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Tomorrow Will Be Too Late

Photo by Brian Liu/ Toolbox Design, 1 December 2004, Nobel Laureates

15 February 10 - Does the West want to punish the Iranian government or its people ?  On the eve of Iran’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on February 15, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi appealed in an interview by Carole Vann/Infosud Human Rights Tribune with Infosud for more coherence from the international community with regard to the Mullas. The Iranian attorney and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2003, Shirin Ebadi was at Geneva’s UN headquarters on Friday to launch a world appeal. Inivted by organizations defending human liberties and surrounded by a numerous security guards, she addressed a room full of journalists, demanding help from the international community to ‘put out the fire’ in her country.

After eight months the repression in Iran against demonstrators protesting June’s reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, thousands have been arrested and dozens killed. Two protestors have been executed, ten await the same fate. With the help of a considerable police presence, the authorities managed to limit the peaceful demonstrations of February 11, the 31st anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Today (February 15) Teheran passes through the seive of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process with respect to status of the country’s civil rights. At the same time Iranians in Switzerland will stage a protest in front of the Palais des Nations.

What are you seeking here in Geneva ?

For the past eight months our government has refused to listen to the people. That must be changed. Help us to put out this fire quickly. Tomorrow will be too late. Until now, the Iranian people have renounced violence. But if this siutation persists, I warn you, the day will come when young Iranians will no longer stand this repression and there will be a bloodbath. That will be a terrible human tragedy. Don’t forget and take me seriously !

Iran has asked to take part in the Human Rights Council this year. As an eventual member, it pretends to occupy the same place as other countryes. But the government doesn’t even respect its own internal laws. People are arrested at dawn at their homes, which is a violation of our national law. Those close to the militants are arrested to apply further pressure.

I have warned High Commissioner Navi Pillay and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Iran must not become a new Zimbabwe. I addressed an open letter to the Human Rights Council. The UN must send a Special Rapporteur (independent expert) to investigate what is happening on the ground.

The police have managed to contain the February 11 demonstrations. Can one speak of a return of the Mullahs ? February 11 was a victory for the population because in spite of government violence, the people went out into the streets. The Green Movement (as the protestors call themselves) didn’t achieve the success of the days following the June elections. But now the protestors include everyone. In spite of growing government violence, the people seize on the slightest occasion to make themselves heard. I cannot say how many times this has happened but I can assure you that the Iranian people will know democracy sooner or later.

What do you think of economic sanctions?

We are opposed to military attacks and to econonic sanctions which can only do harm to the people. The authorities can get around sanctions with the help of Russia or China. On the other hand, I beg you not to deliver arms or material to Teheran that could be used to oppress the opposition.

There are other means to make pressure. For example, stop delivering communication materials. Nokia and Siemens have furnished the goverment with software that allows telephone conversations and SMS messages to be monitored. People have been arrested thanks to this software.

The authorities have also paralyzed the Internet, they have blocked radio and television coming from abroad. One should do the same thing and stop the Iranian government from broadcasting its own programs in foreign languages by blocking the official networks. We also encourage political sanctions.

What do you mean by political sanctions?

Without breaking relations with Iran, ambassadors could be recalled from Teheran, leaving lower level chargés in their place. It is a way to show that human rights must be respected. Elsewhere, high level diplomats, when they come to Iran, must also pay visits to families of prisoners, militants and independent journalists.

But for the moment, students, journalists and militants don’t receive visas to go abroad or to participate in international forums. The same government that denies visas to its citizens gives them to the most minor functionaire who asks. You in the West, do you want to punish our government or our people ? One must be clear. That’s what I mean by political sanctions. Without forgetting that the money the government gets through corruption is held in Western banks.

As an attorney, you defend members of the Bahaï community. What can you tell us about that?

The Baha'is are a religious minority not recognized by the Iranian government. They are therefore deprived of all economic, civil and political rights. Since the Islamic revolution, they are not even allowed to study at the university. For 30 years, we have tried to bring this matter before the Supreme Court. About 20 months ago, seven of their leaders were arrested. They are represented by myself and my colleagues. For a year and a half, the authorities have prevented us from meeting with our arrested clients. We have not even been allowed to read notes in their files. But I was able to read the entire dossier and found no evidence of what the prosecutor was charging them with. If an impartial judge examined these files, they would be freed. Today 50 Baha'is are in detention in Iranian prisons.

Translated from French by Pamela Taylor
Human Rights Tribune
Banner created with photo by Brian Liu/ Toolbox Design, 1 December 2004, Nobel Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, and Wangari Maathai join the ICRC and the UN in the Nobel Laureate panel and discussion in Nairobi, Kenya on “Linking Humanitarian, Development, and Disarmament Responses to War.”

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