Friday, December 11, 2009

We Must Nurture Hope in Iran

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The battered and bruised Iranian protest movement is focusing world attention on the country's lamentable human rights record. I doubt anyone who came across Amnesty International's latest report on Iran will have been truly surprised. "Abuse and show trials" is the headline and that, in one sense, sums up what has been a miserable last six months in the country – in human rights terms, as bad a period as the country has endured in the last 20 years. But I'm not entirely without hope that things could yet get better. The very ferocity of the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters has stiffened the resolve of what were already vibrant movements for change and human rights reform in the country. Lawyers, trades unionists, women's activists and an increasingly vocal and organised urban youth and student movement are all becoming more active. Yes, for the moment this is a dangerous zero-sum game. For every action taken by, for example, the indefatigable women's movement the Campaign For Equality, there are arrests and new intakes into Tehran's notorious Evin prison. People are paying with their liberty, with torture and even their lives for the stances they're adopting. Yet the genie is now out of the bottle and there are signs that Iran's governmental elites will have difficulty in putting it back.

Nearly two-thirds of Iran's population of 71 million are below the age of 30 and while young people also make up the ranks of the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guard, urban Iranian 20-somethings certainly bulk out the largest demonstrations and, as in many other countries, students in Iran are frequently at the forefront of calls for reform. Meanwhile, there are signs of division in the Iranian power structure. Even members of the judiciary have been telling Amnesty that they're painfully aware of the country's failings and want reforms. Certainly Amnesty sees this as the right moment to insist that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, listens to international calls and instructs the government to invite in Manfred Nowak, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, and Philip Alston, his counterpart on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. Would Iran ever accede to demands for independent investigations into the post-election violence? Right now it's hard to imagine, but it needs to be pushed for. Presently the protest and wider human rights movement in Iran is battered and bruised. But it has succeeded in focusing intense international attention on Iran's lamentable human rights record. (Read more...)