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Lashes per dollar
Canadian trade with Iran and the issue of human rights

Samira Mohyeddin
October 22, 2004

Iran Canada Business Council (ICBC) held its annual general meeting in Tornto on Monday October 18. The seminar was titled, "Bilateral Relations and its Impact on Your Business with Iran". Founded in 1992, the goals of the organization are two fold:

-- To promote and support trade and investment between Iran and Canada.
-- To serve as an advisory body to the Canadian government on matters related to trade and economic relations with Iran.

On the same day as the seminar, reports began to circulate about a 13-year-old Iranian girl, Jila Izadi, who has been sentenced to death by stoning for carrying the child of her fifteen year-old brother. Izadi is currently in prison, and her brother, also in prison, has received 150 lashes as his punishment.

Two months earlier, a 16-year-old girl by the name of Atefeh Rajabi, was executed in the town of Neka, located in the province of Mazandaran, for "engaging in acts incompatible with chastity". The execution was ordered by Neka's judicial administrator and approved by both the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic and the chief of the nation's judiciary branch, Mahmoud Shahroudi.

The Iran Canada Business Council is quite concerned that the tragic killing of Canadian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, will be bad for business. But they need not worry. When everything in our world is measured by dollars and cents, it has become increasingly difficult to situate the abstract and, at times, ambiguous notion of human rights as the new bottom line.

Even as the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to accelerate the number of arrests, executions, tortures, amputations, stonings, and other atrocities and injustices, in May of this year, the World Bank awarded it with two loans totaling $369 million.

As justification for granting the loans, the World Bank asserted that they were awarded to help the people of Iran: "In many countries we have enfranchised civil societies," the Bank's president, James D. Wolfensohn said at a luncheon, "Should we stop doing that and wait until we had perfect countries before we lend?"

Wolfensohn continued by professing: "The easiest thing for me, for the World Bank, would be to say, just wait until these countries are democratic, but that is impractical. The bank is not the United Nations. Its goal is economic development. Sometimes this must go hand in hand with democratic development."

This is an argument that is repeatedly invoked; the suggestion being that somehow the personal status laws of women in Iran will shift dramatically because French car manufacturer, Renault, decided to open up a plant in Tehran, or that the barbarous act of stoning will halt because the French oil conglomerate, TOTAL, won a $1.2 billion bid to extract Iranian natural gas in the southern Pars region of the Persian Gulf.

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