Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Human Rights Situation in Iran
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):  
    Madam Chair, Ahmadinejad’s Iran, and I use that term to distinguish it from the Iranian people who are themselves the targets of massive domestic repression, has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to regional and Middle East stability and increasingly and alarmingly to its own people.
    Simply put, we are witnessing in Ahmadinejad’s Iran the toxic convergence of four distinct yet interrelated threats: the nuclear threat; the genocidal incitement threat; the threat of state-sponsored terrorism; and the systematic and widespread violations of the rights of the Iranian people.
    Let there be no mistake about it. Iran is in standing violation of international legal prohibitions against the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide, prohibited under the genocide convention. Iran is a leading state sponsor of international terrorism. Iran is engaged in this massive suppression of the rights of its own people, which is taking place as we meet.
    Recent developments have served only to expose and magnify this critical massive threat. For example, in the matter of Iran’s nuclear weaponization program, the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern that Iran was “advancing in its efforts to construct a nuclear warhead, to develop a missile delivery system for such a warhead, and a mechanism to detonate such a weapon”. Simply put, the IAEA and arms control experts have reported that Iran has enriched enough nuclear fuel to build these dreaded nuclear bombs.
    In the matter of state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, Iranian leaders have continued their incendiary calls for Israel’s destruction. Underpinning this state-sanctioned incitement are the dehumanizing and demonizing epidemiological metaphors characterizing Israel as a “cancerous tumour” that must be excised and the Jewish people as “evil incarnate”, the whole as prologue to and justification for Israel’s impending demise.
    In the matter of the state-sponsorship of international terrorism, Iran appointed as its minister of defence, during President Obama’s year of engagement with Iran, in a mocking defiance of President Obama, Ahmed Vahidi, a former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Vahidi is the object of an Interpol arrest warrant for his role in the planning and perpetration of the greatest terrorist atrocity in Argentina since the end of the Second World War, the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Centre in Argentina.
    While the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has emerged as the epicentre of the four-fold Iranian threat, both repressing its own citizens at home, while exporting its terrorism abroad.
    In the matter of human rights violations, which will now be the focus of the balance of my remarks, while the eyes of the world are understandably turned toward what is happening in Egypt and North Africa and while we identify with the democratization and the cry for freedom in Egypt and in North Africa, Iranian assaults on human rights and state-sanctioned Iranian executions have escalated dramatically.
    In 2011 alone, Iran has executed at least 120 people, a rate of about 1 person every 8 hours, an unprecedented execution binge even by wanton Iranian standards, and which tragically has gone largely unnoticed and which has served as the warrant for this take note debate this evening.
    Simply put, Iran is engaged in a wholesale assault on the rights of its own people, including a state-orchestrated wave of arrests, detentions, beatings, torture, kidnappings, disappearances and executions. I join with the minister in the identification of the victims of these massive human rights violations. He has appropriately named the inventory of these ongoing victims who are not simply statistics but who are ongoing victims of these massive violations.
    Initially all of this was overlaid with Stalinist show trials and coerced confessions, but even that pretense has now been discarded.
     This orchestrated criminal campaign has included a widespread systematic assault on women’s rights, the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, targeting especially the Baha’i, the largest and most oppressed religious minority in Iran, and ethnic Kurds, the imprisonment and murder of political dissidents and the criminalization of freedom of speech, assembly and association, including assaults on students and professors, activists and trade unions.
    In particular, Iran has imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the world. It leads the world in per capita executions, including the execution of children. It has imprisoned and even murdered the lawyers who seek to represent these victims of human rights violations, the whole constituting crimes against humanity under international law.
    We have been witness, just yesterday, to the incredible spectacle of several hundred Iranian parliamentarians calling for the imprisonment and murder of their fellow parliamentarians and leader of the opposition. The utter hypocrisy of Iranian leaders who criticize Mubarak for silencing protests in Egypt are now using patterns of intimidation, violence, imprisonment and execution to silence the voices of protest in Iran.
    Therefore, the question becomes this. What must be done? In particular, in the aftermath of the belated yet welcome United Nations sanctions resolution in June and the targeted economic sanctions subsequently adopted by the U.S., the European Union, Canada and Australia, the question often asked is this. What remains to be done?
    I will share with the House a 10-point action agenda, while incorporating by reference the recommendations unanimously adopted by the foreign affairs committee and tabled in Parliament in December 2010.
     First, sanctions must not only be adopted, they must be enforced. Otherwise, it is as if the sanctions were never adopted to begin with.
    Second, for sanctions to be effective, they must be internationalized. Yet, as we meet, not only have important countries not adopted sanctions, but they are indeed mocking these sanctions through their ongoing violation of them. For example, Russia and China, which initially supported the UN sanctions resolution, are enhancing their economic relations with Iran. Turkey and Brazil not only remain outside the sanctions orbit, but have accelerated their trade with Iran. Germany, Austria and Switzerland continue to increase their trade with Iran, with German-Iranian trade at $6 billion annually.
    Third, we need to sanction and enforce the sanctions with respect to Iranian banks, particularly the Iranian central bank, lest it prevent the circumvention of some of these sanctions.
    Fourth, sanctions must also target the private sector, as well as the public sector, involving the regulation, the naming and shaming of companies trading or investing in Iran in violation of the sanctions themselves.
    Fifth, sanctions must be multi-layered, not only economic but also juridical, diplomatic, political and the like. In a word, a critical mass of threat requires a critical mass of remedy;
    Sixth, sanctions must be threat-specific. Thus far, the sanctions regime has focused on the nuclear threat, understandable and necessary, but it runs the risk of ignoring, marginalizing and, indeed, sanitizing the other three threats;
    Seventh, in the matter of state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, it is astonishing that, as we meet, not one state party to the genocide convention has initiated any of the mandated legal remedies under international law. I trust the government will adopt the unanimous recommendations of the foreign affairs committee report, which recommended such remedies.
    Eighth, in the matter of the massive human rights violations, the response has not only been tepid but indulgent. When there is an outcry, as in the Iranian stoning sentence of 43-year-old mother of two Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, it soon abates while the planned execution still remains, even if not by stoning, and the massive domestic repression continues unabated.
    Ninth, negotiations cannot be march of folly. We cannot engage in negotiations with Iran to suspend Iranian enrichment and combat the nuclear threat but airbrush away all the other three threats.
    Tenth, in the matter of Iranian-sponsored terror, there needs to be a comprehensive multilateral international effort, not just a U.S. one, to sanction the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
    In a word, this take note debate must sound the alarm as we stand in solidarity with the people of Iran.
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Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):  
    Madam Chair, I would like to thank the member for always being a great champion of human rights around the world, and for sounding this very important alarm especially for countries that have continued to trade with Iran and to ignore the sanctions.
    The member referred to the massive assault on human rights in Iran and the need for specific remedies to sanction these human rights violations. Could the member share with us what some of these remedies and sanctions might do?
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Hon. Irwin Cotler:  
    Madam Chair, I am delighted to do so and to incorporate by reference some of the recommendations in the all-party foreign affairs committee report.
    The recommendations include: one, to provide moral and diplomatic support for the democratic movement in Iran; two, to sanction Iranian officials engaged in repression through travel restrictions, asset seizures, and the like; three, keep the issue of Iranian human rights violations as a priority on the international agenda and as a priority in any bilateral relations with Iran; four, hold Iran to account before the UN Human Rights Council. Incredibly, not one resolution has been passed against Iran in the UN Human Rights Council.
    The recommendations also include: reappoint a UN special rapporteur with respect to human rights in Iran; recommend at every appropriate opportunity that the Iranian government grant access to international human rights organizations within its borders and allow domestic human rights organizations to operate in Iran without restriction or harassment; that the Government of Canada encourage 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; to take appropriate action to ensure that Iranian foreign offices, bureaus or media outlets in Canada are not used by the Iranian regime as a source of threat and intimidation of the Iranian diaspora in Canada.
    The subcommittee also recommended that the Government of Canada completely remove immunity for foreign government officials in cases of ongoing violations of international human rights law.
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Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):  
    Madam Chair, I also want to thank the hon. member for Mount Royal for his excellent speech and his tireless efforts on this issue.
    All of us are aware that Iran is a party to several international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The genocide convention also obligates Canada in many ways, through article I and article III, as we had asked at the committee, to have Canada invite the United Nations Security Council to consider referring to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation and prospective prosecution the case of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and those Iranian leaders participating with him in direct and public incitement to genocide.
    The member for Mount Royal has worked tirelessly on this specific issue. I would like to hear his comments on how that is going and what specific concrete action he suggests the government could be doing right now, not tomorrow, but today.
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Hon. Irwin Cotler:  
    Madam Chair, I was pleased to hear the minister mention again that Canada has been condemning the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, but we have to move beyond the condemnation and to act to combat this state-sanctioned incitement to genocide as not only recommended but mandated by the legal obligations set forth in treaties to which my colleague has referred. What are some of those remedies? I might add, this is not a policy obligation; it is an international legal obligation on our part.
    First, at the very least, our government, or any state party to the genocide convention, should refer the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide to the United Nations Security Council for deliberation and accountability. It is astonishing that as we meet, not even this modest remedy, let alone any of the other remedies, has yet been undertaken by any state party to the convention which is obliged to do so.
    Second, any state party to the genocide convention, such as, Canada, the U.S., any of the European Union countries, can tomorrow initiate an interstate complaint against Iran before the International Court of Justice as Iran is also a state party to the genocide convention. As such, Iran is obliged to prevent and punish such incitement, which in fact it propagates and intensifies.
    Third, we can call upon United Nations Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon who, under article 99 of the United Nations charter, has an obligation to refer a threat to international peace and security to the UN Security Council. What greater threat do we have to international peace and security than the ongoing state-sanctioned incitement to genocide? We have yet to call upon the UN secretary-general to do so. We have yet to call upon the UN Security Council to refer the matter of the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide to the International Criminal Court for deliberation and accountability. Article 25 of the International Criminal Court treaty has a similar prohibition against this incitement to genocide.
    I have just mentioned a number of the remedies which we are legally obliged to take and have yet to do so.
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Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC):  
    Madam Chair, I would ask my hon. colleague to expand upon the incitement to genocide. The offence of incitement to genocide is one that is not necessarily easily grasped. It is a very important and serious offence. It is a human rights violation under the relevant charter. Could he explain exactly technically what it is and exactly technically how the Ahmadinejad regime is currently violating this vis-à-vis Israel?
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Hon. Irwin Cotler:  
    Madam Chair, I am pleased to respond to that question. The Responsibility to Prevent Coalition is a consortium of 100 international lawyers, human rights advocates, former government leaders, former prime ministers from both parties in our own House, and foreign ministers. In its report the coalition has called upon Iran, which is in standing violation, as they put it, of the prohibition against the direct and public incitement to genocide in article 3 of the genocide convention, to cease and desist from such incitement. Regrettably, Iran not only has not ceased and desisted, but in fact continues in its incitement, as the evidence of the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition report has shown, and as has the witness testimony before the foreign affairs committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which my colleague chairs.
    That witness testimony has identified the eight precursors to incitement to genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran. It begins with the whole phenomenon of the exclusion and then goes on to the delegitimization, demonization, the characterization of Israel and its people as a Satanic enemy, what is called the false accusation in the mirror, where one accuses others of that which one intends to do oneself. In a word, there are eight precursors to genocide which exist in Ahmadinejad’s Iran today and which in their collection form the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide.
    I can say as someone who prosecuted Rwandans for incitement to genocide while serving as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, the aggregate of these incitement precursors in Ahmadinejad’s Iran even exceeds that which existed in Rwanda for which people were held accountable under the genocide convention.