David Jones is a former Secretary of State for Wales and is MP for Clywd West.
For more than 30 years, the Iranian regime has been one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. Its breaches include the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners during the summer of 1988, as well as a systematic war against dissidents, women and ethnic and religious minorities. Over the last year, declining respect for human rights in Iran has worsened considerably, and has now reached crisis point.
In a recent conference in the Commons, I joined a dozen colleague from both Houses of Parliament to call on international policy-makers, including our own Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond and the new EU Foreign Affairs High Representative, Federica Mogherini, to remember the Iranian people on International Human Rights Day, and to stand with them.
The international response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been the focus of world attention over the past few years, leaving policy makers pursuing a policy of engagement and negotiation with the Iranian regime. Consistently overlooked in this dialogue, however, have been the Iranian people and their reasonable demands for freedom, dignity, and change.
The people of Iran remain steadfast in their desire for democratic change – a desire the world witnessed in the 2009 protests. Their demands have not in any sense dissipated; but, in response, the regime has resorted to a systematic campaign of attrition against the Iranian people to maintain power and drown out dissent. This campaign has been pursued while the regime simultaneously tries to present a new image of moderation towards the international community.
Since Hassan Rouhani came to power, there have been over a thousand executions in Iran. Indeed, per capita, Iran conducts the greatest number of executions in the world. Many executions are held publicly, as a way of cementing the regime’s rule of fear.
In addition to the alarming number of executions, there has been a rash of attacks against women during the last six months, including multiple incidents in which women who were accused of “improper veiling” were badly injured when acid was thrown into their faces by thugs apparently sanctioned by the regime.
The Iranian opposition has worked tirelessly to bring these issues to the world’s attention. Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has advocated a policy that includes increased sanctions and isolation of Iran for its human rights violations. Rajavi has criticised the regime for conducting a targeted war against women, motivated by a philosophy of misogyny and repression. Women, she says, present the greatest threat to the regime and its theocratic leaders.
The continuing human rights violations in Iran are a barometer of the regime’s waning popularity and its fear of any expression of popular discontent. As Rajavi has noted, the international community needs to pursue a policy that avoids military confrontation, but which also maintains pressure on Iran while promoting human rights. The sustainable solution to the nuclear threat is one that will support democratic change in Iran.
It is time for the international community to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its systematic violation of human rights. It is imperative that policy-makers make human rights a priority, and address the issue in the context of the nuclear talks, which have now resumed. The international negotiators should make it clear to the Iranian regime that the world is not prepared turn a blind eye to the plight of the Iranian people in order to obtain a nuclear deal.