for their actions.
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    We need that action, but one of the major challenges is the ability to collect information from a society that conducts itself as the Iranian regime does, that criminalizes freedom of expression. In order to get an accurate picture of what goes on in Iran, we must rely on activists and journalists for much of what we have come to know, but they need our support. Action is needed to add the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps to a list of terrorist entities and to amend the State Immunity Act.
     One of the groups within Iran about which we have received regular reports is members of the Baha’i faith. Left unprotected by the Iranian legal system, the 300,000 members are singled out for particularly brutal persecution. Their homes are raided. They are publicly vilified and have no means of public recourse, creating what Suzanne Tamas of the Baha’i Community of Canada called “an atmosphere of prejudice, which allows the Iranian government to continue to persecute the Baha’is with impunity”.
    People of the Jewish faith remaining in Iran are also targeted for oppression, as are other minority communities such as Christians and Sunni Muslims. Minorities like the Kurds and the Baluchis are always under constant threat from the Iranian regime, so much so that Fakteh Zamani, president of the Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran said judges would simply show up and sentence tortured members of the Baluchis members to death, leading to hundreds of Baluchis on death row for no reason other than they are a minority.
    Whether it is Iranians seeking political and social reform, religious minorities or foreigners who appear to threaten their regime, the Iranian government will spare no action in its quest to quench dissent. Indeed, following the marches in cities across Iran this past Monday, the regime has called upon its supporters to participate in protests this coming Friday to demonstrate what it is calling their “hatred” for those who participated in the rallies calling for change. The reformers are clearly in the sights of the Iranian regime once again.
    Reformers cannot rely on instruments of the Iranian current political system for any change, as we have seen. The presidential elections of June 2009 were clearly conducted in a manner that was unfair and questionable, to say the least. The results clearly did not reflect the true will of the Iranian people and the regime’s ruthless repression of resistance in the wake of the vote merely demonstrated its complete lack of legitimacy.
    The Iranian regime represents one of the most pressing threats to stability in the world. The conduct of this regime domestically is reprehensible and intolerable. The public statements of the regime and its leadership as well as policy declarations are a serious threat to both Iranians and to all people of the region and beyond. Israel is a particular target of their vitriol.
    While the challenge of dealing with the Iranian regime may at times appear daunting, the price of not taking substantial action will almost certainly be much higher, as history has taught us in such circumstances.
    Our subcommittee’s report to Parliament makes a number of recommendations that I hope will be adopted and implemented by the Government of Canada. I hope too that it will then stand as an example of the action that needs to be taken by other nations too.
    Canada, in unison with nations across the global community, can make a difference. We must ensure that the voice of tolerance, responsibility and freedom is heard by the Iranian regime and, perhaps just as important, it will serve as inspiration to those who labour for freedom in that country.
    Let us be an example of this principle in our dealings with the Iranian regime. Let us stand firm.
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Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, NDP):  
    Mr. Chair, I commend the hon. member for his work on the subcommittee. I have had the pleasure of working with him for several years.
    I want to take the hon. member back to witness testimony that we had. Witnesses before the subcommittee repeatedly expressed frustration with the fixation of the international community, particularly of the United States, on the nuclear issue as opposed to the grave breaches of human rights that followed the June 12 election.
    Professor Akhavan, of whom the hon. member spoke in his remarks, said that the Iranian government was watching and calculating how much it could get away with and if the message of the international community was that the co-operation on the nuclear issue would mean acquiescence to all manner of atrocities, then the hard-liners, as they tried to consolidate their grip, would execute and torture as many people as they could get away with and that we should have no illusions of their capacity to do that.
    Would the hon. member comment on the fact that the United States defunded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center? That documentation centre was one of the recommendations in our report that Canada should take up.
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Mr. Mario Silva:  
    Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his hard work on the committee. He has certainly witnessed the fact that all members of the committee share a deep concern in what is happening with of human rights throughout the world.
    In doing this report, all members were quite clear that we were very much concerned about the deplorable situation on human rights in Iran. We are very concerned about its genocidal tendencies toward the state of Israel and the Jewish people, as well as its nuclear program.
     However, I understand the member is trying to say, and that is we need to find a way to get organizations to document what takes place. One of the recommendations in the report is to get funding to ensure we financially support agencies that not just work on human rights but also document human rights abuses that take place in Iran.
    The situation is not getting better, and I admire the Iranian people. The hon. member mentioned the fact that 65% of the people are under 40. I had heard the number as 50% of the people are under 25. There is a very young generation of Iranians who want freedom. They are very savvy in terms of technology. They use Facebook and the Internet very wisely, but they need our assistance and solidarity. They need to know the world community is standing behind them as they go through this very difficult time.
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Hon. Diane Ablonczy (Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs), CPC):  
    Mr. Chair, I am very interested in the work the committee and members did. I know they have worked very hard and have a great deal of expertise.
    I have a question about consular cases, not surprisingly. In my last answer I referred to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall’s case and I should tell the House that I inadvertently got it mixed up with Mr. Malekpour’s case as I have been dealing with both of them. I apologize for that and I will try to correct the record in Hansard.
    My question is about Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, who is a Canadian citizen and was arrested on charges of spying in Iran, and Mr. Malekpour, a computer programmer, who is not a Canadian citizen but a permanent resident. Did the committee come to any conclusions about new avenues, different avenues, more effective avenues that we as Canadians can pursue in order to support and assist individuals like Mr. Ghassemi-Shall and Mr. Malekpour and their families who are in these terrible circumstances?
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Mr. Mario Silva:  
    Mr. Chair, we are very much concerned also about consular cases.
    We tend to focus on witnesses who actually have on the ground expertise and are witnessing also what is taking place in terms of the human rights abuses taking place in Iran. The reports that came back to us are very shocking and very alarming. We are talking about mass murders of people. We are talking about a government that silences critics, imprisons critics, tortures them, kills them. According to Human Rights Watch, there are mass executions of over 100 people just this year alone, which makes it per capita probably the number one country in terms of mass executions, far outreaching any other country.
    In terms of specific consular cases, many of these are done, as the minister would probably know, through diplomatic channels and through different friendly countries who might be able to assist us. We are asking the government to take whatever steps are necessary. It has our support to bring Canadians home safely. We have seen what could happen if a Canadian citizen, or someone who wanted to reside in this country, are captured by the Iranian regime, once they are jailed without even a fair trial, which they never have, the possibility of them being executed is quite great. We have seen what happened with the journalist, Ms. Kazemi. That was a situation where she was arrested and killed. That was basically what took place.
    We have to act in an urgent manner, because the lives of those who are taken by the Iranian regime are at risk. It really is a question of life and death. It is not a question of waiting too long. We have to bring pressure and assistance to our neighbours through whatever country that will be supportive. To get their assistance is very important. That would be the appropriate way.
    The other concrete thing we said is that we have to support NGOs both domestically and internationally who are working on this file and who could also be witnesses to what atrocities are taking place and to document it. That also requires financial assistance from the government.
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Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC):  
    Mr. Chair, I may be rising on the same matter that the member for Mount Royal is about to rise on.
    I want to emphasize that the nature of this debate is about the worsening domestic human rights situation in Iran, but it seems to me that there has been no progress whatsoever domestically in Iran on the regime’s willingness to continue to argue and to incite in favour of a massive genocide in which it seeks and advocates the destruction of an entire other country, the state of Israel.
    I would invite the member’s comments on that ongoing worry.
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Mr. Mario Silva:  
    Mr. Chair, I want to thank my hon. colleague for the question and also for the excellent leadership he provides as chair of our subcommittee. It is a great pleasure to be a member of that committee because we tend to find consensus in most issues, unlike some of the other committees where there is a little bit of antagonism. I feel very close to the members of the committee and I am very proud to sit on the committee.
    The member makes a very important observation that we have also discussed in our committee, which is the genocidal tendencies of Ahmadinejad’s Iran toward the state of Israel and the Jewish people. That is one of the reasons why we are asking that the government make sure that in relation to our obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the specific obligations that Canada has as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, to enforce them.
    We are talking about also raising this with the permanent members of the Security Council. We are asking that this be brought before the human rights council and other agencies. We also request that this issue be raised at the highest possible level, because we have a responsibility through the genocide convention, specifically article III, which I mentioned before, that this matter be dealt with and appropriate action taken to hold Iran accountable for its actions.
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Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):  
    Mr. Chair, I want to join, also, in commending my colleague for his excellent stewardship of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. As well, I want to recognize my colleague, the member for Davenport, who served as vice-chair of the committee, for his commendable work and submission this evening.
    One of the recommendations of the foreign affairs committee and of the subcommittee had to do with providing a civil recourse for victims of gross human rights violations by removing the immunity under the State Immunity Act for foreign officials who perpetrated such violations.
    I wonder if the member for Davenport could comment on that recommendation.
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Mr. Mario Silva:  
    Mr. Chair, first, I want to thank the member for Mount Royal for his excellent work, not just on this file, but specific on that issue of the State Immunity Act, which he has put forward to ensure that the government in fact allows the legislation so that we can get after those individuals who are creating and perpetrating both genocide and hateful language. That particular legislation needs to be enacted as soon as possible by the government.