Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, February 05, 2007

Freedom House holds panel on democracy and human rights in Iran

At the Gozaar Panel Discussion: “The Prospects for Democracy in Iran” at Freedom House on Friday, February 2, three Iranian activists discussed their struggles for freedom and what can be done to promote democracy and human rights in Iran.

Akbar Atri, one of Iran’s leading student activists, initiated the panel discussion by vividly describing the Iranian student movement’s constant struggle for freedom, as they are seeing their political and civil liberties deteriorate and the imprisonment, torture, and murder of fellow student activists. Atri believes supporting and truly implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Iran is crucial for several reasons, including the need to secure freedom of speech in all corners of the Iranian society – he regards upholding this declaration as an opportunity to see change in a society where dissent is fiercely repressed. At the same time Atri hopes to see greater collaboration between new NGOs from all layers of society - giving them a common platform. Atri also said that in order to prevent prolonging the status quo and give Iranians a prosperous outlook for the future, the international community needs to help to end the current suppression of the press and the detention of civil activists within Iran.

Mohsen Sazegara, a Harvard University scholar and democracy activist, is one of the leading proponents of democracy in Iran. He stated that the prospect of a military intervention and the current deflation in Iran are of great concern to the entire Iranian civil society. As such, the current regime is under severe pressure both internationally and domestically, and have consequently intensified pressure on Iranian freedom-seekers.

Sazegara also discussed several scenarios concerning the future of Iran; however he believes that establishing further sanctions, with demands on improving human rights, could be the Achilles heel of the Iranian regime. Currently he is seeing a zero-sum relationship between the regime’s quest to become a world power and work on a covert nuclear weapons program, and this is putting Iranian civil society at risk. Sazegara recognized that the international community will be more likely to provide meaningful assistance when they realize that Iranian civil society does not support the regime’s aggressive tactics. In communicating this important message, internal fissures between different civil society groups need to be brought together, and he believes dialogue amongst Iranian intellectuals can make this happen.

Roya Toloueee, a feminist and Kurdish rights advocate who fled Iran for the U.S., took a different angle on the prospects for democracy in Iran. Her biggest concern is not the suppression of the press but the intrastate national conflicts in Kurdish areas of Iran. Tolouee believes that where conflicts like this remains unresolved, there exists the potential for human rights violations, as well as the resumption of violence. Her main focus in the debate would be the new intellectual movement within the Kurdish communities – this new movement is really keen on discussing nationalism and criticizing the Islamic republic to provoke change. Freedom and democracy for the Kurds are cast aside under the theocratic Iranian regime and all opposition violently “removed”. Thus, freedom and democracy are as much at the core of Kurdish hope, as they are with the majority of the Iranians.

According to Tolouee, human rights is a “fashionable” term today amongst Kurds and young Iranians and she is seeing a growth and flowering of NGOs. Therefore, Tolouee asserts that now is the time for everyone to look beyond old way and internal debates to promote dialogue and compromise so that a common goal can be reached.

The systematic violation of human rights, confronting the international community and combating internal strife has truly left Iran in a precarious position, where it must be prepared for any type of offensive action from the international community. Fear and mistrust run deep, and because of this the outlook for a successful outcome must be viewed with cautious optimism.


Post a Comment

<< Home