The resignation of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on 26 February has seen a number of events highlighting Iran’s ongoing poor human rights record leading up to and after the resignation. In an interview with BBC’s Lyse Ducet, Zarif apologised for any “shortcomings” during his time in government and said:
“Iran saw human rights not only as a “moral nicety,” but as a “security requirement.”
However, after continued pressure he continued in his role as Foreign Minister, and Iranian foreign relations persist on a tense path.
Leading up to the resignation, tensions grew ever more intense between Iran and the US. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took the White House’s anti-Iran message to a U.S.-sponsored conference in Poland on peace and security in the Middle East on 13 February. Pompeo also highlighted the decision to sanction 80 Iranians including officers, judges prison wardens, members of the IRGC and Iran’s cyber-police.
Foreign ministers and delegates from more than 60 countries gathered in Warsaw for the summit. However, the conference has drawn reproach for focusing on Iran, while ignoring and downplaying other regional actors. Mohammad Javad Zarif made a number of statements about the ongoing dispute. On 20 February he tweeted,
“Day by day it becomes clearer to the world what was always clear to us: neither human rights nor a nuclear program have been the real concern of the US,”
Zarif’s tweet echoed the speech he gave at the Munich conference on 17 February. In his speech he said,
“The demonization of my country has been a convenient cross for seven consecutive American presidents to bear-and a smokescreen for America’s regional clients to hide behind.”
However, at the time of writing, Zarif remains in his post as Foreign Minister. Following calls by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani for a referendum to end political gridlock, 15 prominent human rights defenders and activists from several groups issued a statement on 20 February demanding that a referendum be held in the country, but calling for it to take place under the sponsorship of the United Nations.
Nobel prize laureate, Shirin Ebadi, joined the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) in urging Canada to sanction what it calls “the architects of repression” in Iran. In December 2018 the RWCHR, led by Irwin Cotler, used Magnitsky Laws to sanction a number of Iranian officials, of which there were 19 who they felt needed strong condemnation for rights abuses. He said,
“Naming and shaming these human rights abusers will be an important expression of solidarity with their victims and of pursuing justice and accountability for their criminality, and ending the culture of impunity that underpins it,”
The US response to Zarif’s resignation saw Mike Pompeo state on twitter:
We note @JZarif’s resignation. We’ll see if it sticks. Either way, he and @HassanRouhani are just front men for a corrupt religious mafia. We know @khamenei_ir makes all final decisions. Our policy is unchanged—the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 26, 2019
A Euronews report also said that the majority of Iranian MPs signed a letter asking for Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to continue in his role as FM. Soon after his resignation Zarif returned to his role as Iran’s Foreign Minister, imposing the condition that his department must have the final say on all of Iran’s foreign policy matters.
On 6th March, European Union ambassadors decided to leave sanctions imposed on dozens of Iranians accused of severe human rights abuses in place for another year
The United States urged the U.N. Security Council on 7 March to impose new sanctions on Iran, saying its recent missile-related launches could be capable of delivering nuclear weapons and risk a regional arms race.
International relations with Iran
UK and EUROPE
In a prolific move the UK has said that it will formally offer British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection. The UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed this on 8 March. This diplomatic protection means that the case will now be treated as a formal, legal dispute between Britain and Iran.
Mr Hunt said the move was unlikely to be a “magic wand” to get her released, but was an “important diplomatic step”. He went on to say that it “demonstrates to the whole world that Nazanin is innocent” and signalled to Iran “that its behaviour is totally wrong”. Stressing the use of Nazanin’s case as a bargaining chip in UK-Iran relations he went on to say,
“You may have disagreements with the UK, but at the heart of this is an innocent woman, vulnerable, unwell and scared. She should not be paying the price for whatever disagreements you have with the UK.”
Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe has said that the decision “gives her hope.”
However, in response to the move, the Iranian ambassador to London said the decision “contravenes international law”, a reaction that was expected by Hunt and the UK Foreign Office. Iran’s continued human rights violations however continue to persist. But the move from the UK government also presents Mohammed Javad Zarif, with a major test of his authority especially given his recent resignation and subsequent change of mind.
Despite still holding onto some hope for the JCPOA, the EU imposed sanctions on Iran in January 2019 when the Netherlands accused Iran of two killings on its soil and joined France and Denmark in accusing Tehran of plotting other attacks in Europe.
Examples and Cases of Iran’s Human Rights Violations
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi joined the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR) in urging Canada to sanction what it calls “the architects of repression” in Iran.
Despite continued sanctions, Iran has continued to arbitrarily detain dual-nationals. In addition, Iranian citizens face a number of human rights violations including the suppression of communication and expression represented in the continued blocking of social media networks Facebook, Twitter and Telegram that affects 40 million people. Grave human rights violations such as the denial of health-care to political prisoners such as the case of Ars Sadeghi and the imprisonment of 17 people who oppose the obligatory wearing of the hijab. Prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh has also been convicted and faces years in prison in Iran for defending protestors who were against the mandatory hijab. Nasrin has previously served three years in Iranian jail prison for her work.
The arbitrary detention of hundreds of human rights defenders including, Nisreen Stouda, Mohammed Najafin, Kassem Shaalah Saadi, Amir Salar Daoudi, Arsh Kikhrousi, Farouk Frouzan and a number of human rights activists such as Huda Ameen, Najma Wahidi to name just a few that have been detained in Iran.
The question remains as to whether or not Iran will respond to the stronger sanctions and condemnation being placed on them by the international community, but the reinstatement of Zarif suggests that there is still a long road to travel.