Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
United States of America Department of State
Dear Madame Secretary:
As you know, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City next Wednesday. While he is not the first war criminal to seek the world stage and will not be the last, the US has the power to refuse him a visa to set foot on American soil. This is a power that my fellow Parliamentarians and myself ask that you exercise in accordance with the US and international principles and precedents in this regard.
While you may feel obligated by virtue of the 1947 US-UN “Headquarters Agreement” to issue visas to all representatives of Member States, the US has drawn a line against allowing Member States or other entities to send as their representatives to the UN individuals who are personally responsible for universally recognized crimes for which no form of international immunity may be given.
In particular, the US refused to issue a visa for Yasser Arafat in 1988 on the ground that he had personally ordered the killing of a US diplomat, an internationally recognized crime, in addition to the crime of murder under US law. In 1987, the US refused to issue a visa to former Secretary General of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, on the ground that he had hidden his personal involvement in participating in the killing of Jews during World War II as a Nazi officer. These precedents surely mandate that President Ahmadinejad should be in the docket of the accused in some international tribunal rather than given a visa to attend the UN.
Indeed, President Ahmadinejad is a classic case study of an inadmissible war criminal who belongs on the US ‘Watchlist’. Simply put, those who “aid terrorists … persecute religious minorities … or commit or incite to genocide” are prohibited from entering the United States, and the evidence of President Ahmadinejad’s criminality on each of these counts is as clear as it is compelling.
In the matter of aiding terrorists, the US State Department, as you appreciate, has once again named Iran as the leading state sponsor of international terrorism. In particular, President Ahmadinejad’s Iran recruits, trains, finances, instigates and arms its terrorist proxies, such as Hamas and Hizbullah, whose platforms and policies are themselves replete with genocidal calls for the destruction of Israel. Indeed, Iran and Hezbollah have their footprints not only in the recent attack on Israelis in Bulgaria, but in terrorist attacks spanning five continents in 2012 alone.
Moreover, Iran is complicit in the international criminality of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime. This criminal support includes sending military equipment, munitions, and surveillance technology – involving also Iranian al-Quds Special Forces – all to help sustain and intensify the brutality and atrocity of the Assad regime.
In the matter of religious persecution, one need only recall Iran’s massive domestic repression, particularly targeting religious minorities, especially the Baha’i – Iran’s largest such group – whose members are subject to harassment, repression, torture, imprisonment, and execution, let alone the widespread and systematic assaults on women, students, workers, dissidents, journalists, and academics – and those who would defend them. Moreover, Iran leads the world in per capita executions and the execution of minors – as well as in the imprisonment of journalists and bloggers.
In the matter of incitement to genocide, the evidence here is particularly compelling and disturbing, as President Ahmadinejad’s genocidal incitement is the terrifying and vilifying context for Iran’s illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons. Last month alone, as you know – and rightfully condemned – President Ahmadinejad called to “remove the Zionist black stain from the human society”, adding that “the very existence of Israel is an insult to humankind and an affront to all world nations”, and requiring the wiping out of this “scarlet letter from the … forehead of humanity”.
Indeed, this state-sanctioned culture of hate and incitement to genocide has been persistent, pervasive, and pernicious. The 21st century began with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei calling for “the annihilation of the Jewish State.” It was followed by the parading in the streets of Tehran of a Shihab-3 missile draped in the emblem “Wipe Israel off the map, as the Imam says.” It has continued with the use of epidemiological metaphors referring to Jews as “filthy bacteria,” and Israel as “a cancer that must be removed,” reminiscent of the Nazis calling the Jews “vermin” and the Rwandan Hutus calling the Tutsis “cockroaches,” the whole as prologue to and justification for a genocide foretold.
Instead of being granted a podium at the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad should be the object of a criminal indictment. Simply put, a person who has already committed the crime of “direct and public incitement to genocide” in violation of international law – punishable whether or not a genocide has occurred – who is complicit in crimes against humanity both at home and abroad – has no place at the UN, let alone at its most distinguished podium.
Indeed, while you may feel the Headquarters Agreement obliges the US not to impede access of representatives of Member States to the UN Headquarters in New York – and this agreement is said to trump American domestic law – the fact is that the Vienna Law of Treaties affirms that jus cogens – the preemptory norms of international law – such as incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity – override any treaty. Ahmadinejad’s crimes are such jus cogens crimes. The Headquarters Agreement should not avail and must not prevail.
If the US nonetheless allows him entry, President Ahmadinejad’s travel should be restricted to only those parts of New York under UN authority, the Iranian Mission, and the airport. The US government is not obliged to treat him as an innocent tourist; rather, it should isolate and shun him as the war criminal he is.
Madame Secretary, I realize my fellow Parliamentarians and myself are asking you to take what may be characterized as an extraordinary step; however, President Ahmadinejad’s crimes warrant no less – and deserve much more – than this. He is undeserving of the UN podium, unfit to enter the US, and belongs in the docket of the accused. Surely, there must be no place in the US for those who engage in international crimes, support terrorism, violate human rights, and pose a standing threat to international peace and security, regional and Middle East stability, and the rights of their own citizens.
Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Professor Irwin Cotler, MP
Co-Chair, Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran
Chair, International Responsibility to Prevent Coalition