Death to No One

Iran has become the world's poster child for the deficit of democracy that plagues many nations


Death to No One
by Bitta Mostofi

Today, marks the 30th year since the 444 day Iran Hostage Crisis began in 1979. On this day the media traditionally offers us images of burning American flags and effigies of Uncle Sam. We are reminded of the great chasm of mistrust and misunderstanding that has marked the last three decades of US-Iranian relations. But in the past year both Americans and Iranians have asked for something new. We have elected a president that promises to pursue diplomacy and Iranians have given birth to a popular democratic movement. So, we should not use this 30th anniversary of the hostage crisis to simply re-live tragedy and tension. Rather, today Americans have an opportunity to honestly reflect on our relationship with Iran and think about how to move forward.

For the past 30 years our government has dealt with Iran through policies of isolation and sanctions.

As we all witnessed amidst post-election unrest, Iranians have created a new dialogue within their country about the respect for human rights and the democratic process. Now, those of us concerned with human rights must drastically alter our own dialogue towards Iran. If we herald the bravery of the “Green Movement,” we should ask what effect crippling sanctions would have for Iran’s human rights prospects?
Days before the United Nations General Assembly opened in September 2009, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi and thousands of Iranians standing in solidarity with the Green Movement, called on the United Nations to prioritize human rights in discussions about Iran. The Preamble of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights avows that all Member States have pledged themselves “to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Yet, in recent discussions regarding Iran, the United Nations Security Council plus Germany focused on the nuclear issue in every instance. In doing, so they have consistently neglected all critical and serious conversations about Iran's human rights violations.

Furthermore, the negotiating states chose to threaten the very fabric of the domestic resistance with “crippling sanctions.” Economic sanctions that directly affect and isolate a civilian population weaken the ability of people committed to creating a better, more just governance.  

Currently, US lawmakers are considering imposing more stringent sanctions against Iran. On October 29th, The U.S. Senate Banking Committee approved a measure encouraging stronger sanctions against Iran, which is similar to a measure already passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, authorizing sanctions against companies that provide Iran with refined petroleum products. The measures would also ban most trade with Iran, exempting food and medicine. The United States is not currently a significant trading partner with Iran, but if the U.S. persuaded other countries to adopt similar measures--and given that the UK has already imposed stronger sanctions -- Iran’s population could be subjected to severe hardships.

Consider, for example, the effects of comprehensive sanctions imposed on Iraq for a period of 13 years. Those who bore the brunt of brutal and lethal punishment caused by economic sanctions were the elderly, the sick, the poor and, children who died by hundreds of thousands. We should also remember that imposition of comprehensive, multilateral sanctions against Iraq proved to be a rallying cry for support of Saddam Hussein in countries where there was high antagonism against the United States. Saddam Hussein could claim to provide for the Iraqi people while the Americans insisted on starving them.

What effects would greater sanctions have on Iran? The Iranian regime has had years of practice in avoiding sanctions by relying on economic relations with China and Russia. The rising revenue and power of the underground economy has bolstered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s allies who control it.  

Meanwhile, sanctions leveled against Iran are creating hardships among the poorest communities in Iran. In 2007, the Iranian government announced fuel rations for private drivers. Due to Iran’s limited refining capabilities, Iran is not energy independent, despite its vast oil resources. The decision to create rations has led to massive uproar and protest for a people who have already suffered extreme rates of unemployment. Inflation has soared to twenty-five percent. Also, in the last year, Iran has faced a serious drought. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated Iran’s loss of wheat production at thirty-three percent. The USDA also noted that, due to the drought and reduced reservoir levels, Iran’s hydroelectric generation capacity and supply have been severely cut. These conditions will lead to severe agricultural problems and possibly to food shortages.

Furthering morally bankrupt policies that focus on the nuclear issue and greater sanctions against Iran will only serve to bolster the Ahmadinejad regime while crippling the Green Movement's struggle for democracy and human rights. It is inevitable that that Iran’s nuclear program will be discussed and debated. But the exclusion of human rights as the central framework of these conversations has led to the same draconian policies. A human rights agenda would not only help foster better policy, but would bolster the Green Movement and American supporters of multilateralism. The movement on the ground today believes in the rule of law, in freedom, and in accountability of government. If policies are furthered that will result in a “collateral damage” of their movement, we have lost our strongest allies in achieving a just and stable Iran.

Iran has become the world's poster child for the deficit of democracy that plagues many nations. Citizens of all nations understand justice and agree upon its terms with remarkable consistency across borders. “The arc of history is long,” Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, “but it bends towards justice.” For 30 years our policies have failed to stand up for truth or justice.  

A flyer from Tehran University marking this anniversary declares “Marg bar hich kas”, “Death to no one”. The Green Movement is turning a page in Iran's history, creating an opportunity for us to stand up for new policy based on human rights and the will of the people. 

Bitta Mostofi is co-founder of Where is My Vote, New York. She is an immigrant and civil rights attorney who can be reached at Kathy Kelly, a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, contributed to this article.



Good Job Bitta

by masoudA on

Just one note - Don't make the mistake of comparing Iran and Iranians to anywhere or anybody in the world.    We have the biggest problems which often have the easiest solutions.....You ever heared of the expression Sahl o Momtane? 


Death To No One


IRI has used distractions to cover its shortcomings relating to well being of the people and Human Rights.  Now that they have lost "Marg Bar America", the nuclear issue has served them well.  America's obsession with Iran's nuclear program has put human rights in the back burner, with only minor lip service now and then.  America is missing the boat for not putting its full weight behind the democratic movement in its infancy.