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November 5, 2009

Human Rights and the Battle for Iran

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Washington DC – “It is in the national interest of the United States to press the human rights issue in Iran,” said Professor Mehrzad Boroujerdi, of the political science department at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.  His comments came as part of the first of two panel discussions at NIAC’s Capitol Hill conference yesterday, which focused on the current domestic and human rights issues of Iran as well as the ongoing US diplomacy.

The panel included Geneive Abdo, a fellow at the Century Foundation and a long-time reporter on Iran for The Economist and The Guardian, Dr. Hadi Ghaemi of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, and Professor Boroujerdi.

The panel extensively addressed the question of how the US might promote human rights in Iran as part of its ongoing diplomatic efforts, but without weakening its leverage on the nuclear issue.   Hadi Ghaemi proposed a parallel track of negotiations, modeled off of the UN’s P5+1 process in order to multilateralize the process of addressing human rights in Iran. 

 

ImageBoroujerdi warned that Obama cannot use the issue of human rights as a bargaining chip and negotiate away the hopes and aspirations of the Iranian opposition. The hardliners are doing all they can to keep the human rights issue off the table, and if Obama does not press the issue alongside the nuclear negotiations, the Iranian opposition will view this as an implicit acceptance of the Ahmadinejad government at their expense.  Such a move will leave little hope for the Iranian opposition, according to Ms. Abdo, and will damage the United States’ public image among the population in Iran.

The panelists agreed that, while many people would like to view the movement in Iran as a revolution in pursuit of regime change, the reality is not quite so simple.  “The Green movement in Iran is not a revolutionary movement.  This is a civil rights movement,” Prof. Boroujerdi explained.  He continued: “We are witnessing the emergence of a new guard, which could possibly have the potential of being more radical and more revolutionary-but as of right now we are not there yet.” 

ImageProfessor Boroujerdi explained that both the elite members of the opposition and its youthful supporters are wary of any kind of overnight change that would come with revolution and regime change. The traumatic experience of 1979 and observing the wars along its borders have matured the movement to recognize the instability of regime change and the ensuing chaos that it brings. Therefore, using the language, symbols, and laws of the land, the Iranian opposition is holding the Iranian government accountable for deviating from its own set principles of Islam and the Iranian constitution.  This, according to Ms. Abdo, gives them the moral high ground. 

The panel agreed that the Green Wave movement was still in its nascent form and still struggling to take shape. While figures like Mousavi and Karroubi have been at the forefront of this movement, all agreed – using the testimonies of the individuals themselves – that they are merely the most vocal and well-known figures within the opposition.  In fact, the movement is buttressed by the entire opposition, rather than just one leader. 

Finally, on the subject of sanctions, the panelists explained that, in their view, only the most targeted sanctions should be considered, as the last thing the United States should do is impose greater hardship on the Iranian people.  “Sanctions should deprive the Iranian government of the tools it needs for the repression of its people,” Prof. Boroujerdi said.  “Other goods and services, for example civilian airline parts, should not be sanctioned because they will beget goodwill with the Iranian people.”

Please click here for video footage of the conference.

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