The most negative aspect of the negotiations between the P5-plus-one (the UN Security Council Five plus Germany) and Iran is the dearth of attention being paid to human rights violations in that country. Iranian nuclear activities have no relation to the suppression of religious minorities, women, human rights activists and workers.
The Iranian Bahai community in particular is in a precarious position.
According to article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, genocide means any act of “killing members of the group”, “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” and “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. In article 7, “crimes against humanity” is defined as acts of widespread or systematic violence directed at any civilian population – including murder; enforced disappearance of persons; persecution; and imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law.
In this context, persecution refers to the intentional suppression of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collective. Also according to the Rome Statute, enforced disappearance of persons means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of a State or political organisation.
Both articles 6 and 7 apply to the situation of the Iranian Bahai. In 1991 the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council drew up a secret memorandum, which is nothing less than a government blueprint for the repression of the community in Iran. This “confidential” document indicates clearly that the Spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and the former President of Iran, HashemiRafsanjani were behind it. The memorandum calls for the blockade of “their progress and development”, i.e. that of the Bahai community.
According to Bahai World News Service, some 541 Bahais have been arrested in Iran since August 2004. About 109 Iranian Bahais are currently in prison simply because of their faith. 437 Bahais are still in the Iranian court system – some are in prison, some on release with trials pending and some have appealed their verdicts. They are accused of promoting propaganda against the government since they do not believe that Mohammad was the last prophet.
Thousands of Bahais are not allowed access to higher education, are interrogated and threatened. Economic pressure on them destroys their quality of life. Since the beginning of the Islamic revolution in 1979, they have not been allowed to take up positions in the civil service in fields such as education and law. Their pensions are also denied.
Barring Bahais from higher education specifically aims to impoverish them. This puts massive pressure on the community since they believe that education, particularly for girls, is of utmost importance for the development of society. Bahais are prohibited from attending universities and even schoolchildren are harassed and expelled.
Hezbollah arsonists also attack Bahai-owned business. Their shops have been closed and some of the owners imprisoned, with even much needed medical doctors being thrown out of their offices and clinics. One often-used tactic is to arrest innocent members of the Bahai community and demand high bails and property deeds. They are required to give information about their daily lives, actions and even neighbours. Physical assaults and efforts to drive them out of villages are common and their rightful inheritances are denied. This clearly displays a systematic singling out of their community.
Even if a Bahai is dead, he or she is still not free as their cemeteries are desecrated and destroyed and they are often denied their burial rights. The state media incite hatred and propagate misinformation about them. Muslims who are associated with Bahais are intimidated into ending their relationship with them. The authorities attempt to get Bahais to spy on other Bahais, both in Iran and abroad. They are threatened by phone calls and letters. Their religious texts are forbidden.
This Islamic form of anti-Bahaism is reminiscent of the Nazi regime’s persecution of the Jews in the 1930s. The Nazis demonised the Jews just like the Iranian Islamists demonise the Bahais because they believe in the emancipation of men and women and reject militant Jihadism. Bahais believe that parliamentary democracy is the best way forward and call for human rights oriented ethics to be at the fore when working towards world peace. Clearly the Iranian state clerics consider the Bahai faith as dangerous since it conveys ideas which are seen as invalid by the totalitarian rulers of Iran.
Europe should pay more heed to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and not allow state-sponsored genocide in the 21st century. Even if the Iranian regime cooperates in nuclear negotiations, the massive problems in relation to the repression of Iranians and the exportation of terrorism remain.
Wahied Wahdat-Hagh is a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy