Human Rights Situation in Iran
Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to speak to the take note debate tonight on the situation in Iran sponsored by the member for Mount Royal. I know he has a very good command of the issues in this area. We spoke a couple of weeks ago on the situation in Egypt.
As members know, the situation is very fluid and has developed just in the last few weeks. The government fell In Tunisia and then the government fell in Egypt, which I believe was a bigger surprise. Now we are talking about recurring protests in Iran and other countries in the region. I do not know how much of it is facilitated by the up-to-date information that is available today through networks such as Al Jazeera because people can access that information. We are being told that new technologies, such as Facebook, the Internet and so on, have been big facilitators, whereas maybe 50 or 100 years ago we would not have had these types of activities. I do not know that we can actually be 100% sure of that but suggestions have been made that this has been facilitated by these modern mediums. If that is the case, it is important and incumbent upon the friendly support of governments across the world to take action and support the protestors for the purposes of establishing democratic regimes to the extent that is possible in some of these countries.
I must admit that I am impressed with the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights which produced the report on human rights in Iran. Our member and members from other parties are on the committee that produced its report in December 2010. The report contains 24 fairly excellent recommendations that came out of that committee and I think it would be a travesty if those recommendations were simply not followed up on.
I have been around governments for a long time, 26 years as an elected person but a number of years before that working for the political apparatus. I can say that governments of all stripes operate more or less on a boiler room day-to-day crisis management basis. They do things when they have to do them. Often times we find that the follow up is not there. Promises are made by governments, which is why we have a press out there that regularly follows us around to ensure that we are actually doing what we said we would do.
Earlier on tonight, I had an opportunity, which I may have missed, to ask the new minister a question. I would also like to congratulate her on her long overdue appointment. I believe she talked about consular services in 260 locations having to deal with 600 cases a day. I would like to know from her or any other member of the government, should one be around later to speak to this, if perhaps someone could provide me with the number of consular service cases the government has been dealing with on a daily basis over the past year to give us a longer term view of that.
I also would like to know where the government sits regarding the 24 recommendations that are mentioned in the report. I had not intended to but I will go through some of those recommendations because some of them are fairly good.
As we indicated, the situation is changing and is very fluid so perhaps different recommendations that may be relevant today or were relevant in December may not be relevant in a few months. Maybe some more accelerated or extreme measures might need to be taken if the situation gets further out of hand.
Recommendation number one reads:
The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to provide moral support and should increase, if possible, its financial support for Canadian and Iranian civil society organizations and other human rights groups that document and report on human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime.
Once again the committee has to do a follow-up to ensure these recommendations are adopted. The government member just indicated to us, and I am not sure whether all members of the committee are even aware, that the government has not even adopted this report yet. Assuming that we are all on the same page, the government should get this report adopted tomorrow and then start laying out a plan as to how it will implement these recommendations.
The report talks about providing moral and diplomatic support to the democratic movement in Iran. The government is willing and able to do that, and it has been doing that.
The report suggests that the government consider funding a research chair at a Canadian university dedicated to the study of Canadian Iranian relations, including the human rights situation in Iran. The documentation of cases is really vital to successful cases long term. So much of history’s atrocities have not been documented and, without proper documentation, it is hard to prove at the end of the day. If we could get cases documented, then we could move forward and get results through international courts and other adjudication bodies. The documentation is really the worst enemy of the tyrants because they thrive on being able to hide in the shadows, use force whenever it suits them and basically run and escape. It is only when the cases can be documented and the light is shone on those cases that proper results will be made.
I recall a police person telling me a number of years ago that while he really could not tell what would happen in certain situations, he knew that if the light was shone on it things might develop and people would start scurrying around. Sure enough, that is one of the approaches that it takes.
If world attention is drawn to a problem, then tyrants will not be very happy with that development, particularly if some sanctions are attached.
Another recommendations reads:
…Radio Canada International to consider programming in Farsi over its worldwide shortwave service, over conventional AM/FM broadcasting in the Gulf region, and over the Internet.
This is another excellent idea that must be followed through on and initiated.
We talked about all the modern technological advancements like Facebook, Twitter and the Internet to the extent that we can work around those issues and use those issues. That would be a positive thing to put these tyrants in their place. That is one of the things that we can use against them to try to get results.
There is talk about a prohibition of Canadian registered ships from docking in Iran and Iranian registered ships from docking in Canada. I was wondering about the airline issue. Maybe someone knows about the issue of airline service to Iran and what is happening there.
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Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, NDP):
Mr. Chair, I would like to comment on something that came from the subcommittees report. We had witnesses before the subcommittee who were hopeful that the change in Iran can and must come from its people. Several witnesses told the members that the new generation in Iran, the children of the revolution, are not happy with the social, economic and political policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new generation is well-educated, worldly and very realistic.
Professor Akhavan referred to one of the slogans. One of the slogans on the streets now is, “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I will only sacrifice my life for Iran”. They are saying that they are tired of hate-mongering and the use of imaginary external enemies as a way of crushing internal dissent and that they want to live in peace with their neighbours. Professor Akhavan is from this area.
I am wondering if the member is aware of any other totalitarian governments around the world that use what I refer to as sleight of hand or distraction away from what they are doing to their own people by way of pointing at an external enemy.
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Mr. Jim Maloway:
Mr. Chair, one example that I can think of is North Korea where it keeps its people in state of poverty and under control by using that kind of threat that they are about to be invaded. It is very common for repressive regimes to conjure up imaginary enemies to keep their people in line. Once that is broken, they do not have a very good argument for staying in power.
I am still interested to know about the air situation, because with any country that is shut off, sanctions work. Libya was a really good example that faced sanctions because it too was put on the Americans’ list as a country of state-sponsored terrorism. It was shut out of a lot economic ventures because of its status. There was really no tourism investment from the United States or Europe. Once Colonel Gaddafi got out of the situation he was in and renounced international state-sponsored terrorism and his continuing role in it, then Libya opened itself up to a large development of tourism and oil development. That was a good reason for him to stop doing what he was doing before. That situation did work and I am sure we will have to look at some sort of isolating tactics like that against Iran.
Mr. Jim Maloway (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):
Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to continue my speech on the take note debate on Iran.
I found that the report of the subcommittee on Iran by the House of Commons committee was quite substantial and made very important recommendations, which I hope to deal with in my speech. Unfortunately, I was unable to get through a lot of the recommendations.
One of the recommendations I was dealing with was the one that Radio Canada International be allowed to consider programming in Farsi over its worldwide shortwave service, over conventional FM broadcasting to the gulf region and over the Internet. I want to make certain the government did follow through on that and did not just pay lip service to it and not do it.
Another recommendation was to ensure that Iranian foreign offices, bureaus or media outlets in Canada would not used by the Iranian regime as a source of threat and intimidation of the Iranian diaspora in Canada. We have seen in a number of other situations, in Canada and elsewhere, where regimes will go abroad to hunt down and threaten former citizens of their country who are involved in demonstrations and so on against their government.
In addition, the subcommittee recommended that, in communicating its condemnation of the human rights violations of the Iranian regime against its own people, the Government of Canada should use all available tools already authorized under Canada’s existing immigration and visa legislation to ensure that high-ranking members of the regime would not able to access direct or indirect support from within Canadian territory.
In addition, it recommended the reduction high-level interaction with Iranian government officials and to make any invitations extended to Iranian officials conditional upon effective actions taken by the Iranian government to improve the human rights situation in Iran.
In addition, there was a recommendation that the Government of Canada, in communicating its condemnation of the human rights violations perpetrated by members of Iran’s state security agencies against the Iranian people, use all available tools authorized by existing immigration and visa policies and legislation to deny entry into Canada to members of Iran’s security agencies, including members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Also there was a recommendation that the Government of Canada institute targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against those individuals within the Iranian government and the state security forces who were known to have committed human rights violations.
In the case of Egypt, Mubarak and his family have a reported $70 billion. The question now is where is the money and can the current Egyptian authorities track it down and get it. In the case of Tunisia, some of the ruling family are in Canada. The question is what we can do to try to track down these assets and return the people and the assets to the new authorities in Tunisia.
A very important recommendation of the committee is the idea of the targeted sanctions. I mentioned what happened in Libya number of years ago when countries took action against Libya and froze Libya out of world affairs and froze its economic opportunities. Libya suffered a lot for a number of years until Colonel Gaddafi came forward and renounced terrorism and promised not to be involved in any more state-sponsored terrorism activities. Only then did the sanctions get lifted and the restrictions removed. Now we see a new tourism industry developing there, much more activity in the oil fields and other activities.
If a country like Iran can look out in the world and see what is the worse possible situation that could develop and happen to it, if it continues violating human rights and if it also sees what happened when Libya gave up participating in state-sponsored terrorism, then it will see it is very short-sighted to continue to do what it is.
It has been reported by several speakers tonight, in a lot of very interesting speeches, that the Iranian population is very young, well-educated and highly motivated. It is only a matter of time before the theocracy and the current government starts to crumble. That just leads to increased repression. However, at the end of the day that will not overcome mass actions on the streets. We saw that in 2009, after the Ahmadinejad re-election. We see it happening right now. It is possible that if things work out the way we hope they will, conditions may change, as they did in Egypt and in Tunisia.
Once again, we talked about this being a moving target, that we do not know what will happen at the end of the day. Members will remember that in 1979, after the Shah of Iran was overthrown, people were hoping for the best for Iran. It was only a matter of time, I am just not sure how long it was, but I think it was just a matter of weeks or months before the theocracy took root and the Ayatollah Khomeini came back from France and assumed power.
I am sure all of us here hope that will not what will happen in Egypt, or in Tunisia, or in any other of these countries.
I know we sit back, in Canada, with our democratic ideals on our chests, and we recommend those ideals and do what we can to promote those ideals. However, we are dealing with different countries and they do not necessarily always think the way we do. There are a lot of competing interests.
I remember being in Morocco in 1970 and then going back 10 years ago. I saw tremendous changes in that time. I do not know how democratic the government is, but the education level of the population is much higher than it was in 1970. In 1970 it was a relatively poor agrarian country, with most people wearing djellabas and very few people wearing blue jeans. Today, almost anybody younger than me wears western dress. Also, the country was trying to get into the European Union.
Looking at that, Morocco would be a good candidate for the type of democratic reforms that we would be trying to pursue. However, I cannot say the same thing about Iran because I have not been there. However, if we assume that it has a young, educated population, it is a very good sign that it may be willing to adopt a democratic approach.
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Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC):
Mr. Chair, the discussion of comparisons between the revolution of 1979 in Iran and what could be categorized as a revolution, which is probably a good way of describing what is underway in Egypt and Tunisia, are not simply a change of heads of state but actually of the regime and its underlying philosophy. That I think qualifies as a revolution.
That thought made me go back and think about another comparison that had been made that I read about many years ago between the Iranian revolution of 1979 and certain earlier revolutions, the one in France in 1789 and the one in Russia in 1917.
I remember reading a book published by a man named Crane Brinton which I would recommend to the hon. member, in which he looks at the patterns of revolutions. It is called The Anatomy of Revolution. It talks about revolutions which unfortunately more often than not do not result in additional liberties, at least not in the long run. He does not say it exactly this way but it appears to be because if we lack a framework of laws and a constitutional framework on which to base that revolutionary change, the danger is that naked force will have to be applied and someone in the end applies that naked force.
That is a pretty good analysis of what happened in 1979 in Iran. I think he is right in assuming that the population there is relatively sophisticated but they were in 1979 as well.
I would ask the member if he shares this concern. Should any change occur there it would probably be best to try and do so within some form of recognition of a legitimate set of laws that could guide the transition.
The member, like all of us, would like to see what happened in eastern Europe in 1989 serve as the model where the transformation from dictatorship to democracy took place because law was respected as revolutionary change took place.
That is kind of half comment and half question. I will see if the member has any thoughts on that.
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Mr. Jim Maloway:
Mr. Chair, I thought, and I could be wrong, that in 1979 in Iran after coming off the years of the Shah, that once the Ayatollah Khomeini came back from France that country went through the process of consolidating power, but its power was consolidated as a theocracy. More importantly, the revolution became an export. I remember being in Athens, Greece one day and there was a big demonstration in favour of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
In many respects some revolutions are insular to the country and that is how we hope they would be. But other revolutions that develop on an ideological basis actually become beacons to the world and are exported.
That 1979 revolution in Iran seemed to be an exported revolution. The country spent as much time exporting its ideas to other countries and fomenting activities to support other revolutions and revolutionary efforts as much as it did trying to satisfy its own people. But there did not seem to be as many demands from its own people in those days. I see it a little different now. Never having been there it seems to me that the people have local demands. We cannot forget that the people went through a war for a number of years with Iraq and that was a very consuming war between Saddam Hussein, who started the war, and Iran.
At a certain point the people will want to see improvement in their own lives, not a degradation of their lives. Even today in Iraq people have not achieved the standard of living they had before Saddam Hussein started to take the country down. The people were higher but they have gone lower. People in Iran right now expect things to get better. Hopefully they will become more insular and will not try to export the revolution and their foreign policy as they are right now.
I hope that answers part of the member’s question.