What can Goli Ameri do?

I wrote a about the appointment of Goli Ameri to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last week. This piece, which was just a short news blip, appeared on Iranian.com. I have since received several e-mails with questions and opinions, including one from a dear member of Ameri's family.

In order to be fair to Ameri and to address the unnecessary doubt that this might have created I feel the need to articulate a bit more. First let me say that I am a part-time radio journalist, and I have been working with a well respected radio station in Portland, OR. This puts a responsibility on my shoulders to scrutinize what I see and read and want to report, regardless of who the subject is.

Ameri is now a public figure and as such subject of scrutiny, if I don't ask questions someone else would. I also need to confess that for the past 15 years I have been involved with advocacy on human rights issues in Iran and for Iranians elsewhere, not just by personal actions but also by participating in Amnesty International campaigns and by being an active member of the late Iranian Human Rights Working Group (1994-2000). 

My intention was not to downgrade this appointment. I am honored to see a Ameri be the US representative to UNCHR rather than a Shelly or Robert, even if I did not know Ameri personally. Further I should say that I have come to know Ameri for almost a decade and have been informed of her activities not very closely but from a short distance since then. Obviously we have serious differences of opinion, but we have agreed to differ.

What I wrote about her immigration to the US (in the early 70s) and her travel back to Iran (in the late 90s) is based on data available publicly on-line (i.e., “Wikipedia” and “Lifting the Veilr“).  I agree with her son that she moved to US to go to school in 1973, and was not just immigrated yet.   

The point I was trying to make was that contrary to what was claimed in Ameri's campaign, she did not escape from persecution and tyranny. She and many other Iranians including myself are self-exiled; we have decided to stay here to enjoy the freedom and the opportunities we could not find back home.

She almost became a US Congresswoman and is a very successful businesswoman and now a presidential appointee. These are all good and honorable accomplishments, but her move is properly described as immigration to the land of opportunity. Maybe it was a campaign strategy to make the image more catchy, but in my humble opinion the candidate did not need to capitalize on something she was not (a refugee and escapee). The United States is a land of immigrants but not all have escaped a holocaust. We are all somehow part of what was described by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) in the New Colossus in 1883;

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she,
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddles masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore;
send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Now what does all this have to do with the presidential appointment? I was trying to find the motive behind the selection of Ameri to this post. I proposed two possibilities; was this action purely based on her unconditional support of President Bush, sort of a pay back to an ally, which happens all the time with more than 2000 public seats that are appointed by the President without other criteria whatsoever? Or was it the opportunity for political pressure on Iran because of what Ameri has said during her campaign?  

If neither are the reason, she must have some credential to be on a Human Rights Commission of that stature, does she not? I honestly have no information on her involvement with human rights organizations. If there is such engagement why did not show up on her resume during the campaign? Finally I could speculate that this appointment has something to do with her refugee status and escape from prosecution and that is where the connection came in.

Regardless of what motivated the President to appoint Ameri to this position, now that she is there it is our duty to congratulate her and wish her the best. Meantime it is also our duty to remind her of the importance of the seat she occupies and the delicacy needed in maneuvering as an Iranian-American with all the good intentions that I am sure she has.

The ruling conservatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran have maintained their intention of imbuing the political climate of the country of all of their opponents. They are carrying out their plan through exerting heavier pressure on writers, journalists, human rights advocates, and any dissidents in general. The situation is characterized by increased violation of human rights. Repercussions of their actions have also affected the lives of political prisoners, their families, as well as their lawyers.

Pressure on human rights' advocates has increased in the past months. That has included even Shirin Ebadi, despite the fact that she is a Nobel Peace laureate and watched by the world community. Furthermore, the web bloggers and Internet service providers are persistently being pressured to quit their activities. The list of web sites being blocked by the government from public access grows day by day. Assemblies of university students and their associations have been obstructed and this tactic has expanded to labor organizations, even those established under Islamic Workers Society agendas.

Oppressions have led to the disintegration of the population and lost opportunities for fluent dissemination of news, information and cultural exchanges. The public has been kept in the dark with respect to the Islamic Republic's destructive and detrimental foreign policies. Under these circumstances, insomuch as international affairs are concerned, the country's national interests are prone to be compromised. Meanwhile in the international eyes, as expected, human rights issues in Iran have been overshadowed by Iran's crisis related to nuclear activities.

We should raise awareness against this trend. To confront the situation, collaborative efforts at the national and international levels are required. Until the intellectual community inside the country is mobilized and the world is informed about these facts, the crisis will not subside. We ought to convince the international community and foreign governments that promoting democracy in Iran is the best way to ensure that Iran will comply with universal nuclear guidelines and will not be a threat to the world security in any way.  

It is now three years that the Commission on Human Rights has refused to adopt a resolution condemning Islamic Republic's violations of human rights, mainly because some member states had fear that adopting a resolution would jeopardize nuclear negotiations with their Iranian counterpart. The direct result of such negligence is that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has not appointed a Special Rapporteur for Iran who could be able to directly monitor the situation inside the country.

Responding to a call by three children of three dissidents, two of whom were murdered by intelligence agents (Mokhtari and Pouyandeh), and one who is a defense lawyer for victims of these chain murders and is kept in prison even after serving his sentence (Zarafshan), scores of Iranians in Europe gathered in front of the UN in Geneva. They, along with human rights activists around the world, demanded continuous inspection of the situation in Iran by the UN Commission on Human Rights and asked for appointment of a Special Rapporteur for Iran. 

It is a fact that US representatives are at the Commission to defend their own government's human rights record, which in the case of the Bush administration is not very shiny to begin with. One only needs to look at the reasons why the US was voted out of the Commission four years ago; hostile US reaction to former high commissioner Marry Robinson's criticism of American human rights abuses in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, and the U.S. votes on human-rights standards, including the opposition to a treaty to abolish landmines, to the International Criminal Court, to making AIDS drugs available to everyone, and execution of juveniles (before it was banned by the US Supreme Court last week).

Nevertheless in addition to her duty as a US representative, I trust that Ameri can play a crucial role in supporting a human rights agenda for Iran that is purely based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not political motivations, or anything set forth by Neo-cons. And I certainly wish Goli would do just that.

Goudarz Eghtedari is an engineer by profession, a journalist, peace and Human Rights activist who lives in Portland, Oregon >>> See VoicesOfTheMiddleEast.com

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