National Post Sep 22, 2011 – 9:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Sep 21, 2011 6:51 PM ET
By Irwin Cotler
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s impending visit to United Nations is a cruel parody of law. Ahmadinejad will enter the U.S. despite being inadmissible under American law. He will address the United Nations General Assembly despite being in violation of its UN Charter and international law. And, he will be indulged — even feted — by universities, institutes and the media, thereby sanitizing his crimes and mocking the suffering of the Iranian people.
This charade — repeated annually since 2007 — ignores and undermines basic principles of domestic, international and humanitarian law.
First, President Ahmadinejad belongs on the U.S. “watchlist” of persons barred from entry — those who “aid terrorists … persecute religious minorities … or commit or incite to genocide.” Indeed, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation just last month barring entry for persons “who participate in serious human rights and humanitarian law violations and other abuses.”
The evidence of Ahmadinejad’s criminality on each of these counts is compelling. The recent U.S. State Department Annual Report lists Iran as a leading state sponsor of international terrorism. Iran directly supports terrorist proxies such as Hamas and Hezbollah, whose platforms and policies are replete with genocidal calls.
Under Ahmadinejad, Iran has intensified its persecution and prosecution of religious minorities, especially the Baha’i — its largest religious minority — whose members are subject to harassment, repression, torture, imprisonment and execution. As for Christians, whose persecution has also accelerated, even praying together is a criminal act. These assaults on the religious rights of his own people, combined with the many other repressive acts carried out by his regime, are crimes against humanity.
Ahmadinejad’s violations of the Genocide Convention’s prohibition against “direct and public incitement to genocide” — symbolized by parading down the streets of Tehran with a Shiab-3 missile draped with the emblem “Wipe Israel off the map” — is cause alone for exclusion.
A person who pursues the world’s most destructive weaponry in violation of Security Council resolutions; who has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide in violation of international law; who is complicit in crimes against humanity; and who engages in massive domestic repression against his own people belongs in the dock of the accused, not at the world’s most watched podium.
Yet, Ahmadinejad has been admitted before and is likely to be admitted again. How can this be?
In 1947, the U.S. and the UN signed a treaty wherein the U.S. agreed not to impede access of representatives of member states to the UN headquarters in New York. This “Headquarters Agreement” is said to trump American domestic law. But the Vienna Law of Treaties states that responding to crimes against humanity overrides any treaty. Ahmadinejad’s crimes qualify. Nor would this be the first time a sitting head of state was denied entry — in 1987, Austria’s Kurt Waldheim was barred for complicity in war crimes committed during the Second World War.
If the U.S. allows him entry, Ahmadinejad’s travel should be restricted to only those parts of New York under UN control, the Iranian Mission and the airport. He should be shunned like the criminal he is. Further, countries like the U.S. and Canada should fulfill their responsibilities under international law — including the Genocide Convention — and refer the Iranian leaders’ criminal incitement to genocide to appropriate UN agencies. It is astonishing that this criminal incitement has yet to be addressed by any UN body, though the UN finds it fit to give Ahmadinejad a podium.
Inter-state complaints against Iran could be initiated at the International Court of Justice, while Ahmadinejad and his cohorts could be made to answer for their crimes at the International Criminal Court. President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders should be placed on a “watchlist” by concerned countries, preventing their entrance as “inadmissible persons.”
Finally, strong sanctions should be adopted — and enforced — not only for Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, but for its sponsorship of international terrorism and systemic violations of human rights.
History shows that sustained international juridical efforts can bring dictators like Milosevic and Pinochet to justice. Our choice is clear: We can either act or be on the wrong side of history.
Irwin Cotler is a Canadian Member of Parliament and is the former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is a professor of law (emeritus) at McGill University and has written extensively on Iran and has previously prosecuted for incitement to genocide.