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Time for Brazilian solidarity with the people of Iran

(29 May 2012) -- Opinion Editorial from IHRDC Founder Payam Akhavan in Brazilian Newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo

By Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law at McGill University in Canada, former UN Prosecutor at The Hague, and Founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre

Imagine a government with a woman President that was once a political prisoner and torture victim. Now imagine that same government enjoying close diplomatic relations and $2.3 billion in trade with an authoritarian government that considers women as second-class citizens andsubjects its citizens to torture and persecution merely because of their political or religious beliefs. Sadly, there is no need to imagine this situation, because that is the reality of democratic Brazil’s relations with authoritarian Iran.

The Iranian people have the same aspirations as the Brazilian people: they want democracy, human rights, and prosperity. But they suffer under the despotic rule of the Islamic Republic which has the highest per capita executions in the world, barbaric punishments such as stoning, a policy of torture and rape against political prisoners, and laws that discriminate against citizensbecause of their religion: Christian converts are sentenced to death and Baha’is are persecuted as“heretics”.

The “Arab Spring” had its beginnings in the historic June 2009 peaceful protests by millions of Iranians against fraudulent presidential elections. The appalling violence that followed was captured by the youth behind the “Twitter revolution”. The world saw with its own eyes thecold-blooded murder of 26 year-old “Neda” and many others on YouTube.

Brazilians were recently given an example of Iran’s attitude when a depraved diplomat in Brasilia molested children at a public swimming pool. After his expulsion, he was greeted with flowers at Tehran airport and the government dismissed his crime as a “cultural misunderstanding.” If Brazilian citizens are treated this way, imagine how Iran treats its own citizens. And Iranian agents have done far worse in South America, such as the 1994 terrorist bombing of the Jewish Cultural Centre in Buenos Aires in which 85 people were killed.

President Rousseff has done well to modify Brazil’s policy by voting for UN resolutions condemning Iran’s human rights record. But this is not enough. So long as there is no real costfor these abuses, the Iranian Government will continue its repressive policies. The exclusive focus on the nuclear issue has overshadowed the real issue, which is the struggle of Iranians forfreedom. The example of Brazil’s transition from military to democratic rule is highly instructive: the military regime’s secret nuclear weapons program was discontinued in 1990 because democratic governments don’t need such weapons to maintain their legitimacy. The problem in Iran is an authoritarian regime that rules through violence, and not nuclear capability.

Brazil should consider the policy of travel bans and asset freezes adopted by the European Union and United States against Iranian officials responsible for gross human rights violations. Thelisting of perpetrators puts them on notice that they may one day face justice, whether before the International Criminal Court, or the national courts of a future democratic Iran. Through such measures, Brazil would deter further abuses and send a clear signal of solidarity with the Iranian people.

The lesson of history is that those that are rulers today may lose their power tomorrow. They must thus consider the consequences of their actions.  The lesson of history is also that a people’s struggle for freedom will ultimately prevail, as it did in Brazil, and that those struggling against tyranny will remember who stood with them in their hour of need.
Now is the time for Brazil to stand in solidarity with the Iranian people.  Now is the time to imagine the day when President Rousseff shakes hands with a democratically elected Iranian president – preferably a woman – to celebrate the human bonds that define the mutual destiny ofnations, beyond the narrow calculation of political and economic interests.

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