Canada vows to hold Iran to the fire over human rights abuses

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Canada's Foreign Minister Lawrence CannonBy Steven Edwards, Postmedia News March 24, 2011
UNITED NATIONS — Canada pledged on Thursday to maintain its annual “diplomatic” assault on Iran at the United Nations — even though the world body’s Human Rights Council earlier Thursday resumed direct scrutiny of the Islamic republic after a nine-year hiatus.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told Postmedia News there would be no let-up in Canada’s successful multi-year bid to push through resolutions in the UN General Assembly deploring abuses in Iran that include public executions and arbitrary arrests.

“Canada will continue to take Iran to task for their egregious human rights abuses,” Cannon said from Ottawa. “We will do this at every opportunity, and in every appropriate forum, including in the General Assembly, until the situation improves dramatically.”

Canada’s drive annually infuriates Iran, which invariably lobbies against the measure — one year by issuing a book documenting what it described as human rights abuses committed by the Canadian government.

Ottawa launched its attacks after the Geneva-based council’s predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, went mute over Iran in 2002 as human rights “rogue” states came to dominate the body. At the same time, the European Union quit tabling resolutions in the General Assembly criticizing Iranian practices as it focused on a human rights “dialogue” with Iran.

But what specifically spurred Canada was the 2003 torture and murder in an Iranian jail of the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi. The first Canadian-led resolution on Iran emerged that year.

The 47-member Human Rights Council decided Thursday to establish a special investigator on Iran, a move spearheaded by the United States. The motion was approved with 22 votes in favour, seven against, and 14 abstentions.

Canada, though not a council member, was among the “sponsors” of the resolution, which calls on Iran to “fully co-operate” with the investigator. It also speaks of “regretting” Iran’s “lack of co-operation” with requests in the most recent Canadian-led resolution in the General Assembly. That document included calls for Iran to end flogging, amputations, and executions by stoning and suspended strangulation.

Cannon was among a number of international players calling for the establishment of a special investigator, doing so most recently in a speech last month before the council.

Members of the international Baha’i community, which is 30,000-strong in Canada, were among groups who welcomed the council move as they continued to campaign for an end to persecution of Baha’is in Iran. The faith began there, but Iranian authorities consider those practicing it to be apostates.

“They’ve been abusing the human rights of Baha’is for many decades, but for some time they’ve also been doing the same to the Muslim population,” Bani Dugal, the community’s chief representative at the UN, said from Geneva. “The international community is indicating they have had enough,” she added, highlighting that “even Malaysia,” a Muslim state, abstained instead of opposing the resolution — in defiance of traditional Muslim solidarity.

But the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch on Thursday warned against interpreting the Iran resolution as a signal of wider change within the council.

“Regrettably, it is only one of the few exceptions to the rule that the vast majority of the world’s ruthless dictatorships, such as China, Syria and Zimbabwe, get a free pass from the council,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director.

“The anti-Israel obsession continues, with an unprecedented six resolutions this week (against that country), and with the sham five-year reform package, which perpetuates the special agenda item on Israel,” he added, citing measures that result in a disproportionate focus on Israeli actions compared to those of other countries.

Still, Eileen Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the council, spoke positively this week of its evolution.

“While the council remains an imperfect body, we have seen distinct progress in terms of its ability to respond to happenings in the world with respect to human rights in real time,” Donahoe said Wednesday.

She was speaking in anticipation of the Iran resolution passing, and another on Thursday on religious intolerance, which this year drops the “defamation of religion” language that Islamic countries have successfully sought for years. Canada and other Western countries say such language risks being used to limit freedom of speech.

Donahoe also noted that the council recently called on the General Assembly to suspend Libya’s council membership amid human rights abuses in that country during the current conflict.

The 192-member assembly approved the suspension unanimously, as Libya’s chief UN delegates declared themselves against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi and voted in favour of suspension.

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