House of Commons
OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)
Human Rights Situation in Iran
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Speaker: The Honourable Peter Milliken
Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Motion No. 11 under Government Business. I do now leave the Chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.
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|That this Committee take note of the alarming deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran.|
Madam Chair, a year and a half ago, an extraordinary, peaceful people’s movement took to the streets in Iran. This movement rejected the results of the election, which had obviously been rigged, and called for radical reforms. Millions of Iranians took to the streets in June and July 2009, braving suppression, intimidation, arrest and violence by the Iranian authorities currently in power.
As we witnessed the wave of democracy surging through Tunisia and Egypt in recent weeks, we were reminded that Iran had set an example of courage and hope for the Middle East. Canadians and the other members of the international community had promised never to forget the bravery of the Iranian activists.
Where are the green movement leaders now? Unfortunately, while the events in Egypt and Tunisia sent out messages of hope, the events in Iran reveal an oppressive regime. The 2009 activists are now under house arrest; their telephone lines have been cut and security officers have been stationed outside their homes. These leaders were once the Iranian prime minister, the speaker of the Iranian parliament and the country’s president. And now, the judiciary and members of the Iranian parliament are calling for their arrest and even their execution for being “corrupts on earth”.
The flagrant disregard and egregious abuse of the most basic human rights by the Iranian authorities have always been and will continue to be denounced by our government and by the House. Actions taken by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters in Tehran as recently as this week give our government much cause for concern. The hypocrisy of the Iranian authorities’ support for democracy in Egypt and the suppression of the same demands in Iran is outright unacceptable. The use of tear gas, batons and pepper spray against peaceful protesters by Iranian security forces is a gross violation of the right to free expression and assembly.
Our government will continue to call on Iranian authorities to allow for peaceful gatherings and immediate release of any protesters who are being unjustifiably detained and we will continue to take Iran to task for its continued violations of human rights and freedom of expression and association.
Unfortunately, these recent events have a long history. We will not forget that many of the young people arrested during the 2009 protest were taken to Iran’s notorious Kahrizak prison where they were brutally beaten and packed into small, unventilated cells by the dozens. At least three died from beatings or asphyxiation, while others were reportedly raped by their jailors. The Iranian parliament itself investigated these incidents and found that there were indeed severe abuses, including by Saeed Mortazavi, the same man implicated in the murder of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003. However, in spite of the Majlis’ conclusions, the world is still waiting for those responsible for the crimes at this prison to be held accountable.
The activists of the green movement have disappeared from Iranian society. Intellectuals, students, senior officials and clerics who joined the quest for freedom and reform are now either locked away or silenced forever. Many of them were forced to appear in humiliating televised show trials where they confessed their so-called crimes, clearly under duress. Many have been given severe punishment after a highly questionable process by the Iranian courts.
However, in such cases as these, the word “many” can detract from the individual tragedies and suffering involved. In particular, I would call to the attention of the House the stories of Jafar Panahi, the gifted filmmaker honoured this year at the Toronto Film Festival, sentenced to six years in jail and banned from pursuing his craft for 20 years.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a respected cleric and former deputy minister of culture, was detained for 160 days. Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy minister, was detained for 10 months and then re-arrested for stating that the 2009 elections were rigged. Ibrahim Yazdi, veteran political leader and activist, was arrested in June 2009 and again in October 2010. He is now in declining health in prison and his trial date is reportedly postponed. I could go on.
The courageous Iranians who fought for democracy in 2009 are today facing serious consequences, including the death penalty.
On January 29, an Iranian-Dutch woman named Zahra Bahrami was executed on the basis of questionable drug-related charges that were laid after her arrest during an anti-Ahmadinejad protest.
On January 24, Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei, who were arrested during the 2009 protests, were executed after being accused of having ties to a terrorist group.
The Government of Canada is very concerned and believes that this trend will continue and that the Iranian judiciary will hand down death penalties in the cases of other people who gathered to peacefully demonstrate their democratic opposition. The government is also worried that the approximately 100 civilians arrested during the February 14 demonstrations will be subject to the same non-transparent, draconian treatment.
Other activists arrested following the election in 2009 are now receiving harsh sentences, including corporal punishment, for their peaceful opposition activities and vaguely defined offences that carry the death penalty. Here again are a few of the many who are suffering at the hands of a government that does not respect their basic democratic rights: Mehdi Aghdam, a youth activist, received six years in prison for participating in demonstrations; Emad Bahavar, a student activist, received 10 years in prison and a 10-year ban from political activities; Amir Khorram, a youth activist, received seven years in prison and 74 lashes; Sarah Tavassoli, a youth activist, received six years in prison and 74 lashes; a construction worker with two young children, Behzad Arabgol, received six years in prison for participating in a demonstration; Shiva Nazar-Ahari, a women’s rights activist, received four years in prison and 74 lashes.
These terrible punishments against individuals exercising their universal rights of freedom of expression and assembly are an offence to reasonable people the world over and they must stop.
The Government of Canada condemned the repression after the June 2009 elections and we have continued to condemn the systematic and violent suppression of peace demonstrations ever since. These ongoing and unjustifiable violations of universal human rights will remain a core issue in Canada’s foreign policy regarding Iran.
Our stand will not soften, our international leadership will not lessen and our principled voice will not be diminished until Iran’s leaders turn away from the path of repression and all citizens of Iran can enjoy the freedoms and rights we hold to be universal and undeniable.
Madam Chair, I thank the minister for his words and I thank the House leaders for allowing this very important debate on Iran.
I want to ask the minister specific questions in relation to some of the recommendations that were put forward originally at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, of which I am vice-chair, and then at the foreign affairs committee, which ask for specific action from the Government of Canada, including: that the government call upon the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to refer the matter of Iran’s genocidal incitement to the Security Council pursuant to article 99 of the Charter of the United Nations on the basis that Iran poses a threat to international peace and security; that the government list the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as part of the international terrorist organizations in accordance with Canadian law; and that the Canadian government enforce the standing international arrest warrants that have been filed against Iranian government officials.
Those are part of the many series of recommendations that were put forward. I would like to hear what the minister has to say on some of these recommendations.
Madam Chair, my understanding is that this report was unanimous and that colleagues from all sides of the House endorsed the recommendations.
As members know, the Government of Canada has already initiated a number of the recommendations and actions that were called for, particularly in terms of the genocide issue and the egregious violations of human rights by the Iranian leadership, President Ahmadinejad.
We have always expressed our highest condemnation both here in this House in Canada and on the international scene, particularly at the United Nations. I recall being at the United Nations and walking out with the Canadian delegation when President Ahmadinejad took to the podium to speak to the assembly. This is something that we feel very strongly about.
I want to reassure my colleague that we will look thoroughly at all of the recommendations and be extremely active in pursuing them. Indeed, we have already done quite a bit in terms of following the resolutions of the United Nations, UN Resolution 1929, we have been extremely active. We have put in place sanctions above and beyond the sanctions that have been called for. We have been very active in speaking out against Iran in terms of its disrespect for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its disregard of the IAEA.
I could go on but I think my colleague gets the general idea of where we stand on this issue.
Madam Chair, I congratulate the member for Mount Royal for initiating this very important debate. I also congratulate the minister who is very sensitive to this situation as he has seen the situation in Burma where there is an equally cruel dictatorship. The minister has been great in those instances.
The Baha’i people in Iran have been persecuted for years, incarcerated unfairly, with extra-judicial killings, et cetera. I am hoping the government is against that and I am wondering what type of position it is taking against that type of activity by the leaders in Iran?
Madam Chair, we have indeed spoken out on that particular issue. I can point to my riding where there is a community that has been interacting with myself and that has been, at the same level as my hon. colleague, calling out for action in this regard.
I had the opportunity to meet with Iran’s former minister of foreign affairs when our paths crossed in Brussels last year and we discussed, not only this issue, but a number of issues relating to human rights. I must say that it was a lesson that I think a lot of my colleagues here would certainly enjoy. They absolutely do not understand the fundamental notion of what human rights means. I, for one, take back from that meeting with that foreign minister that as long as that government is in place there will be no progress and no chance for freedom for the people of Iran. I think that as one the Parliament of Canada should speak out loudly so that our message can be clearly heard.
Madam Chair, I thank the minister for his comments today on the take note debate.
I recall that once the shah left Iran in 1979 and the Khomeini regime took over, there was a long difficult period in Iran with the theocracy that was running the country. However, I understand that in the last several years there has been a new group of people developing. The population is very young and well-educated. I think those two facts are something that most people, when they think of Iran, do not think about.
What are the prospects and what are the numbers of people who are actively protesting this regime?
Madam Chair, if my colleague were to go back to the incidents that took place in June, as well as in July of 2009, there were a number of reports that indicated, as he has rightly pointed, that it is the youth of that country, the forward thinking people in terms of protecting human rights and who believe in freedom of expression, who are in the streets demonstrating for things to happen and to find a better way to do things.
The world community has put in place a number of sanctions that, hopefully, will have an impact on the Iranian revolutionary guard so that the people, at the end of the day, will have a chance to have their voices heard and can move forward with fair and free elections and put in place the institutions that a lot of these people are calling for. They are calling for economic reform, for democratic reform. We need to be able to hear the call to ensure we can support the people who are legitimately seeking to pursue their human rights and pursue reforms in that country.
Madam Chair, it is extraordinary for us to walk out on the president of a country at a United Nations meeting, and that indicates an extraordinary depth of feeling.
Could the minister remind those who are watching this debate what exactly caused the Canadian delegation to make the decision to walk out of the United Nations meeting?
Madam Chair, quite clearly, this was done on the heels of the president of Iran coming to the podium. He stated before his comments that he indeed denounced the state of Israel. He said that the west as well as the United States were responsible for the terrible tragedy that took place on September 11.
How can we sit in the UN General Assembly and listen to this when we know that the Revolutionary Guard Corps called for the elimination of the people of Israel? It called for the elimination of the state of Israel. We cannot do that. This is against every fibre in which Canadians believe. That was the reason we walked out.
Madam Chair, Ahmadinejad’s Iran, and I use that term to distinguish it from the Iranian people who are themselves the targets of massive domestic repression, has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to regional and Middle East stability and increasingly and alarmingly to its own people.
Simply put, we are witnessing in Ahmadinejad’s Iran the toxic convergence of four distinct yet interrelated threats: the nuclear threat; the genocidal incitement threat; the threat of state-sponsored terrorism; and the systematic and widespread violations of the rights of the Iranian people.
Let there be no mistake about it. Iran is in standing violation of international legal prohibitions against the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide, prohibited under the genocide convention. Iran is a leading state sponsor of international terrorism. Iran is engaged in this massive suppression of the rights of its own people, which is taking place as we meet.
Recent developments have served only to expose and magnify this critical massive threat. For example, in the matter of Iran’s nuclear weaponization program, the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed concern that Iran was “advancing in its efforts to construct a nuclear warhead, to develop a missile delivery system for such a warhead, and a mechanism to detonate such a weapon”. Simply put, the IAEA and arms control experts have reported that Iran has enriched enough nuclear fuel to build these dreaded nuclear bombs.
In the matter of state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, Iranian leaders have continued their incendiary calls for Israel’s destruction. Underpinning this state-sanctioned incitement are the dehumanizing and demonizing epidemiological metaphors characterizing Israel as a “cancerous tumour” that must be excised and the Jewish people as “evil incarnate”, the whole as prologue to and justification for Israel’s impending demise.
In the matter of the state-sponsorship of international terrorism, Iran appointed as its minister of defence, during President Obama’s year of engagement with Iran, in a mocking defiance of President Obama, Ahmed Vahidi, a former head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Vahidi is the object of an Interpol arrest warrant for his role in the planning and perpetration of the greatest terrorist atrocity in Argentina since the end of the Second World War, the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Centre in Argentina.
While the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has emerged as the epicentre of the four-fold Iranian threat, both repressing its own citizens at home, while exporting its terrorism abroad.
In the matter of human rights violations, which will now be the focus of the balance of my remarks, while the eyes of the world are understandably turned toward what is happening in Egypt and North Africa and while we identify with the democratization and the cry for freedom in Egypt and in North Africa, Iranian assaults on human rights and state-sanctioned Iranian executions have escalated dramatically.
In 2011 alone, Iran has executed at least 120 people, a rate of about 1 person every 8 hours, an unprecedented execution binge even by wanton Iranian standards, and which tragically has gone largely unnoticed and which has served as the warrant for this take note debate this evening.
Simply put, Iran is engaged in a wholesale assault on the rights of its own people, including a state-orchestrated wave of arrests, detentions, beatings, torture, kidnappings, disappearances and executions. I join with the minister in the identification of the victims of these massive human rights violations. He has appropriately named the inventory of these ongoing victims who are not simply statistics but who are ongoing victims of these massive violations.
Initially all of this was overlaid with Stalinist show trials and coerced confessions, but even that pretense has now been discarded.
This orchestrated criminal campaign has included a widespread systematic assault on women’s rights, the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, targeting especially the Baha’i, the largest and most oppressed religious minority in Iran, and ethnic Kurds, the imprisonment and murder of political dissidents and the criminalization of freedom of speech, assembly and association, including assaults on students and professors, activists and trade unions.
In particular, Iran has imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the world. It leads the world in per capita executions, including the execution of children. It has imprisoned and even murdered the lawyers who seek to represent these victims of human rights violations, the whole constituting crimes against humanity under international law.
We have been witness, just yesterday, to the incredible spectacle of several hundred Iranian parliamentarians calling for the imprisonment and murder of their fellow parliamentarians and leader of the opposition. The utter hypocrisy of Iranian leaders who criticize Mubarak for silencing protests in Egypt are now using patterns of intimidation, violence, imprisonment and execution to silence the voices of protest in Iran.
Therefore, the question becomes this. What must be done? In particular, in the aftermath of the belated yet welcome United Nations sanctions resolution in June and the targeted economic sanctions subsequently adopted by the U.S., the European Union, Canada and Australia, the question often asked is this. What remains to be done?
I will share with the House a 10-point action agenda, while incorporating by reference the recommendations unanimously adopted by the foreign affairs committee and tabled in Parliament in December 2010.
First, sanctions must not only be adopted, they must be enforced. Otherwise, it is as if the sanctions were never adopted to begin with.
Second, for sanctions to be effective, they must be internationalized. Yet, as we meet, not only have important countries not adopted sanctions, but they are indeed mocking these sanctions through their ongoing violation of them. For example, Russia and China, which initially supported the UN sanctions resolution, are enhancing their economic relations with Iran. Turkey and Brazil not only remain outside the sanctions orbit, but have accelerated their trade with Iran. Germany, Austria and Switzerland continue to increase their trade with Iran, with German-Iranian trade at $6 billion annually.
Third, we need to sanction and enforce the sanctions with respect to Iranian banks, particularly the Iranian central bank, lest it prevent the circumvention of some of these sanctions.
Fourth, sanctions must also target the private sector, as well as the public sector, involving the regulation, the naming and shaming of companies trading or investing in Iran in violation of the sanctions themselves.
Fifth, sanctions must be multi-layered, not only economic but also juridical, diplomatic, political and the like. In a word, a critical mass of threat requires a critical mass of remedy;
Sixth, sanctions must be threat-specific. Thus far, the sanctions regime has focused on the nuclear threat, understandable and necessary, but it runs the risk of ignoring, marginalizing and, indeed, sanitizing the other three threats;
Seventh, in the matter of state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, it is astonishing that, as we meet, not one state party to the genocide convention has initiated any of the mandated legal remedies under international law. I trust the government will adopt the unanimous recommendations of the foreign affairs committee report, which recommended such remedies.
Eighth, in the matter of the massive human rights violations, the response has not only been tepid but indulgent. When there is an outcry, as in the Iranian stoning sentence of 43-year-old mother of two Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, it soon abates while the planned execution still remains, even if not by stoning, and the massive domestic repression continues unabated.
Ninth, negotiations cannot be march of folly. We cannot engage in negotiations with Iran to suspend Iranian enrichment and combat the nuclear threat but airbrush away all the other three threats.
Tenth, in the matter of Iranian-sponsored terror, there needs to be a comprehensive multilateral international effort, not just a U.S. one, to sanction the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In a word, this take note debate must sound the alarm as we stand in solidarity with the people of Iran.
Madam Chair, I would like to thank the member for always being a great champion of human rights around the world, and for sounding this very important alarm especially for countries that have continued to trade with Iran and to ignore the sanctions.
The member referred to the massive assault on human rights in Iran and the need for specific remedies to sanction these human rights violations. Could the member share with us what some of these remedies and sanctions might do?
Madam Chair, I am delighted to do so and to incorporate by reference some of the recommendations in the all-party foreign affairs committee report.
The recommendations include: one, to provide moral and diplomatic support for the democratic movement in Iran; two, to sanction Iranian officials engaged in repression through travel restrictions, asset seizures, and the like; three, keep the issue of Iranian human rights violations as a priority on the international agenda and as a priority in any bilateral relations with Iran; four, hold Iran to account before the UN Human Rights Council. Incredibly, not one resolution has been passed against Iran in the UN Human Rights Council.
The recommendations also include: reappoint a UN special rapporteur with respect to human rights in Iran; recommend at every appropriate opportunity that the Iranian government grant access to international human rights organizations within its borders and allow domestic human rights organizations to operate in Iran without restriction or harassment; that the Government of Canada encourage Radio Canada International to consider programming in Farsi over its worldwide shortwave service, over conventional AM/FM broadcasting in the gulf region, and over the Internet; to take appropriate action to ensure that Iranian foreign offices, bureaus or media outlets in Canada are not used by the Iranian regime as a source of threat and intimidation of the Iranian diaspora in Canada.
The subcommittee also recommended that the Government of Canada completely remove immunity for foreign government officials in cases of ongoing violations of international human rights law.
Madam Chair, I also want to thank the hon. member for Mount Royal for his excellent speech and his tireless efforts on this issue.
All of us are aware that Iran is a party to several international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The genocide convention also obligates Canada in many ways, through article I and article III, as we had asked at the committee, to have Canada invite the United Nations Security Council to consider referring to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation and prospective prosecution the case of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and those Iranian leaders participating with him in direct and public incitement to genocide.
The member for Mount Royal has worked tirelessly on this specific issue. I would like to hear his comments on how that is going and what specific concrete action he suggests the government could be doing right now, not tomorrow, but today.
Madam Chair, I was pleased to hear the minister mention again that Canada has been condemning the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, but we have to move beyond the condemnation and to act to combat this state-sanctioned incitement to genocide as not only recommended but mandated by the legal obligations set forth in treaties to which my colleague has referred. What are some of those remedies? I might add, this is not a policy obligation; it is an international legal obligation on our part.
First, at the very least, our government, or any state party to the genocide convention, should refer the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide to the United Nations Security Council for deliberation and accountability. It is astonishing that as we meet, not even this modest remedy, let alone any of the other remedies, has yet been undertaken by any state party to the convention which is obliged to do so.
Second, any state party to the genocide convention, such as, Canada, the U.S., any of the European Union countries, can tomorrow initiate an interstate complaint against Iran before the International Court of Justice as Iran is also a state party to the genocide convention. As such, Iran is obliged to prevent and punish such incitement, which in fact it propagates and intensifies.
Third, we can call upon United Nations Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon who, under article 99 of the United Nations charter, has an obligation to refer a threat to international peace and security to the UN Security Council. What greater threat do we have to international peace and security than the ongoing state-sanctioned incitement to genocide? We have yet to call upon the UN secretary-general to do so. We have yet to call upon the UN Security Council to refer the matter of the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide to the International Criminal Court for deliberation and accountability. Article 25 of the International Criminal Court treaty has a similar prohibition against this incitement to genocide.
I have just mentioned a number of the remedies which we are legally obliged to take and have yet to do so.
Madam Chair, I would ask my hon. colleague to expand upon the incitement to genocide. The offence of incitement to genocide is one that is not necessarily easily grasped. It is a very important and serious offence. It is a human rights violation under the relevant charter. Could he explain exactly technically what it is and exactly technically how the Ahmadinejad regime is currently violating this vis-à-vis Israel?
Madam Chair, I am pleased to respond to that question. The Responsibility to Prevent Coalition is a consortium of 100 international lawyers, human rights advocates, former government leaders, former prime ministers from both parties in our own House, and foreign ministers. In its report the coalition has called upon Iran, which is in standing violation, as they put it, of the prohibition against the direct and public incitement to genocide in article 3 of the genocide convention, to cease and desist from such incitement. Regrettably, Iran not only has not ceased and desisted, but in fact continues in its incitement, as the evidence of the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition report has shown, and as has the witness testimony before the foreign affairs committee’s Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which my colleague chairs.
That witness testimony has identified the eight precursors to incitement to genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran. It begins with the whole phenomenon of the exclusion and then goes on to the delegitimization, demonization, the characterization of Israel and its people as a Satanic enemy, what is called the false accusation in the mirror, where one accuses others of that which one intends to do oneself. In a word, there are eight precursors to genocide which exist in Ahmadinejad’s Iran today and which in their collection form the state-sanctioned incitement to genocide.
I can say as someone who prosecuted Rwandans for incitement to genocide while serving as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, the aggregate of these incitement precursors in Ahmadinejad’s Iran even exceeds that which existed in Rwanda for which people were held accountable under the genocide convention.
Madam Speaker, after the jasmine revolution in Tunisia and the popular democratic protest movement in Egypt, the movement is now expanding to other countries in the Middle East, such as Iran.
After the massive demonstrations held in that country in 2009 to protest the results of the rigged presidential election won by Ahmadinejad, the so-called green movement is mobilizing yet again.
The political imbroglio of 2009 has yet to be resolved in a satisfactory manner. The regime has done absolutely nothing except suppress dissent. That is why we must demand that Iran practise transparency in its election process and that it allow its people to choose their government and, particularly, a new president eventually.
Iran ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is very ironic and incongruous, since that international convention requires signatories to do exactly the opposite of what Iran is doing. It stipulates that all peoples have the right of self-determination and therefore the right to freely determine their political status and choose their leaders.
Over the past few days, demonstrations were held in Iran in support of the people of Egypt and Tunisia. These demonstrations led to a protest against Iran’s existing regime, which was violently suppressed. Shots were fired into the crowd, people were killed and tear gas was used. Meanwhile, opposition leaders were placed under house arrest.
The Bloc Québécois supports these popular and democratic protest movements and denounces the filthy conservatives in the Iranian parliament who now want the death penalty for the opposition leaders accused of leading yesterday’s demonstration. The people of Iran must be able to freely express themselves.
The bond of trust between the State and most of the Iranian population has truly been broken. Since the 2009 protests, the regime can no longer claim to represent its people. The Iranian street spoke out in 2009 and it is doing so again now. The people no longer want the status quo. The street has a thirst for freedom.
We will always stand behind those fighting for freedom. Let us remember that freedom is a universal and inalienable right. Democracy and the rule of law are simply the natural expression of a free society. The violence used to repress the demonstrators is not consistent with democracy. This confirms that Iran has to develop a political system that is free, transparent and open to civil society if it wants to play its role in the world.
We condemn the Internet censorship imposed by the government on the Iranian people. The Iranian government must permit full access to the Internet and to the various social sites. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not negotiable.
These new demonstrations are yet another chapter in a tragic story.
Let us remember that the country of Iran was robbed of its own true democratic revolution in 1953 when Prime Minister Mossadegh was forced to resign and placed under house arrest. The uprising was orchestrated by the U.S. and British secret services at a time when Iran was nationalizing its oil industry to ensure the development and progress of the Iranian people. In a speech delivered in Cairo in 2009, President Obama acknowledged this historical injustice.
The call for greater freedom and democracy in Iran is not coming just from western countries. On February 13, 2011, Turkish President Abdullah Gül, while visiting Iran, said:
|Radical reforms must be carried out in order to meet the expectations of the people. Sometimes the people demand what the leaders and administrations are unable to achieve. When leaders are unable to assume their responsibilities, the people take over the leadership. After all these developments, our hope is that the people will emerge from the process with honour and happiness.|
The Bloc Québécois could not have said it better.
In the beginning, the Iranian government congratulated the Egyptians for liberating themselves from Mubarak. The regime saw it as an Islamic renewal in Egypt. Moreover, the day that Mubarak resigned was the day of the 32nd anniversary of the Iranian revolution of February 11, 1979. Nevertheless, the Iranian government was not really taken in. It sought to propagate a distorted version of the events in Egypt. It filtered information from the foreign media because they put too much emphasis on the democratic aspirations expressed by the Egyptian masses during the demonstrations. Knowing that a protest was being planned for February 14 in Iran, the government took preventive measures with regard to the instigators of the green movement, Iran’s democratic movement.
Former chairman of parliament and presidential candidate in the 2009 election, Mehdi Karroubi was confined to his residence as of February 10. Former Prime Minister of Iran and another presidential candidate in the 2009 election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi had his telephone jammed. Some of Mr. Karroubi’s and Mr. Mousavi’s closest advisors were also arrested. To justify these actions, the government stated that it could not allow Iran to be divided by granting the friends of westerners and henchmen of Zionism the right to demonstrate.
Despite these preventive manoeuvres by the regime, the green movement did not waver. More than 45,000 people signed the Facebook page calling for the demonstration. On the eve of the demonstrations, the regime tried to prevent the mobilization by slowing down Internet speed and blocking cellphone networks. Nevertheless, on Monday, February 14, Iranians steadfastly took to the streets of Tehran. They were there calling for more freedom. Many demonstrators were chanting the slogan “Death to the dictator”, a clear message directed to Iranian leaders.
When one of the leaders of the green movement left his house to join the demonstrations, security forces prevented him from going. They also prevented unions, women’s groups, student groups, all civil society groups from joining the demonstrators. On Wednesday, there were clashes between pro- and anti-government protestors during the funeral of a demonstrator.
The fact that Iranians are demonstrating in the streets when the repression of 2009 is still so fresh in their minds illustrates how angry they are. They want nothing less than the fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled.
As in Tunisia and in Egypt, the demonstrators are using the new technologies available to them—
I have to interrupt the hon. member. Perhaps he could continue after questions.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek.
Madam Chair, I am pleased to join this important debate tonight. I want to thank the members who have presented so far.
A number of speakers have talked about the subcommittee on human rights and its report. I have the report here. I will be commenting to some degree on it.
The speakers have gone on at length regarding the threat of Iran against Israel, which is very real. I believe that people understand that very clearly.
The Ahmadinejad regime, through its leader, has repeatedly made threats in different locations around the world, which have disturbed much of the world community. There are some people who revel in those threats, and there will always be such people. However, I want to take a few moments to talk about the regime’s threat against its own people. The previous member also spoke somewhat about that.
As late as Tuesday of this week, the committee called back some of its previous witnesses to talk about the state of affairs in Iran today. It is very troubling, because we know that the uprisings that took place in Tunis and Egypt are not going to recur in that way in Iran. I can remember seeing on television the people in Egypt walking up to soldiers and shaking their hands. To a certain degree, people were even free to surround the tanks and climb up on them and mark them. It will not be that way in Iran. There is no doubt that the regime, since the elections in 2009, has put down the efforts at that time to drive the country more toward democracy. However, a stark part of the testimony that we heard, and something that stays with me, is the fact that in Iran today someone is hanged every eight hours.
We need to pause for a second and think of the other countries that have had revolutions for democracy. Although these other countries may have had a war or had their militaries fighting against those who were also armed, in the case of Iran it is a civilian population that is being put down and young people’s lives taken. Therefore, it is very important to pause in our debate tonight to consider these young people.
What is so troubling is that while we talk about the war on drugs, and the United States regularly talks about the war on drugs along the border with Mexico border and all that is happening there, in Iran its drug laws are being used to take out the leadership and the activists who are giving voice to the fight and struggle for democracy.
I think that part of the context we need to look at is era of 1979. It was a different time and place and there was a different regime in power. There was a student uprising that was very effective, but the clerics took it over. Today, the current uprising will be very much at odds with the clerics, who are very much a part of the power structure.
Thus we are now seeing a different kind of push for democracy than in the other countries we have just seen. They are facing a much different government. The risks are high and the level of courage required by these young people is great, particularly now, after the brutal way in which people were put down following the election, including the disappearance and torture of young people. One witness described how a woman went to pick up the body of her son at a makeshift mortuary in a meat plant, only to find hundreds of bodies there. Many of them were disfigured from various forms of torture.
I know that part of this has already been put into the record, but I want to speak for a moment or two in regard to the subcommittee report. We held 16 meetings and concluded a report on the state of affairs in Iran. As I recall, it was put forward in December of 2010. I would like to read a bit from the executive summary of that report. It says:
|In the summer of 2009, Canadians and the rest of the international community looked on with concern as Iranian security forces cracked down on protesters in the wake of that country’s June 12 presidential election.|
If we can imagine for a moment, what we actually saw on our TV screens was probably to some degree a sanitized version and only the cellphone pictures that got out were showing the reality of what was happening on the streets.
We all remember the young woman who was, to some extent, just standing by when she was shot by one of the security people. The video of that went viral on the Internet. I believe we can see it on YouTube. The sadness we felt when we saw that young woman’s life bleeding away on the ground was in knowing that it was the revolution or the push for democracy that was bleeding with her, because the security forces were being very successful at that point in putting this down and controlling it. Over a period of time we saw, with sadness, it fade.
It did not mean that the people gave up on their need for democracy and to stop the tyranny that comes from this particular regime, but that election gave us a very rare glimpse inside a country that is very controlling.
The dramatic protests in Iran last summer and the response of those Iranian forces and authorities, and then the reaction of the international community, gave our subcommittee a focus to revisit that report again. At the end of the summer, we thought we were finished and yet we had to go back and look at it some more in the context of the more recent events. Again, as I just indicated, we have done the same thing this week.
This is an ongoing tragedy on the one hand, but the courage of the citizens of Iran is uplifting on the other hand, so it draws us back. It is somewhat like that line from The Godfather when they were talking about the man who was trying to get out but kept getting pulled back. The striving for democracy in this country does exactly that to anyone who takes the time to study it, or even to those engaged in casual discussions with friends. We cannot help but go back to the struggle of these people.
Our committee was very concerned with the deteriorating rights in that country. We broadened our study to the mistreatment of the Iranian population itself, which I think, if we consider the number of executions, is putting Iran on the level of China. In the world we tend to point to China as the place with the most repression on the face of the earth, but we have to pull ourselves back to what is happening in Iran at this point in time and say that it is very similar.
We heard from expert witnesses and human right activists representing non-governmental organizations, academics and lawyers, and in light of their testimony the subcommittee made a number of recommendations. In our assessment, we recognized that the regime has a long history of systemic and widespread violations of the human rights of its own people.
The abuses violate the population’s right to life and freedom from discrimination based on religion. For example, the Baha’is, the Jews and the Christians in that country live a very quiet life, trying not to draw any attention to themselves at all, because there are huge penalties to be paid.
There is discrimination according to sex, language, sexual orientation and political opinion. Normally we talk about political parties where there is dissent, but if someone is expressing a political opinion that is not in line with the regime’s, they are opening themselves to horrific torture. It should be noted that oftentimes the Iranian regime is violating its own country’s laws. That is how far it is prepared to take it.
The recording and reporting of these violations has been problematic, because domestic human rights organizations are routinely shut down. Government officials, journalists and activists are regularly harassed. I think it goes beyond harassment in many cases.
One of the people who spoke to our committee was Shirin Ebadi, who has been before our committee twice. We were struck by the courage of this woman.
I am getting the signal to wrap up. I am just beginning. I had a ton of notes and got a little carried away.
However, that is the important part of what we have to understand, the need for a passion in support of these people.
Madam Chair, knowing my colleague’s wealth of knowledge on this and his participation in the meetings of the foreign affairs subcommittee, I would like to invite him to share more of his thoughts and perspectives if the time did not allow him to do so.
Madam Chair, I thank the member for introducing this in this way. Our own passion for this is below the surface. When we see Shirin Ebadi or we see the professors and the various people who come before us with tragic stories, it is not just the physical abuse that gets to us. It is the systemic repression of a people and what should be their democratic rights that at two levels we are pulled on this.
On the international front we could talk about the threats to the world community. There is debate as to whether those threats are real or maybe not that real. However, the threats internally to the people on the ground in Iran are extremely real. As I said, the hangings are every eight hours. When we know that they hang juveniles in that country, we are further disgusted and further troubled.
I could probably go on even further, but perhaps there are more questions.
Madam Chair, I want to thank the member for his comments today on the take note debate on Iran. He has brought out several important points about the situation.
We had a take note debate on the Egyptian situation just a week or two ago.
What does the member think Canada can or should do about the situation at this point?
Madam Chair, what is critical from the witness testimony is the documentation, the collecting of the facts so that the people of the world, as well as the people of Iran, understand what that government is guilty of and that the Government of Canada can support the development of a centre which helps with that documentation, be it in Canada or elsewhere, because the one thing that will change governments is the information and the understanding by the people of that country the extent of the abuses. They know that their friends and neighbours disappear. But as to the extent of the physical abuse and deaths, I doubt very much if they really understand the depth of the damage being done to the population of that country. The report speaks to this. I would invite people to go online and look at the subcommittee report on Iran because it lays out 24 recommendations.
The key is to get information out and educate the world on what is actually happening.
Madam Chair, I want to alert my hon. colleague that I just received notice that two Iranian naval ships have just moved near the Egyptian territory. I presume that this is sort of–
An hon. member: The Suez Canal.
The Suez Canal.
I presume this is sort of a hostile act by Iran and also a warning to the west probably, that it does not want a similar movement taking place in Iran that took place in Egypt.
It is another sign of Iran creating instability in the whole region, from its support of Hezbollah, to Hamas. It is certainly a regime that sponsors terrorism and is quite frightening in terms of its action toward people and also toward the international community.
I wonder, given what happened just a few minutes ago, whether the member has any comments or anything to add to that action by Iran.
Madam Chair, I am not overly surprised at the news but I am disappointed.
Regimes such as this remind me of a magician who keeps someone occupied with one hand while picking his or her pocket with the other hand. Sometimes some of the rhetoric and over-the-top expressions or actions externally outside of the country is used to draw attention away from the very nature of what is being done to the people within a country.
We need to keep our focus right now on the Iranian people and the suffering that is happening there and the courage that is being expressed as they take to the streets once more.
Madam Chair, comparisons have been made with the recent situation in Egypt. I am interested in knowing how the member feels about the role of technology, Facebook, the Internet in both of those movements. In Iran in 2009, the people involved in the protest were very well educated and tech savvy. Al Jazeera has a big effect on the instant reporting. It is almost the CNN of that area.
I wonder if the member has any comments or thoughts about these points.
Madam Chair, I may be incorrect with the number I am about to give, but I believe that 65% of the population of Iran is under 40 years old.
If we go back to the election of President Obama, the member may recall that a flash mob showed up outside the White House. This was not an announced event. Young people used Twitter and Facebook to tell people to go there. In a country of relative freedom like the United States, they were able to do that and express their joy at the change in their government.
In Egypt and Tunis the use of technology showed dozens of cameras being held high in the air by people recording the events. Fortunately, there were enough western media there able to capture that as well, which we will not see coming out of Iran. The use of these tools is second nature to the generations there that has given life to this. People have been contained for so long by this regime, but they finally have a tool that allows them the connections they need.
The problem with the technology now is that the regime itself will be able to tap into it and to some extent identify people, although it depends on the level of the sophistication of the security forces there. People are at extremely high risk, but they are rising to this occasion. They are expressing the courage needed to change their world. It is up to Canada and countries like Canada to support them.
Madam Chair, the leadership in Tunisia and Egypt was very corrupt. With respect to Egypt, perhaps $70 billion was at question.
Is this the same situation in Iran? Are we talking about a leadership there that is financially corrupt and has amassed some money, or is there a different issue?
Madam Chair, I do not think the issue is to the same extent. We understand that the Mubarak family has something like $70 billion. When a leader has absolute power in any country that power is open to abuse. There are bribery systems and demands are made on people in the institutions of power.
I went to Saudi Arabia in 1979 as a contractor with Bell Canada. Bell Canada had 1,500 Canadian managers in that country who were attempting to change the culture relative to the phone company’s management style. No offence to those managers, but it was too systemic. A technician would be paid to get someone a telephone number and that telephone number would be connected at the switch centre. If the technician were paid enough of a bribe, there would be no record of that number anywhere. Those young men were driving around in Cadillacs, and in 1979 a Cadillac was selling for $40,000 in that country. The undercurrent of corruption is tied to absolute power.
In answer to my colleague’s question, I believe with investigation we would find massive amounts of money.
Madam Chair, part of my duties as minister of state is to look after consular services that are provided to Canadian citizens who travel and live abroad. I want to enter this debate from the aspect of how conditions in Iran impact consular cases and our ability to assist individuals who are suffering tremendous difficulty in that country.
I would like to add my congratulations and thanks to the hon. member for Mount Royal for spearheading this debate. It is important that Canadians know what their elected representatives think, say and know about conditions around the world, particularly in a case like this where we have a very unstable situation and contravention of the values, principles and rights that we as Canadians hold dear.
As background on consular matters, our government offers consular services in more than 260 locations globally. On an average day we open 686 new consular cases. These include distress situations such as medical emergencies, arrest and detention, child abductions and custody issues, and deaths abroad.
I would like to highlight for Canadians our deep concerns about many individuals in Iran who have been sentenced to death after highly questionable processes. In addition, we are troubled by the lack of co-operation from Iran when it comes to Canada’s ability to provide consular services to dual-citizen Canadians imprisoned in Iran.
One of the greatest challenges is obtaining access to our citizens who are dual nationals. In fact, many countries, and Iran is one of them, do not even recognize dual nationality and do not believe that Canada has the right to access, visit, or even to any information about our citizens. Naturally, Canada firmly believes that our citizens should have access to consular services regardless of what other citizenship they may hold.
We have made consular services part of Canada’s controlled engagement strategy with Iran. The Canadian embassy in Iran is committed to providing the best consular services that it can. Unfortunately, we have had very little, if any, co-operation from the government of Iran.
Fortunately we do not have many cases there, but the ones that do arise pose serious challenges. That is why we have made them important priorities for our government.
Canadians may be aware that laws in other countries often limit or sometimes completely prevent the ability of Canadian officials to provide consular services to Canadians of dual nationality who find themselves in distress. Nevertheless, as in the case of Iran, our government continues to press the authorities for due process, fair treatment and consular access to Canadian citizens detained in that country. Canada will continue to advocate on behalf of Canadian citizens who hold dual citizenship.
I would like to talk about a couple of very high profile consular cases in Iran.
One is the incarceration of a journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, who is a Canadian citizen and has been incarcerated for some time. We have made strenuous efforts to assist Mr. Derakhshan.
Last October, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the minister of foreign and European affairs of France issued a joint declaration calling for the release of Mr. Derakhshan and asking Iran to recognize his dual citizenship and guarantee consular access in accordance with the Vienna conventions. We have enlisted other partners in making our concerns heard in Iran. Our government’s position has been clear. Iran must release Mr. Derakhshan and other journalists who have been unjustly detained and sentenced, and it must allow media to report freely.
We also continue to be active in the case of another Canadian citizen imprisoned in Iran, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall. Canada has actively sought and continues to seek consular access to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall. Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his parliamentary secretary have been in touch with Mr. Ghassemi-Shall’s wife to discuss this very troubling case. In addition, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has written and spoken to his counterpart in Iran about the case.
The promotion and protection of human rights is integral to Canada’s foreign policy, and it has been under any government in Canada. The protection of human rights is a core element of Canadian values, which is why we are so disturbed about the recent wave of executions in Iran that my colleague from Mount Royal and others have mentioned this evening.
We are also particularly concerned about Saeed Malekpour. Mr. Malekpour is a permanent resident of Canada. He has reportedly been condemned to death after software that he created was allegedly deemed offensive to the regime in Iran. He is one of many Iranian citizens and others facing a harsh sentence imposed for a questionable crime in a country that lacks respect for the rule of law and basic human rights.
As recently as two weeks ago, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs stood in this House and highlighted the case of Mr. Malekpour. Canada continues to be deeply concerned as well by the case of Ms. Ashtiani. As members know, we have taken a firm stand on this case. The House unanimously voted in November to call upon our Minister of Foreign Affairs to take the strongest possible action to demand that the Government of Iran permanently stay the execution of Ms. Ashtiani.
Our government has been a relentless advocate in speaking against a regime that flagrantly abuses the fundamental rights of not only Canadians but its own citizens. We will not be silent. We will continue to speak out and denounce the inhumanity that is so unacceptable to our country and to others around the world.
Mr. Chair, I would like congratulate the hon. minister on her new file as Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas and Consular Affairs).
In her new role as the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas and Consular Affairs, could she talk about what is happening in Venezuela? In speaking with several officials, I know there is concern about what is taking place there, specifically with the Jewish community, and Iran’s influence and involvement in that country and around that part of the world. There have been a series of secret flights taken back and forth. We are not sure what it is about. We are very much concerned and are monitoring that situation. I want to know if the minister has anything new to add on that particular situation.
Mr. Chair, we are very troubled about this situation. As the minister mentioned, there have been some tremendous difficulties in this relation. We are concerned about the shrinking of democratic space, as we might say, in Venezuela. We maintain though a policy of principled engagement with this country. We believe that it is important to bring to bear the opinions and the interaction of our neighbours and friends in the Americas to strengthen democracy and protect the kind of human rights that we are talking about today.
We have had tremendous co-operation from others in the Americas and we will continue to work very hard, not just in Venezuela, but in all countries in our American hemisphere to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law. That will promote the kind of economic growth that will provide a strong future for people in that country.
Mr. Chair, the report that the Subcommittee on International Human Rights tabled in the House via the standing committee had 24 recommendations but there are two that I would like a response from the minister on. Perhaps she may be aware of whether the government is considering following these recommendations.
The first recommendation is:
|The subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to provide moral support and should increase, if possible, its financial support for Canadian and Iranian civil society organizations and other human rights groups that document and report on human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime.|
The second one is:
|The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada consider funding a research chair at a Canadian university dedicated to the study of Canadian-Iranian relations, including the human rights situation in Iran.|
As I said in my remarks a little earlier, the important thing that witnesses have told us is about the documentation and information gathering on this regime and the importance of this to them going forward.
Mr. Chair, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs said in answer to a similar question this evening, the recommendations of the report are being carefully studied. We appreciate and commend the work that was done by this committee. It was extremely thorough. We share its outrage at Iran’s human rights abuses.
However, the report is being studied and there will be a response tabled in the House when it has been completed. In the meantime, and as part of that, we will continue to call on Iran to live up to its human rights promises. In fact, Iran has made commitments, signed on to international treaties. We call on Iran to live up to its word and keep its promises. We are and will remain on the side of those in Iranian prisons who have been unjustly imprisoned on grounds of their religious, political or social beliefs.
Mr. Chair, I, too, would like to add my words of congratulations to the minister on her recent appointment as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, with specific responsibilities for the Americas and also for Consular Services.
There is no question that all of us in the House are disturbed by the suppressing opposition of the protests that are happening in Iran, the activists who are being arrested, the government’s increased crackdown on minorities and opposition groups, Iran’s use of intimidation and violence to suppress dissent, and its unjust detention of human rights defenders.
Our responsibility here in this House is certainly to address these situations, and we need to be concerned about all of those in Iran who are suffering, but I think our primary concern as Canadian parliamentarians needs to be the well-being of our Canadian citizens.
I would just like the minister to expand perhaps on her comments earlier regarding Canadians of dual citizenship who are being detained in spite of the lack of due process that was followed in their arrest and detention. Certainly it is important that our government speaks up on their behalf, and I know our minister is working hard in terms of the consular services she is offering them, but I would just like her to expand a bit on her comments about the services that the government it providing to Canadians of dual citizenship who are being unjustly detained in Iran.
Mr. Chair, the best way to answer his question is to use as an example a very current case, the case of Mr. Ghassemi-Shall. Mr. Ghassemi-Shall is actually a citizen of Canada and, as I mentioned, was arrested and imprisoned in Iran for a website that he designed that somehow offended that regime. Mr. Ghassemi-Shall’s wife who is in Canada is very distraught, as everyone can appreciate. We are doing everything we can to assist Mr. Ghassemi-Shall and his wife.
We have run into some real difficulties, which will not surprise anyone. The regime does not recognize dual citizenship, let alone permanent residency, but we will continue to provide assistance to the family. Since learning of the arrest, we have been in contact with Iranian authorities, both politically and diplomatically, including by diplomatic notes. We have sought consular access to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs has written to his counterpart, Iran’s foreign affairs minister, demanding that Canada be afforded consular access. Our officials at the embassy in Tehran continue to seek consular access consistent with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on consular relations, which Iran signed on to. We will continue to seek access and provide every possible assistance to his wife and family.
It is of tremendous concern to us that these situations arise. This is just one example but there are others. We are active, we do not let up and we continue to press the case forward for these individuals.
Mr. Chair, we have all watched the developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and other countries that are experiencing considerable political and social unrest. Citizens are demanding greater freedom and political accountability and there are signs in many cases that change is indeed coming.
In recent days, the people of Iran have taken to the streets of Tehran and other cities calling for change. Yet again we have seen from the Islamic Republic of Iran the brutal suppression of those who seek freedom of expression and political change. President Ahmadinejad’s regime practises wanton disregard for human rights, the rule of law and international standards of behaviour.
Take, for example, the ongoing case of Saeed Malekpour, a permanent resident of Canada being held in the notorious Evin prison. He was forced through torture to make a false confession and is under constant threat of execution. This is but one instance of the total contempt the Iranian regime has for the rule of law domestically and internationally.
As a member of the foreign affairs Subcommittee on International Human Rights, my colleagues and I have had the opportunity to study and report on the realities of the Iranian human rights violations and the seemingly endless reprehensible conduct. It was made clear in its December 2010 report that the committee firmly believed the Iranian regime’s policies and activities within its territory and those it projects internationally constituted gross violations of its obligations under international law.
The litany of oppression and irresponsible international behaviour literally grows by the day. In recent days we have received reports of the terrible oppression of legitimate and peaceful dissents in Iran. The utter hypocrisies of the Iranian regime is incomprehensible.
Human Rights Watch remarks:
|Just days ago the Iranian government claimed to support the popular aspirations of millions of Tunisians and Egyptians who peacefully demanded an end to dictatorship…Now Iranian security forces are using batons and teargas to disperse Iranians peacefully demonstrating in support of their Arab neighbors.|
The suppression of these peaceful demonstrations was accompanied by the detention of numerous opposition leaders across Iran.
This pattern of intolerable conduct is completely consistent with the regime’s human rights records and its intolerable foreign policy objectives. Throughout testimony for the report on Iran, concerns about the policy of Iran’s governing regime’s on human rights related policies was expressed strongly. Particularly notable among these concerns was its support of various terrorist organizations, its incitement to genocide, its belligerent stance towards Israel, the dehumanization and the intentions of its nuclear program.
In various conflicts throughout the Middle Eastern region, and indeed around the world, the footprints of the Iranian regime are fully in evidence whether it is the support of terrorists or other violations of international law. Its endless contempt and outrageous attacks on Israel are completely unacceptable and must be condemned.
Within Iran itself, we have witnessed for some time now the personal price paid by those who oppose the regime or simply violate its reprehensible standards of intolerance.
As with Mr. Malekpour, these include Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi who died tragically in Iranian custody in 2003 for taking a photograph of a protest outside a prison. Her son, Stephan, put it eloquently by saying:
|Through her art, she wanted to inform, connect with and educate people. She gave a voice to the people of those countries she focused on—she even gave them hope.|
Victims Mahmoud Asgari and Ayez Marhoni were teenagers executed by the Iranian regime in 2005 because they were gay.
Just today it has been reported by Human Rights Watch that there has already been over 100 executions in 2011 by the Iranian regime, including political prisoners.
In testimony before the Subcommittee on International Human rights this week, Professor Payam Akhavan characterized it as “mass murder in slow motion”.
The Iranian Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, appeared before our committee and said this morning that the Iranian regime:
|—are using the familiar tactics of carrying out political execution at the same time as mass executions of prisoners convicted of criminal offences. These executions may increase if the world is silent.|
Her words represent an appeal to all nations of the world, including Canada, to ensure that the Iranian regime hears the voice of the world community and understands that they will be held accountable for their actions.
We need that action, but one of the major challenges is the ability to collect information from a society that conducts itself as the Iranian regime does, that criminalizes freedom of expression. In order to get an accurate picture of what goes on in Iran, we must rely on activists and journalists for much of what we have come to know, but they need our support. Action is needed to add the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps to a list of terrorist entities and to amend the State Immunity Act.
One of the groups within Iran about which we have received regular reports is members of the Baha’i faith. Left unprotected by the Iranian legal system, the 300,000 members are singled out for particularly brutal persecution. Their homes are raided. They are publicly vilified and have no means of public recourse, creating what Suzanne Tamas of the Baha’i Community of Canada called “an atmosphere of prejudice, which allows the Iranian government to continue to persecute the Baha’is with impunity”.
People of the Jewish faith remaining in Iran are also targeted for oppression, as are other minority communities such as Christians and Sunni Muslims. Minorities like the Kurds and the Baluchis are always under constant threat from the Iranian regime, so much so that Fakteh Zamani, president of the Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran said judges would simply show up and sentence tortured members of the Baluchis members to death, leading to hundreds of Baluchis on death row for no reason other than they are a minority.
Whether it is Iranians seeking political and social reform, religious minorities or foreigners who appear to threaten their regime, the Iranian government will spare no action in its quest to quench dissent. Indeed, following the marches in cities across Iran this past Monday, the regime has called upon its supporters to participate in protests this coming Friday to demonstrate what it is calling their “hatred” for those who participated in the rallies calling for change. The reformers are clearly in the sights of the Iranian regime once again.
Reformers cannot rely on instruments of the Iranian current political system for any change, as we have seen. The presidential elections of June 2009 were clearly conducted in a manner that was unfair and questionable, to say the least. The results clearly did not reflect the true will of the Iranian people and the regime’s ruthless repression of resistance in the wake of the vote merely demonstrated its complete lack of legitimacy.
The Iranian regime represents one of the most pressing threats to stability in the world. The conduct of this regime domestically is reprehensible and intolerable. The public statements of the regime and its leadership as well as policy declarations are a serious threat to both Iranians and to all people of the region and beyond. Israel is a particular target of their vitriol.
While the challenge of dealing with the Iranian regime may at times appear daunting, the price of not taking substantial action will almost certainly be much higher, as history has taught us in such circumstances.
Our subcommittee’s report to Parliament makes a number of recommendations that I hope will be adopted and implemented by the Government of Canada. I hope too that it will then stand as an example of the action that needs to be taken by other nations too.
Canada, in unison with nations across the global community, can make a difference. We must ensure that the voice of tolerance, responsibility and freedom is heard by the Iranian regime and, perhaps just as important, it will serve as inspiration to those who labour for freedom in that country.
Let us be an example of this principle in our dealings with the Iranian regime. Let us stand firm.
Mr. Chair, I commend the hon. member for his work on the subcommittee. I have had the pleasure of working with him for several years.
I want to take the hon. member back to witness testimony that we had. Witnesses before the subcommittee repeatedly expressed frustration with the fixation of the international community, particularly of the United States, on the nuclear issue as opposed to the grave breaches of human rights that followed the June 12 election.
Professor Akhavan, of whom the hon. member spoke in his remarks, said that the Iranian government was watching and calculating how much it could get away with and if the message of the international community was that the co-operation on the nuclear issue would mean acquiescence to all manner of atrocities, then the hard-liners, as they tried to consolidate their grip, would execute and torture as many people as they could get away with and that we should have no illusions of their capacity to do that.
Would the hon. member comment on the fact that the United States defunded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center? That documentation centre was one of the recommendations in our report that Canada should take up.
Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his hard work on the committee. He has certainly witnessed the fact that all members of the committee share a deep concern in what is happening with of human rights throughout the world.
In doing this report, all members were quite clear that we were very much concerned about the deplorable situation on human rights in Iran. We are very concerned about its genocidal tendencies toward the state of Israel and the Jewish people, as well as its nuclear program.
However, I understand the member is trying to say, and that is we need to find a way to get organizations to document what takes place. One of the recommendations in the report is to get funding to ensure we financially support agencies that not just work on human rights but also document human rights abuses that take place in Iran.
The situation is not getting better, and I admire the Iranian people. The hon. member mentioned the fact that 65% of the people are under 40. I had heard the number as 50% of the people are under 25. There is a very young generation of Iranians who want freedom. They are very savvy in terms of technology. They use Facebook and the Internet very wisely, but they need our assistance and solidarity. They need to know the world community is standing behind them as they go through this very difficult time.
Mr. Chair, I am very interested in the work the committee and members did. I know they have worked very hard and have a great deal of expertise.
I have a question about consular cases, not surprisingly. In my last answer I referred to Mr. Ghassemi-Shall’s case and I should tell the House that I inadvertently got it mixed up with Mr. Malekpour’s case as I have been dealing with both of them. I apologize for that and I will try to correct the record in Hansard.
My question is about Mr. Ghassemi-Shall, who is a Canadian citizen and was arrested on charges of spying in Iran, and Mr. Malekpour, a computer programmer, who is not a Canadian citizen but a permanent resident. Did the committee come to any conclusions about new avenues, different avenues, more effective avenues that we as Canadians can pursue in order to support and assist individuals like Mr. Ghassemi-Shall and Mr. Malekpour and their families who are in these terrible circumstances?
Mr. Chair, we are very much concerned also about consular cases.
We tend to focus on witnesses who actually have on the ground expertise and are witnessing also what is taking place in terms of the human rights abuses taking place in Iran. The reports that came back to us are very shocking and very alarming. We are talking about mass murders of people. We are talking about a government that silences critics, imprisons critics, tortures them, kills them. According to Human Rights Watch, there are mass executions of over 100 people just this year alone, which makes it per capita probably the number one country in terms of mass executions, far outreaching any other country.
In terms of specific consular cases, many of these are done, as the minister would probably know, through diplomatic channels and through different friendly countries who might be able to assist us. We are asking the government to take whatever steps are necessary. It has our support to bring Canadians home safely. We have seen what could happen if a Canadian citizen, or someone who wanted to reside in this country, are captured by the Iranian regime, once they are jailed without even a fair trial, which they never have, the possibility of them being executed is quite great. We have seen what happened with the journalist, Ms. Kazemi. That was a situation where she was arrested and killed. That was basically what took place.
We have to act in an urgent manner, because the lives of those who are taken by the Iranian regime are at risk. It really is a question of life and death. It is not a question of waiting too long. We have to bring pressure and assistance to our neighbours through whatever country that will be supportive. To get their assistance is very important. That would be the appropriate way.
The other concrete thing we said is that we have to support NGOs both domestically and internationally who are working on this file and who could also be witnesses to what atrocities are taking place and to document it. That also requires financial assistance from the government.
Mr. Chair, I may be rising on the same matter that the member for Mount Royal is about to rise on.
I want to emphasize that the nature of this debate is about the worsening domestic human rights situation in Iran, but it seems to me that there has been no progress whatsoever domestically in Iran on the regime’s willingness to continue to argue and to incite in favour of a massive genocide in which it seeks and advocates the destruction of an entire other country, the state of Israel.
I would invite the member’s comments on that ongoing worry.
Mr. Chair, I want to thank my hon. colleague for the question and also for the excellent leadership he provides as chair of our subcommittee. It is a great pleasure to be a member of that committee because we tend to find consensus in most issues, unlike some of the other committees where there is a little bit of antagonism. I feel very close to the members of the committee and I am very proud to sit on the committee.
The member makes a very important observation that we have also discussed in our committee, which is the genocidal tendencies of Ahmadinejad’s Iran toward the state of Israel and the Jewish people. That is one of the reasons why we are asking that the government make sure that in relation to our obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the specific obligations that Canada has as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, to enforce them.
We are talking about also raising this with the permanent members of the Security Council. We are asking that this be brought before the human rights council and other agencies. We also request that this issue be raised at the highest possible level, because we have a responsibility through the genocide convention, specifically article III, which I mentioned before, that this matter be dealt with and appropriate action taken to hold Iran accountable for its actions.
Mr. Chair, I want to join, also, in commending my colleague for his excellent stewardship of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. As well, I want to recognize my colleague, the member for Davenport, who served as vice-chair of the committee, for his commendable work and submission this evening.
One of the recommendations of the foreign affairs committee and of the subcommittee had to do with providing a civil recourse for victims of gross human rights violations by removing the immunity under the State Immunity Act for foreign officials who perpetrated such violations.
I wonder if the member for Davenport could comment on that recommendation.
Mr. Chair, first, I want to thank the member for Mount Royal for his excellent work, not just on this file, but specific on that issue of the State Immunity Act, which he has put forward to ensure that the government in fact allows the legislation so that we can get after those individuals who are creating and perpetrating both genocide and hateful language. That particular legislation needs to be enacted as soon as possible by the government.
Mr. Chair, I am here in my capacity today as the chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. I want to take members through the history of the hearings we have had and some of the very extensive evidence we heard at committee in the course of hearings that started under a different chairman in 2007 and continued on under my chairmanship in 2008-09. We thought we could wrap the committee up and then realized that we had to continue on in the wake of the repression following the rigged Iranian elections and the subsequent crackdown. We produced a report and just recently have had hearings again into further abuses in Iran. Just yesterday we heard some testimony.
When we are dealing with human rights violations on a vast scale we become numb to them. As I was preparing my remarks, I was put in mind of a saying that is attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to Joseph Stalin that “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”.
To make the point about just how awful the human rights situation is in Iran, I thought I might draw upon a piece of testimony.
I should mention as I begin that when I was in university I studied Russian literature. Russian literature is rich in prison diaries of people who describe what happened to them, the horrible situation in the gulag, Dostoevsky describing the situation to the czars.
Nothing can surpass the testimony which we heard at committee from Ahmad Batebi:
|I was kept for 17 months in a small room by myself, and that room was no more than a washroom. This situation caused health problems. They took me twice for execution. In one case, I was taken for execution with a group of others. Of course, I was not executed. I was in the middle, with one man on the left and another on the right. They blindfolded us and forced us to stand on top of a chair, as if to hang us. They pulled my blindfold aside a bit so I could see what was happening to the other two. These were people who were imprisoned next to me in small cells. I saw their execution.|
He goes on to describe some specific tortures to which he was also subjected, but that gives us an idea. That story has been repeated in other versions many thousands of times in Iran over the course of the past three decades.
There have been periods in the past three decades under the current regime that have been worse. There have been periods that have been better. There have been times when one group has been singled out and times when another group has been singled out. At the moment dissidents, those who are calling out for democracy, are a particular target as the government seeks to crush dissent.
The government has a long record of going after groups of all description. For example, there is religious repression in Iran, which includes, as others have noted, the murderous oppression of the Bahá’í minority, the largest religious minority in Iran.
But it also includes the repression of Iran’s Christian and Jewish populations. It also includes, perhaps to a lesser degree but nonetheless significant, repression of Iran’s Sufi and Sunni populations, and it includes the repression of dissident Shia clerics, including the imprisonment for over 20 years of a prominent Shia cleric who issued a fatwa against the murderous behaviour of the regime toward the Bahá’í. It was religious repression on a massive scale.
Iran is a country of many nationalities. Under the current Iranian regime it has become a prison house of nationalities. The oppression of, for example, the sizeable Azeri population. The population of Azeri in Iran is perhaps as large or even larger than the population of Azeri in Azerbaijan. They are significantly oppressed.
There is a very large population of Baluchis. They are very significantly oppressed. Arabs face similar oppression. Kurds face oppression.
To give a sense of what that is like, I thought I would quote from some testimony relating to the Baluchi minority. Fakteh Zamani, when testifying before our committee on March 24, 2009, said the following:
|What I have heard from Baluchis is that there is a special judge appointed by the government to try these cases. Confessions have been obtained under severe torture, and these people are tried in 10 to 15 minutes in their cells, without a prosecutor or a defence lawyer present. Just because of the special Baluchi situation, a judge shows up and asks a few questions of this tortured individual and sentences them to death. There are hundreds of Baluchis on death row.|
That is ethnic oppression.
Iran has a large and quite well-educated population. It has a cosmopolitan past. Tehran is a very cosmopolitan city.
Women acquired, prior to the current regime, a relatively significant role in society. The repression and the stripping away of those women’s rights is a prominent feature of the human rights oppression of the current regime.
Trade unionists are repressed. We have heard testimony to that effect.
Sexual minorities are oppressed in a particularly grotesque way. Male homosexuals, gay men, are executed. Being a gay man is a terminal offence in Iran.
However, for peculiar reasons, it is acceptable to get a sex change operation. Sometimes Iranian gays have effectively been forced to undergo unwanted sex change operations to escape the death penalty. Many Iranian gays who do escape are currently in a situation of being effectively unrecognized refugees trapped in Turkey.
Young people are similarly subject to peculiar and extraordinary persecution, unrivalled anywhere else in the world. The majority of the executions of minors in the world takes place in Iran.
If one treats all forms of the death penalty as being a kind of persecution, then Iran is a world leader. In terms of per capita executions it leads every other country in the world. There is some evidence to suggest that with the current increase in executions, it may now be the leader in an absolute number context. Remember that this is a country with 70 million people, which is large but not as large as China with 1.2 billion people. At this point there may actually be more executions in Iran than there are even in China, making it tragically a world leader in a very sad way.
The question arises, could the situation in Iran get worse? We are talking about the worsening human rights situation in Iran. The answer is yes, it could, and it has been worse at certain points in the past. Such a rise of oppression into an outright reign of terror is entirely possible.
To make that point, I will conclude by turning once again to our testimony. Dr. Abbas Milani, who testified before us in October 2009, said that in the past 30 years in Iran, “there have been moments of respite and moments of true revolutionary terror”. He pointed out to us that in 1988 there was the “execution of an estimated 4,000 prisoners, who were serving time for other crimes, in order to cleanse the prisons of potential opponents”. This could happen again on just as massive a scale.
The prisons were cleared in 1988, according to a witness from Amnesty International, largely to make space for more prisoners. It was effectively a form of housecleaning.
A regime that can do that kind of thing is obviously one that we must speak openly about. I am glad that all members were willing to do so today and it has been a privilege to speak to this matter.
Mr. Chair, I want to note that the member is the chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights and it has been a pleasure to work with him over the last number of years.
One of the recommendations that came from the subcommittee was to do with the broadcast of Farsi into Iran. Young people are using Twitter and other forms of communication on the Internet, which could very well be shut down or controlled, or could lead to their capture. I would like the member’s comments on the recommendation of the committee. Has he heard any reaction from our government on that suggestion?
Mr. Chair, to answer the second question first, I have not heard a reaction.
On that recommendation, I have to confess that when the committee was hearing testimony, I remember thinking to myself that a chair is not supposed to express any opinion on matters that do not strictly relate to the rules. I remember thinking at the time that shortwave transmissions are an out-of-date technology and we hear broadcasts on the Internet, and given the fact that Iran has a well-connected, well-wired population and quite a bit of Internet and technical savvy, there was really no need for the old-fashioned broadcasting over the airwaves.
Having watched events in Tunisia and Egypt and the shutting down of the Internet as an attempt to control the population, I have realized that the thoughts I had privately were incorrect. I am only now expressing them to say that I realize that I had been incorrect about them and I did not express them at the time when I might have had some impact on the committee.
Mr. Chair, I know the member sits on the subcommittee and I am aware of its report. It contains 24 recommendations and I have read them. I realize the report was finished in December 2010, not that long ago, but events are unfolding rather quickly. Could he give me a rundown as to how many of the recommendations have been dealt with specifically?
I also had a question about consular services, but I will ask that later.
Mr. Chair, normally after a report is issued, at some point the government issues a response, but if it is a report of the House, there is a requirement that the government respond to it.
It is important to get concurrence in the report from the House. At this point, that has not happened. That is not to say the government should not be looking at it and responding to it, but that would ensure that point by point, all 24 recommendations would be dealt with, perhaps not in the manner the committee or the House would most want but, nonetheless, there is a requirement that it be done.
That being said, I cannot point to my knowing anything specific as an insider. Although I am on the government side, I am not actually a member of the government in the sense of knowing government secrets. I suppose if I were, I would not be able to share them extemporaneously, so I am going to be of less help than I wish I could be.
Mr. Chair, I want to commend my hon. colleague on his excellent speech and the work he does in the committee.
The member stated very clearly what is faced by a lot of the minority groups in Iran, whether it be the Baluchis, the Baha’is, or some of the minority Christian and Jewish communities, and how they are being persecuted by the Iranian government.
One community the member knows very well is the Baha’is which appeared before our committee. They documented the incredible persecution they face on a daily basis by that regime, without any access to the media, without any access to any type of state protection.
In fact, the minister of intelligence of Iran, the prosecutor general, said:
|The administration of this miscarried Baha’i sect at all levels is unlawful and banned and their ties to Israel and their opposition to Islam and the Islamic regime are clear. The danger they pose to national security is documented and proven and therefore it is necessary that any substitute administration that acts as a replacement for the original be confronted through the law.|
In other words, he is making it very clear that this is a group to be targeted. Just as they targeted Israel and the Jewish people, they want to target the Baha’is. They almost put a target on their foreheads and say that it is okay to shoot them, that it is okay to kill them, because it is a sect that they want nothing to do with.
That dehumanization of Iran’s own people continually goes on. The Baha’is are peaceful people who originated in that part of the world, in Iran. They are just as much Iranians as are other Iranians. I am struck by the sheer violation of human rights against such a targeted group.
He also mentioned the gay community, which is also targeted by the regime. It continues to target its own people.
It is a country that has an incredible wealth of history. It is a country that has many incredibly intelligent people. Luckily for Canada, many of them are here in Canada because many of them have left that regime. There still is a very young, vibrant population there. They want to see change. They see what is happening around the world. They want to know what we can do, how we can act in solidarity with them.
Does my hon. colleague want to add anything further about the human rights abuses taking place against those communities?
Mr. Chair, the Baha’is face particularly severe persecution. There are probably three reasons for that.
The first is that they are relatively numerous and therefore a bigger target in a sense. The second is that they are a post-Koranic religion; that is to say, they recognize the authority of a prophet after the prophet Muhammad which is seen as being particularly unacceptable by the regime. The third is that the holiest site of the Baha’is is in Israel. I think it is in Haifa, but I stand to be corrected.
It should be mentioned though, and this is an important point regarding the third point, that it is purely an accident of history that Haifa is in the state of Israel. The events that led to its becoming a sacred site had to do with the imprisonment by the Ottoman Turks of the founder of the Baha’i faith in, I think it was the 1840s or the 1850s, obviously in years pre-dating the creation of the state of Israel, which resulted in its being there.
That does not imply in any way that Baha’is are incapable of being loyal citizens of Iran. It does not imply any particular point of view on behalf of the Baha’is, whether they are in Iran or anywhere else in the world, any opinion regarding the state of Israel. The use of that fact by those who would persecute the Baha’is is a terrible wrong against the peaceful people of the Baha’i faith who historically have been very good and loyal citizens of Iran.
Mr. Chair, I am pleased to speak to the take note debate tonight on the situation in Iran sponsored by the member for Mount Royal. I know he has a very good command of the issues in this area. We spoke a couple of weeks ago on the situation in Egypt.
As members know, the situation is very fluid and has developed just in the last few weeks. The government fell In Tunisia and then the government fell in Egypt, which I believe was a bigger surprise. Now we are talking about recurring protests in Iran and other countries in the region. I do not know how much of it is facilitated by the up-to-date information that is available today through networks such as Al Jazeera because people can access that information. We are being told that new technologies, such as Facebook, the Internet and so on, have been big facilitators, whereas maybe 50 or 100 years ago we would not have had these types of activities. I do not know that we can actually be 100% sure of that but suggestions have been made that this has been facilitated by these modern mediums. If that is the case, it is important and incumbent upon the friendly support of governments across the world to take action and support the protestors for the purposes of establishing democratic regimes to the extent that is possible in some of these countries.
I must admit that I am impressed with the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights which produced the report on human rights in Iran. Our member and members from other parties are on the committee that produced its report in December 2010. The report contains 24 fairly excellent recommendations that came out of that committee and I think it would be a travesty if those recommendations were simply not followed up on.
I have been around governments for a long time, 26 years as an elected person but a number of years before that working for the political apparatus. I can say that governments of all stripes operate more or less on a boiler room day-to-day crisis management basis. They do things when they have to do them. Often times we find that the follow up is not there. Promises are made by governments, which is why we have a press out there that regularly follows us around to ensure that we are actually doing what we said we would do.
Earlier on tonight, I had an opportunity, which I may have missed, to ask the new minister a question. I would also like to congratulate her on her long overdue appointment. I believe she talked about consular services in 260 locations having to deal with 600 cases a day. I would like to know from her or any other member of the government, should one be around later to speak to this, if perhaps someone could provide me with the number of consular service cases the government has been dealing with on a daily basis over the past year to give us a longer term view of that.
I also would like to know where the government sits regarding the 24 recommendations that are mentioned in the report. I had not intended to but I will go through some of those recommendations because some of them are fairly good.
As we indicated, the situation is changing and is very fluid so perhaps different recommendations that may be relevant today or were relevant in December may not be relevant in a few months. Maybe some more accelerated or extreme measures might need to be taken if the situation gets further out of hand.
Recommendation number one reads:
|The Subcommittee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to provide moral support and should increase, if possible, its financial support for Canadian and Iranian civil society organizations and other human rights groups that document and report on human rights abuses committed by the Iranian regime.|
Once again the committee has to do a follow-up to ensure these recommendations are adopted. The government member just indicated to us, and I am not sure whether all members of the committee are even aware, that the government has not even adopted this report yet. Assuming that we are all on the same page, the government should get this report adopted tomorrow and then start laying out a plan as to how it will implement these recommendations.
The report talks about providing moral and diplomatic support to the democratic movement in Iran. The government is willing and able to do that, and it has been doing that.
The report suggests that the government consider funding a research chair at a Canadian university dedicated to the study of Canadian Iranian relations, including the human rights situation in Iran. The documentation of cases is really vital to successful cases long term. So much of history’s atrocities have not been documented and, without proper documentation, it is hard to prove at the end of the day. If we could get cases documented, then we could move forward and get results through international courts and other adjudication bodies. The documentation is really the worst enemy of the tyrants because they thrive on being able to hide in the shadows, use force whenever it suits them and basically run and escape. It is only when the cases can be documented and the light is shone on those cases that proper results will be made.
I recall a police person telling me a number of years ago that while he really could not tell what would happen in certain situations, he knew that if the light was shone on it things might develop and people would start scurrying around. Sure enough, that is one of the approaches that it takes.
If world attention is drawn to a problem, then tyrants will not be very happy with that development, particularly if some sanctions are attached.
Another recommendations reads:
|…Radio Canada International to consider programming in Farsi over its worldwide shortwave service, over conventional AM/FM broadcasting in the Gulf region, and over the Internet.|
This is another excellent idea that must be followed through on and initiated.
We talked about all the modern technological advancements like Facebook, Twitter and the Internet to the extent that we can work around those issues and use those issues. That would be a positive thing to put these tyrants in their place. That is one of the things that we can use against them to try to get results.
There is talk about a prohibition of Canadian registered ships from docking in Iran and Iranian registered ships from docking in Canada. I was wondering about the airline issue. Maybe someone knows about the issue of airline service to Iran and what is happening there.
Mr. Chair, I would like to comment on something that came from the subcommittees report. We had witnesses before the subcommittee who were hopeful that the change in Iran can and must come from its people. Several witnesses told the members that the new generation in Iran, the children of the revolution, are not happy with the social, economic and political policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new generation is well-educated, worldly and very realistic.
Professor Akhavan referred to one of the slogans. One of the slogans on the streets now is, “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I will only sacrifice my life for Iran”. They are saying that they are tired of hate-mongering and the use of imaginary external enemies as a way of crushing internal dissent and that they want to live in peace with their neighbours. Professor Akhavan is from this area.
I am wondering if the member is aware of any other totalitarian governments around the world that use what I refer to as sleight of hand or distraction away from what they are doing to their own people by way of pointing at an external enemy.
Mr. Chair, one example that I can think of is North Korea where it keeps its people in state of poverty and under control by using that kind of threat that they are about to be invaded. It is very common for repressive regimes to conjure up imaginary enemies to keep their people in line. Once that is broken, they do not have a very good argument for staying in power.
I am still interested to know about the air situation, because with any country that is shut off, sanctions work. Libya was a really good example that faced sanctions because it too was put on the Americans’ list as a country of state-sponsored terrorism. It was shut out of a lot economic ventures because of its status. There was really no tourism investment from the United States or Europe. Once Colonel Gaddafi got out of the situation he was in and renounced international state-sponsored terrorism and his continuing role in it, then Libya opened itself up to a large development of tourism and oil development. That was a good reason for him to stop doing what he was doing before. That situation did work and I am sure we will have to look at some sort of isolating tactics like that against Iran.
Mr. Chair, as the government liaison to the Iranian and Persian community, I am proud to rise today in the chamber to take part in this emergency debate on the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran.
Canadians care deeply about the freedoms of people around the world. Our Conservative government has expressed these concerns in three ways: we care, we listen and we act. Let me illustrate how our government cares, listens and acts.
Tonight’s debate represents a powerful and tangible expression of our democratic rights here in Canada, rights that have for too long been denied to the people of Iran. In lending our voices in support of reform and democracy in Iran, we embolden the cause of freedom and stand in solidarity with our Iranian brothers and sisters.
One may ask why we here in Canada should care about the plight of the citizens of a country on the other side of the planet. Some might ask if the crisis in Iran is not best left to its own citizens. This is a fair question. Certainly the people of Iran have a basic right to self-determination. However, I also know that Canadians are possessed of a great capacity for compassion. To quote one of the last century’s greatest freedom fighters from our neighbours to the south, Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It is never too early to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. I am reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian pastor imprisoned by Hitler, who said: “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
No, we Canadians cannot ignore the oppression by the Iranian regime just because Iran seems so far away. Though Iran is far away, the plight of the people of Iran matters to the conscience of this nation. The flagrant violation of Iranians’ basic human rights is intolerable to the people and Government of Canada.
That is why our government has taken a principled and consistent stand against the Iranian regime. For the last eight years, Canada has led in sponsoring and passing resolutions at the United Nations condemning the Iranian regime for its abuses. We have strengthened our assistance to those Canadians who have been targeted by this regime and we have been unequivocal in our opposition to the abuses of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
I am proud to be a Canadian and I am proud to have a government that cares. We are a government that cares; but if Canada only cared and did not listen, we would not be able to help. Ours is a government that listens. As the member of Parliament for the beautiful riding of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, I have the tremendous privilege to represent one of the largest Persian and Iranian community in Canada.
Since I was first elected to the chamber in 2008, I have had the opportunity to participate in countless events that highlight the contributions of this community to Canada, from the annual fire festival of the Persian new year, Nowruz, to other cultural events. I have participated in several meetings with members of the Iranian and Persian community and ministers of our government. I have worked on community projects with members of that community and attended local round tables and town hall meetings with them.
On the north shore of Vancouver, Nowruz celebrations have become a yearly highlight, not just for Iranian Canadians but also for Canadians of all backgrounds. Attendance records continue to be broken year after year as Canadians seize these wonderful opportunities to learn about and celebrate the contributions of Iranian Canadians to Canadian society.
Last year, I had the honour of organizing and hosting the visit of Dr. Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of Iran’s most inspiring human rights activists. All across our country, Canadians had the chance to listen to and read about the incredible and often painful story of a woman who has risked everything, including her own life, to bring light and justice to people who have none.
While in Canada, Dr. Ebadi had the chance to meet with our Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. She also testified before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.
Ours is a government that listens to many voices in the Persian and Iranian community. Canadians do not turn a deaf ear to the needs of oppressed people anywhere else. We are a people and a government that act. We are appalled by the oppression of the Iranian people by the Islamic regime. Even as I stand before everyone this evening, our Canadian government stands before the world for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
We have joined our voice with the growing global chorus calling for the end of Iran’s secretive nuclear arms regime. We call for the ongoing independent inspection of its nuclear facilities. The Government of Canada opposes in the strongest terms the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Iranian republic. We are working with the global community to ensure that the spectre of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons never becomes a reality.
Our government supports UN Security Council resolutions to impose restrictions on the Iranian government. We act in concert with our international allies, but because we care and because we listen, we also act in accordance with the special needs of our Iranian-Canadian community. Therefore, in July of last year, our government announced our own made-in-Canada sanctions against the Islamic regime.
Far too often, with the best intentions, a government imposes economic sanctions on another country, but instead of pressuring the foreign government, the sanctions turn out to hurt the very citizens the government is trying to protect. That is why the Canadian government, a government that cares, listened to Canadians of Iranian background and then acted last year, announcing our sanctions and other provisions under the Special Economic Measures Act.
These targeted measures are designed to hamper attempts by Iran to develop nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs, as well as to persuade it to agree to constructive discussions with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
I repeat, our government cares, our government listens and our government acts.
By using sanctions that put pressure specifically on those responsible for injustice, our government has targeted members of the regime while minimizing harm to the innocent citizens of Iran. It can never be said enough that our government condemns the abuses of the Iranian government but stands proudly and resolutely behind the Iranian people.
Across the Middle East, we are witnessing the advent of incredible change. From Tunisia to Jordan, Bahrain to Egypt, the chorus of voices has never been stronger, a chorus united together for change. The same refrain has been taken up in Iran and its echoes can be heard around the world.
I am proud and humbled to stand here in this chamber, the heart of our Canadian democracy. I am proud to stand united with members of all the parties in this, our plea for freedom. I am proud to lend my voice to that chorus.
History is made in moments such as these. We must never fail to seize such an opportunity and to stand for what we know is right.
Let justice and democracy flow like a mighty river.
[Member spoke in Farsi]
Mr. Chair, the hon. member is from a riding that has a very significant Iranian-Canadian population. The member was talking about how the government cares and how he cares. I believe him to be very sincere.
I have to think the member has many constituents who care very deeply and, I suppose, also very knowingly about the state of their ancestral country. I just wonder if the member could share with us a little bit of what he has heard from the Iranian-Canadian community that he serves.
Mr. Chair, there are many different immigrant groups in Canada and, certainly, many in the riding I represent.
What I have found is that more than any other group I know, the people of Iranian origin have a visceral attachment to their homeland. That is partly because they have brothers and sisters, and relatives and friends who are imperilled by the Iranian regime. It is partly because many of them have suffered through tremendous strife in recent years.
Anyone who has seen the film Persepolis will know that it depicts the plight of a young woman who was doted on by her parents and has all the opportunities that anyone could ever ask for, but who witnesses oppression, who sees an uncle dragged off to jail for political reasons and ultimately executed. She then goes and lives for some time in Europe, has several unrequited love affairs, and struggles through her life and returns to Iran. She is a metaphor for the people of Iran.
She describes so brilliantly the plight of people who strive to be free, people who are well educated, famous for their entrepreneurial spirit, people who do not see it as right or just that a fundamentalist regime holds them in the kind of shackles in which they live in Iran.
With all Canadians, I long for the day when Iran will be a bulwark of democracy in the Middle East, a country with which we can carry on full democratic and diplomatic relations, a country with which we can exchange goods and services and have our people flow back and forth, as we can with other democratic countries.
Mr. Chair, I rise today to speak on the important matter of human rights violations in Iran.
Human rights both domestically and internationally have long been a concern of Canadians. However, this government, in its five short years, has dramatically silenced the voice of Canada on the international scene. We cannot continue on this path of insularity in an increasingly global environment.
I would like to thank the member for Mount Royal for taking leadership in asking for the take note debate tonight.
According to Freedom House, the number of new electoral democracies has ceased to grow, while the number of backsliders has increased. Countries like Thailand and Kenya, which only a few years ago seemed safely in the democratic column, have sunk into political crisis and uncertainty.
However, the last few weeks have seen a challenge to authoritarian rule in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and, most recently, in Iran. Tonight this debate is focusing on the events that are unfolding in Iran and concerns that are arising in regard to the treatment of those who are protesting.
When protests were taking place in Egypt, Iran was cheering the protesters. However, when the protesters took to the streets in Iran, they were rounded up and put in prison.
The Iranian people have suffered tremendously under this mullah regime. When the Shah was deposed, the people thought they had rid themselves of authoritarian rule. Ayatollah Khomeini had agreed to be an interim leader until democratic elections took place. The Iranian people were in for a rude awakening.
It has now been 32 years that this regime has been in power, and during that time hundreds of thousands of Iranians have been killed. The people killed were intellectuals, professors, thinkers, opposition leaders, journalists, et cetera. Some of these opposition members moved to Iraq for sanctuary, to Camp Ashraf, and they are still not safe from the mullah regime.
What has the world done? It has stood by and let this happen. When Ayatollah Khatami took over from Khomeini, the west thought they had a moderate leader, but that was not so. The west kept on appeasing the mullah regime to such an extent that it agreed to label opposition parties who were resisting the regime as terrorists.
If the Canadian government truly believes in democracy and truly fights for democratic and human rights, it is high time that it follows the example of Britain and the European Union and delists the opposition parties who are resisting the regime so that they can go back and fight the mullahs democratically.
We have heard about thousands of people who have been killed, and the killing continues. I would like to add a few names of people whose only crime has been to resist the government: Zahra Bahrami, Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei, Ali Saremi, Jafar Kazemi and many more.
What was their crime? They supported the opposition. They challenged the government. They fought and died for change.
How are we going to help their memory survive and the memory of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian citizen, and many others like her who died fighting for freedom?
The Iranian regime’s human rights violations are state sanctioned and done with impunity. Many Iranians who have come to Canada attest to the brutality of the regime. The Iranians who fled the brutality of the regime some 30 years ago were young people, the same as we see today protesting in the streets of Iran. However, nobody paid attention to them. These young people risked their lives and those of their families to demand human rights, and the struggle is still going on.
The Iranian people are resolute. They are resisting. The diaspora wants to keep up the struggle. They want the world to help them. If the world wants to see peace, we need to help the Iranian people in their struggle.
Human rights groups have been pressing the UN and the international community to denounce the rash of executions in Iran. The groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, say at least 86 people have been executed in 2011 in Iran. They say at least eight of those killed last month were political prisoners.
Iran Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi joined the call saying that the executions may increase if the world is silent.
Canada must speak out loudly and clearly that human rights knows no borders. We must make it clear that repression and state-sanctioned murder will not go unnoticed. In a country where some 70% of the population is under 30 years old, estimates suggest that 25% to 40% of the youth is either underemployed or unemployed.
The stark realities facing this young population and their desire for change were expressed by Professor Akhavan in his testimony at the foreign affairs subcommittee on international human rights, when he said, “When young people are willing to get murdered in the streets, it is not because they are fanatics; it is because they have no hope; they are desperate. They would rather get killed than remain silent”. Canadians must not remain silent while they die.
At this point I would like to digress a little. I would like to bring some perspective on Islam, because after all, that is what the mullahs keep on saying; that this is an Islamic state. Let me elucidate what Islam is and what the Quran says.
Many people are unaware of one of the fundamental principles of Islam: respect for human beings and respect for the total creation. Islam is a religion of peace and submission to the will of God. Islam believes in the dignity of human beings. It regards human beings as the crown of creation and as such, they have to be responsible for all creation. They have to treat the resources of the earth wisely, look after the environment, look after the sick, the poor, the needy and the most vulnerable in society.
The cosmopolitan ethic in Islam stands for respect among peoples of all faith and no faith, that is an ethical respect for the dignity of the human person without any discrimination. At the conference in Amman, Jordan in 2005, where all Muslim countries were represented, the conference reaffirmed the historic plurality of the Muslim Ummah. It reinforced the consensus among all different schools of thought, of the mutual acceptance of the legitimacy of various Muslim denominations, and that pluralism should be cherished.
The Prophet of Islam has clearly stated that difference of opinion is a blessing from God. The Holy Book for the Muslims, the Quran, states that God made us all diverse people and nations so that we may know each other.
The Quran also states, “to take one life is to kill the whole of humanity” and “to save one life is to save humanity”. The Quran is very clear in what it states that Muslims should respect all religion and all people, people with religion and without religion, which is the cosmopolitan ethic.
I hope this clarifies the principles that no Baha’i, no Hindu, no Achmedia or any other denominations, no Christians, no Jews, should be persecuted by the regime of Iran.
When the west talks about Islamic regime, it gets itself confused between the principles of Islam and the Sharia. The Sharia is man made. It is not God sanctioned. I hope that in the Iranian regime, some of the people are watching, because I would like to pose a question for them. How can these mullahs claim to be religious when they are basically violating the fundamental principles of Islam? Why hide these atrocities behind a garb of religion? It is high time that the mullahs left Iran and that democracy was brought back to Iran.
Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to continue my speech on the take note debate on Iran.
I found that the report of the subcommittee on Iran by the House of Commons committee was quite substantial and made very important recommendations, which I hope to deal with in my speech. Unfortunately, I was unable to get through a lot of the recommendations.
One of the recommendations I was dealing with was the one that Radio Canada International be allowed to consider programming in Farsi over its worldwide shortwave service, over conventional FM broadcasting to the gulf region and over the Internet. I want to make certain the government did follow through on that and did not just pay lip service to it and not do it.
Another recommendation was to ensure that Iranian foreign offices, bureaus or media outlets in Canada would not used by the Iranian regime as a source of threat and intimidation of the Iranian diaspora in Canada. We have seen in a number of other situations, in Canada and elsewhere, where regimes will go abroad to hunt down and threaten former citizens of their country who are involved in demonstrations and so on against their government.
In addition, the subcommittee recommended that, in communicating its condemnation of the human rights violations of the Iranian regime against its own people, the Government of Canada should use all available tools already authorized under Canada’s existing immigration and visa legislation to ensure that high-ranking members of the regime would not able to access direct or indirect support from within Canadian territory.
In addition, it recommended the reduction high-level interaction with Iranian government officials and to make any invitations extended to Iranian officials conditional upon effective actions taken by the Iranian government to improve the human rights situation in Iran.
In addition, there was a recommendation that the Government of Canada, in communicating its condemnation of the human rights violations perpetrated by members of Iran’s state security agencies against the Iranian people, use all available tools authorized by existing immigration and visa policies and legislation to deny entry into Canada to members of Iran’s security agencies, including members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Also there was a recommendation that the Government of Canada institute targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes against those individuals within the Iranian government and the state security forces who were known to have committed human rights violations.
In the case of Egypt, Mubarak and his family have a reported $70 billion. The question now is where is the money and can the current Egyptian authorities track it down and get it. In the case of Tunisia, some of the ruling family are in Canada. The question is what we can do to try to track down these assets and return the people and the assets to the new authorities in Tunisia.
A very important recommendation of the committee is the idea of the targeted sanctions. I mentioned what happened in Libya number of years ago when countries took action against Libya and froze Libya out of world affairs and froze its economic opportunities. Libya suffered a lot for a number of years until Colonel Gaddafi came forward and renounced terrorism and promised not to be involved in any more state-sponsored terrorism activities. Only then did the sanctions get lifted and the restrictions removed. Now we see a new tourism industry developing there, much more activity in the oil fields and other activities.
If a country like Iran can look out in the world and see what is the worse possible situation that could develop and happen to it, if it continues violating human rights and if it also sees what happened when Libya gave up participating in state-sponsored terrorism, then it will see it is very short-sighted to continue to do what it is.
It has been reported by several speakers tonight, in a lot of very interesting speeches, that the Iranian population is very young, well-educated and highly motivated. It is only a matter of time before the theocracy and the current government starts to crumble. That just leads to increased repression. However, at the end of the day that will not overcome mass actions on the streets. We saw that in 2009, after the Ahmadinejad re-election. We see it happening right now. It is possible that if things work out the way we hope they will, conditions may change, as they did in Egypt and in Tunisia.
Once again, we talked about this being a moving target, that we do not know what will happen at the end of the day. Members will remember that in 1979, after the Shah of Iran was overthrown, people were hoping for the best for Iran. It was only a matter of time, I am just not sure how long it was, but I think it was just a matter of weeks or months before the theocracy took root and the Ayatollah Khomeini came back from France and assumed power.
I am sure all of us here hope that will not what will happen in Egypt, or in Tunisia, or in any other of these countries.
I know we sit back, in Canada, with our democratic ideals on our chests, and we recommend those ideals and do what we can to promote those ideals. However, we are dealing with different countries and they do not necessarily always think the way we do. There are a lot of competing interests.
I remember being in Morocco in 1970 and then going back 10 years ago. I saw tremendous changes in that time. I do not know how democratic the government is, but the education level of the population is much higher than it was in 1970. In 1970 it was a relatively poor agrarian country, with most people wearing djellabas and very few people wearing blue jeans. Today, almost anybody younger than me wears western dress. Also, the country was trying to get into the European Union.
Looking at that, Morocco would be a good candidate for the type of democratic reforms that we would be trying to pursue. However, I cannot say the same thing about Iran because I have not been there. However, if we assume that it has a young, educated population, it is a very good sign that it may be willing to adopt a democratic approach.
Mr. Chair, the discussion of comparisons between the revolution of 1979 in Iran and what could be categorized as a revolution, which is probably a good way of describing what is underway in Egypt and Tunisia, are not simply a change of heads of state but actually of the regime and its underlying philosophy. That I think qualifies as a revolution.
That thought made me go back and think about another comparison that had been made that I read about many years ago between the Iranian revolution of 1979 and certain earlier revolutions, the one in France in 1789 and the one in Russia in 1917.
I remember reading a book published by a man named Crane Brinton which I would recommend to the hon. member, in which he looks at the patterns of revolutions. It is called The Anatomy of Revolution. It talks about revolutions which unfortunately more often than not do not result in additional liberties, at least not in the long run. He does not say it exactly this way but it appears to be because if we lack a framework of laws and a constitutional framework on which to base that revolutionary change, the danger is that naked force will have to be applied and someone in the end applies that naked force.
That is a pretty good analysis of what happened in 1979 in Iran. I think he is right in assuming that the population there is relatively sophisticated but they were in 1979 as well.
I would ask the member if he shares this concern. Should any change occur there it would probably be best to try and do so within some form of recognition of a legitimate set of laws that could guide the transition.
The member, like all of us, would like to see what happened in eastern Europe in 1989 serve as the model where the transformation from dictatorship to democracy took place because law was respected as revolutionary change took place.
That is kind of half comment and half question. I will see if the member has any thoughts on that.
Mr. Chair, I thought, and I could be wrong, that in 1979 in Iran after coming off the years of the Shah, that once the Ayatollah Khomeini came back from France that country went through the process of consolidating power, but its power was consolidated as a theocracy. More importantly, the revolution became an export. I remember being in Athens, Greece one day and there was a big demonstration in favour of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
In many respects some revolutions are insular to the country and that is how we hope they would be. But other revolutions that develop on an ideological basis actually become beacons to the world and are exported.
That 1979 revolution in Iran seemed to be an exported revolution. The country spent as much time exporting its ideas to other countries and fomenting activities to support other revolutions and revolutionary efforts as much as it did trying to satisfy its own people. But there did not seem to be as many demands from its own people in those days. I see it a little different now. Never having been there it seems to me that the people have local demands. We cannot forget that the people went through a war for a number of years with Iraq and that was a very consuming war between Saddam Hussein, who started the war, and Iran.
At a certain point the people will want to see improvement in their own lives, not a degradation of their lives. Even today in Iraq people have not achieved the standard of living they had before Saddam Hussein started to take the country down. The people were higher but they have gone lower. People in Iran right now expect things to get better. Hopefully they will become more insular and will not try to export the revolution and their foreign policy as they are right now.
I hope that answers part of the member’s question.
Mr. Chair, as we have heard this evening, the human rights situation in Iran is deteriorating rapidly. We have heard disheartening reports of the denial of rights of religious minorities, due process violations, torture and politically motivated executions. Even juvenile executions are on the rise in that country. Iran has violated all of its obligations under international conventions.
Let me deal for a minute with the report of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights on Iran, which highlights all of these violations. My colleague, the member for Lanark, is the chair of the subcommittee which issued the report. I want to thank him and the subcommittee for doing such a tremendous job of highlighting these issues and making the report available.
For thousands of years Iran has been a civilization. It is respected around the world because of its culture, human rights, et cetera. The Persian civilization is one of the cornerstones of civilizations around the world. This is a testament to the Persian people of Iran. We are fortunate to have a large Iranian community here in Canada who are contributing not only in culture but in all aspects of human development and history.
Every nation on the earth recognizes and respects Persians and Iranians. That respect has been there throughout the history of time. The people of Iran are now being abused by the current regime that is in power. However, because of their goodwill, other countries around the world are reluctant to speak out about the human rights violations taking place in that country. The shah was overthrown because he did not have a good human rights record. We must never forget that it was the people of Iran who wanted that change, just like the people of Egypt wanted a change. When the shah regime was overthrown, the people of Iran looked at this bureaucracy that has been historically provided and they put their trust into this regime of Khomeini’s and the clerics who have served this Islamic revolution. An Islamic revolution does not mean that a regime should suppress the human rights of the citizens of its own country.
What is Iran doing today? Is Iran doing anything other than it did with the Persian empire to settle this? No. The biggest achievement of that government is the biggest repression of its own citizens. Should it get a Nobel prize for the oppression of its own citizens, sentencing them to death, hangings without trials and juvenile killings? What are these leaders doing? They forget their own strength. They are doing this to stay in power.
Look at the demonstrations that are currently taking place in Iran. The current president would not admit that he has lost, nor will he stand up to scrutiny. Instead, he sent out his goons to hit the opposition. We are highly disturbed by the fact that there are people in the parliament of that country who are calling for the execution, I repeat, the execution of its opposition leaders. We cannot imagine that so-called elected officials anywhere in the world would call for the execution of their own citizens or their own leaders. That is a serious flaw.
The Iranian revolution has betrayed its own people, nobody else. The people who are suffering are its own people. Any time an Iranian tries to give a speech or say something, the Iranian government throws the person in jail and, if it can get away with it, will actually execute him or her.
Let us talk about the woman Iran was going to stone to death. President Lula of Brazil, the biggest friend of Iran, had to intervene and say he was going to take the lady to Brazil. That is how bad the situation in Iran is.
This government stands up for its policy of supporting human rights and democracy. Today we are speaking about what is happening in Iran and I hope more people and countries speak out. Even the countries that recognize Iran as a bastion of civilization and have respect for it, they need to speak against this regime. We are not talking about the Iranian people, we are talking about the regime that is in power and wants to stay there at all costs, even by the killing of its own people.
Iran’s diplomats travel around the world. I am a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I travel around the world and meet with Iranians. The regime is using what it has gained in the past, saying that it should be respected. Yes, we would like to respect the Iranians. Canadians of Iranian origin have shown how much they can be respected, but there is a difference. The difference is the regime. The regime is a murderous one. I am sorry that I am using very harsh words. I have been there. Let us really look at what is going on there.
Demonstrators on the streets of Tehran Iranians are dying. Who are they killed by? They are killed by their own government. They are not being killed by somebody else. They are not being killed by outside forces. They are being killed by their own government because they want freedom.
How can we tolerate that government? What happened to the Iranian revolution? What happened when the shah was thrown out? One dictator was thrown out with the intention that the aspirations of that nation would be met, but look at what has happened.
What is even more disturbing is the current president has absolutely no qualms about killing people, in suppressing them. If he calls himself a democrat or a custodian of the great Persian culture, then why would he not listen to his own people? This is a president who has, in my opinion, let down not only his country but the Persian culture that everybody around the world respects. It is, indeed, a very big tragedy in that country.
Mr. Chair, I wanted to ask the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas and Consular Affairs earlier about consular services in Iran. She talked about there being consular services in 260 locations and over 600 cases per day. I am trying to find out how many cases there would be in Iran on a daily basis over the past year. I do not expect the member is going to be able to provide the answer tonight, but if he could get it in the next day or two, that would be fine.
The parliamentary secretary is probably aware of the report from the Subcommittee on International Human Rights on Iran. The report has been out since December 2010 and has a list of 24 recommendations on what the Government of Canada should be doing regarding the Iranian situation. As we know, the situation is changing on a daily basis.
I would ask the parliamentary secretary whether the government has fulfilled these recommendations, which ones it has accomplished and which ones it is currently working on?
Mr. Chair, I will get the information for the hon. member on how many Iranian consular cases there are.
As a person who was formerly in charge in consular cases, I can say that Iran is one of the most difficult places to deal with consular issues because the Government of Iran does not respect the rights of its own citizens. I will get back to him on that issue.
I would remind all Canadians that this government has, on a consistent basis, stood up at the United Nations to condemn Iran. We have worked very hard to ensure the United Nations’ resolution condemns Iran on its human rights violations. This government has been very successful in getting the UN General Assembly to pass resolutions condemning Iran on its human rights record.
We put in a tremendous amount of diplomatic effort. We worked very hard. We called on our friends. We are very pleased that year after year we get our opinion out to the world. The regime in Iran should be ashamed of its record.
Mr. Chair, does the parliamentary secretary know what the government’s actions and plans are relating to the persecuted Baha’i community in Iran. As he knows, there are certain actions that the United Nations can take?
Since the 1980s, over 200 Baha’i members have been executed, thousands have been arrested, detained and interrogated, and tens of thousands have been deprived of jobs, pensions and educational opportunities. Their holy places have been confiscated, vandalized and destroyed.
A simple example is that the instruction is not to allow people into universities if they are Baha’i, which is totally against the UN declaration on human rights, which Iran professes to uphold.
I am just wondering about the government’s actions and proposed actions.
Mr. Chair, the member has highlighted exactly what I have been talking about. The Baha’i community are Iranian citizens. The government is suppressing its own citizens. Suppressing the Baha’i is suppressing Iran’s own citizens. This is how bad the government is.
That is why we have, time after time, year after year, at the UN General Assembly, raised the issue of Iran’s human rights record. The member has highlighted, very rightly, this issue. I think we should be speaking very strongly against the Government of Iran because it exports terrorism to Lebanon and it supports Hezbollah. However, that is not the issue.
The biggest issue is that the Iranian government suppresses its own citizens, including its own citizens, the Baha’i, as the member pointed out. That government should be condemned in no uncertain terms.
Mr. Chair, I want to congratulate my hon. colleague on the very high level tone of his comments.
He has made it very clear, as all members have this evening, that there is a fundamental distinction between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people. So often we talk about condemning Iran or any other country where the regime has been acting in a manner unfitting a national government.
The important point is that the Iranians themselves are the victims, including the Persian people, the ethnic majority within the country. Although the minorities are oppressed, the oppression that occurs of individuals who are opponents to the regime, who are challenging the regime or who are seeking more freedom is occurring as much to Persians as to any other group.
I appreciate both that colleague and all colleagues for having stressed that it is a regime here that is acting in such a terrible manner, not a people.
Mr. Chair, the hon. member is the chair of the committee that did the human rights study on Iran. The recommendations that have come from his committee to my committee of foreign affairs are highly appreciated and respected.
The hon. member is absolutely right when he says that the whole world knows about this. One of the biggest tragedies is when a government in power tries to stay in power by oppressing its own people. We can look at what happened in Egypt where all those years of that oppression is gone.
It is important to recognize that we cannot suppress the legitimate rights of the people. In Iran, people will die for their rights and they will die for the rights of their children to speak and have freedom.
We must recognize and salute these martyrs on the streets of Tehran today who are fighting this oppressive regime. We should stand up for those protesters who are seeking nothing but the basic freedom all Canadians enjoy. That is all they want and they deserve our support.
Mr. Chair, I want to emphasize one aspect that I talked about a couple of times earlier tonight and that is the persecution of the Baha’i community in Iran. I have a Baha’i community in my riding that is a very peaceful, loving, open society with an open religion. The people in that community are shocked, troubled, sad and horrified at the treatment of their fellow Baha’is in Iran.
This is a total violation of human rights, among many other things that have been talked about this evening. As we know, in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, one of the grounds upon which we are not allowed to discriminate is religion. Baha’i, being a well known religion, would be an obvious ground for discrimination.
The Iranian government says that it does not discriminate and yet the UN representative has brought forward concrete documentation of a memorandum of policy from 1993 that is not only secretly discriminating but does so publicly, right in their papers on their policy. In that particular memorandum, it says that the progress and development of the Baha’i community shall be blocked. In it there are directives that deny the Baha’i people access to higher education and many types of employment. This is just one example of overt discrimination.
About three years ago, some of the leaders of the Baha’i religion, which, as everyone knows, is a peaceful, open type of religion, were whisked away to jail and put into horrendous conditions. They remain there still today, for no good reason other than they practised a religion different from that of the president and the supreme leader.
That particular memorandum that I was talking about was not something done by lower level officials. It was actually signed by the president of Iran at the time and the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini.
It t has been a long-time persecution. It is not new. There is denial of this religion to organize as a peaceful religious community. The government and government officials make every effort they can to stop that. As I talked about previously, there are numerous arrests as a result of such types of activity. Many are denied the right to life, liberty and security of person. Their possessions are often just taken away or they are put into jail and lose everything they have for no good reason at all other than they are Baha’i. They are denied access to advanced education when that is found out. As is well known in Canada, how can one progress without an education.
Community properties of the religion are confiscated and destroyed. Imagine how we would feel in Canada or how a Muslim community would feel if the government came in and destroyed all the mosques or decided we were not having these religions and tore down all the churches, mosques and synagogues and any of the holy places in our country. There would be an outrage. Quietly, passively and peacefully, the Baha’is are outraged as well, but, of course, in their position they are helpless.
The great nature of Canada is to help the most vulnerable, whether that is at home or abroad. It is one of our greatest traits. Who could be more helpless than this tiny minority of this very peaceful religion?
They are also denied their civil rights and liberties and there is much incitement to hatred, based on religion and belief. Even sometimes, through this hatred, the government does not have to take action because it incites other people to do that.
There has been long-term persecution, but in recent years, since the 1980s, over 200 people have been executed, often without a fair trial, without good reason, without justifiable legal reasons, extra-judicial killings. Thousands are arrested and interrogated. Tens of thousands are deprived of their jobs, their pensions and their educational opportunities.
The member for Mount Royal talked about the various processes that were available to us at the United Nations to take strong actions against this type of persecution. Some countries in the western world are not taking those actions. In fact, they are not even participating in the sanctions. They continue on with trade as normal.
Because Canada has such a great influence in the world, we can certainly bring that to bear on those countries that do not do as much as they could through their economy, through sanctions, through the international community to make it difficult for the Iranian government in order to try to stop it from taking actions not only against the Baha’i community, but against people in our line of work. We are outraged when we see what it does it to people who does not agree with the government, including the parliamentarians. It wants want to execute the leader of the opposition and opposition members in Parliament. It is so outrageous it is almost inconceivable.
Of all the groups of people who have the least power, the peaceful Baha’is are obviously one of those groups.
Last night I had dinner with people who originally lived in another cruel dictatorship. We talked about they ways we helped out. We send money. We spend our volunteer time and some of our personal time to work for freedom in those cruel dictatorships. It seems so tiny and insignificant compared to the people who live there, putting their lives on the line every day, like the Baha’i leaders, like the people who stand up for a peaceful religion. They know the price could be execution, torture or incarceration. They know they could lose everything they have. Probably most painful of all is they could lose family members. When it seems so insignificant, it does not take much to think we should try to do more, as much as we possibly can from the privileged, wealthy, peaceful and free state in which we live.
The great Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi once said, “Please use your freedom to fight for ours”. That is what we should do. That is what all members of Parliament were doing tonight in the House. As was said by the member for Mount Royal, who instigated the debate, now we have to translate this goodwill, the great tradition of protection that Canada has into actions by encouraging the international community and its allies to do what they can through international law and the United Nations.
We appreciate the great outrage the government has shown, just like all the parties here tonight. We certainly look for great leadership from the government in following some of the steps that one of the most famous people in the world on human rights, the member for Mount Royal, has outlined as procedures for Canada. He provided a list of procedures that we can follow ourselves, as well as through the United Nations, so that we can say that we have done our best to help those innocent people like the Baha’i, who are so downtrodden and are in such horrifying situations, ones that we would never want our families to be in.
Mr. Chair, I want to thank the hon. member for highlighting the persecution the Baha’is face in Iran.
As far as we are concerned, the Baha’i in Iran are Iranian citizens. Like any other Iranian citizens, it is deplorable that their human rights have been taken away by the regime.
The cornerstone of our government’s policy is upholding human rights. In that respect, we have worked, as the hon. member has suggested, at the United Nations every year to sponsor and pass a resolution in the General Assembly condemning Iran for its human rights record. To get that resolution passed, we make tremendous diplomatic efforts to get the world on our side, as the member has rightly pointed out. That resolution has actually passed in the General Assembly and has angered the Government of Iran, which has mounted a diplomatic offensive against us as a result. That is fine; we do not mind that.
We work very hard with the international community exactly as the member has recommended. We have been doing that for many years at the UN General Assembly in putting Iran’s human rights abuses on record, and these have been condemned.
I would say it is one of our most successful diplomatic initiatives that we have had in condemning the human rights situation in Iran, including the discrimination against the Baha’i, which is one area of discrimination in Iran.
Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the member for that. I certainly appreciate the government’s strong stance year after year at the United Nations, as just outlined by the member.
In some of these situations, such as in Iran or other areas where we have uniquely horrible autocratic governments violating human rights, we have a nice set of very well worked out and careful policies in how we do things and how money can be spent. It is great to have good controls, but sometimes they are not liberal or open enough. We may need to have exceptions so that we can help democratic groups, for instance. They might not be part of those governments and may not even be within the borders of the states we are dealing with. They may need certain expenses met that are not covered under our present policy.
I would encourage the government, the ministers, the secretaries of state and parliamentary secretaries and the policy-makers in the PMO and the minister’s offices to have the courage, when necessary, to make exceptions to the funding rules, when we know these are needed to be most effective in dealing with the problem. With the good will, courage and strength the government has just outlined on these issues, it could make those exemptions.
To the bureaucrats in the department of foreign affairs, at CIDA, and at the Privy Council Office, they need the courage to say in memoranda when speaking truth to power that we need these exemptions if we are going to be effective in this particular unusual situation to help these oppressed people. Certainly the dictators of the autocratic governments in those countries are not following the rule of law and, certainly, we do not want our laws to be so inflexible that we cannot help.
Thus I just encourage our people, where necessary, either to revise the regulations or to ask for exceptions where we could be most helpful with the resources we have to help fight these terrible violations of human rights.
Mr. Chair, I was happy to hear the member talk about the Baha’is. I recall being in Israel in 1979 and visiting the Baha’i Temple in Haifa, which is the world headquarters for the Baha’is.
There is some very disturbing information about how the Baha’is are treated in Iran. Two hundred and two Baha’is have been killed since the Islamic revolution. Many more were imprisoned, expelled from schools and workplaces, denied various benefits, and denied registration for marriage. Their homes have been ransacked. They have been banned from attending university or holding government jobs. Several hundred of them have received prison sentences for their religious beliefs.
I saw some other statistics which indicated that when the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power the number of imprisonments mushroomed. Under the Shah’s regime, fewer than 100 political prisoners had been executed between 1971 and 1979, but the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, and 7,900 were executed between 1981 and 1985 as the prison system was expanded.
During the Shah’s era some prisoners who were interviewed talked about boredom and monotony, but prisoners typically used the words “fear”, “death”, “terror” and “horror” to describe the Islamic republic’s prisons. People revolted against the Shah of Iran but they received something worse. That is an interesting observation.
I have run out of time to ask my question but I am sure the member will be able to provide a response.
Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his understanding of the Baha’i. I also thank the parliamentary secretary for his support for the Baha’i.
I want to mention again the seven Baha’i leaders who were recently arrested, Mrs. Kamalabadi, Mr. Khanjani, Mr. Naeimi, Mr. Rezaie, Mrs. Sabet, Mr. Tavakkoli and Mr. Tizfahm. Months went by without any formal charges being laid against them, and when charges were laid, their lawyer said there was nothing to substantiate the charges. On August 8, 2010, 20-year prison sentences were announced for these seven people. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to talk about their case.
First and foremost in our mind is that unacceptable situation and we should fight it. Three hundred and fifty-four Baha’is have been arrested since 2004. Sixty-two are currently in prison and 137 have been arrested, released on bail and awaiting trial.
Obviously, we need to be strong, as do all our allies. We need to take these cases to the United Nations. We cannot allow this medieval type of activity to continue in the modern day, the violation of the human rights of not only the Baha’i but, as the parliamentary secretary said, all the other citizens of Iran who do not agree with the government.
There being no further members rising, pursuant to Standing Order 53.1, the committee will rise and I will leave the chair.
It being 10:54 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).
(The House adjourned at 10:55 p.m.)