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February 1, 2011

Execution of Dutch-Iranian Woman Demonstrates Need for Greater International Pressure on Rights

Zahra BahramiOn Saturday, Iranian-born Dutch citizen Sahra Bahrami was executed purportedly on charges of drug smuggling.  Bahrami was first detained in December 2009 for “security crimes,” but her family believes that she was executed for her involvement in the 2009 Ashura protests while visiting family members in Iran.  In violation of Iranian law, Bahrami’s own Iranian attorney, Jinoos Sharif Razi, and family members were not even informed of when her execution took place.
Despite her possession of Dutch citizenship and passport, Bahrami was denied access to the Dutch consulate because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship.  Gharib Abadi, the Iranian ambassador to the Netherlands, even went so far as to say that “the hanging was ‘an internal issue’ that should have no impact on diplomatic relations.”  Of course, it did, and the Netherlands immediately froze all diplomatic relations with Iran in response to Bahrami’s execution.  On Monday, the European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and the U.S. State Department called for an immediate halt on all pending executions.  The EU Foreign Affairs Committee also passed a resolution today calling for a focus on Iran’s human rights violations targeted sanctions against “Iranian officials responsible for serious human rights abuses,” mirroring the policy advocated by NIAC and implemented by the United States last September.
Sahra Bahrami’s case is yet another indication that Iran is on an “execution binge.”  From December 19 to January 19, Iran executed 97 prisoners, including four prisoners of conscience. That’s one execution every eight hours.  Such an extensive problem requires a global, systematic response, not one-off statements or reactions.
In March, the international community will have the opportunity to confront Iran’s human rights abuses at the United Nations Human Rights Council.  In particular, the Council can establish a mandate for an international human rights monitor to focus much-needed international scrutiny on Iran’s human rights crisis.  Strong U.S. leadership on the council is required in order for any substantive action to take place since other concerned countries almost always look to the United States for leadership.  Iran will moderate its human rights abuses when it comes under severe international scrutiny, as the  suspension of Sakineh Ashtiani’s sentence to death by stoning demonstrates.
A human rights monitor can create space for Iran’s human rights and democracy movement by keeping the attention of the international community focused on the abuses transpiring in Iran.  When a U.N. human rights monitor was in place for Iran from 1984 to 2002, measurable progress on Iran’s human rights was achieved.  But since the mandate for the human rights monitor was discontinued in 2002, human rights conditions in Iran have significantly worsened, especially after the fraudulent June 2009 elections.
It is an outrage that the Human Rights Council has not already established a human rights monitor for Iran, but to miss yet another opportunity to do so while so many Iranians continue to suffer would be unconscionable.

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