Barring a last minute change of heart, Iranian negotiators will meet with the P5+1 on December 6th and 7th to discuss Iran's nuclear program. Most likely, the Iranian officials will arrive after having diligently studied the cache of WikiLeaks diplomatic cables, and prepared to argue that America and its allies were guilty all along of having negotiated in bad faith. They will do that relying on the same documents that Ahmadinejad has decried as fake, made up by the US only to sour the good relations that the country enjoys with its neighbors. Such is the double talk, and the hypocrisy of this regime. So, it is time to hit back at this regime where it hurts.
Just two months ago, while enjoying the media circus of his New York trip, Ahmadinejad proclaimed Iran as the "freest" country. Yet, soon after returning to Iran, his henchmen rounded up more reformists, sending them to the notorious Evin Prison, where they would enjoy their newly granted "freedoms". Further, he found more newspapers that needed to be shut down, more academics who needed to be forced out of their positions to make room for his "freedom-loving" Basij allies, and more academic courses too secular to merit being taught in Iran's universities.
This freest country holds the dubious distinction of runner-up for executing the largest number of its own citizens (over 330 this year), and holding the top spot for the highest percentage of executions on a per capita basis. The regime's kangaroo courts have also sent to their death many innocent victims without the benefit of any due process. Shahla Jahed--executed while her 10-year old case was still under appeal--was a most recent victim of such brutality. She did not benefit from her case being publicized in the Western press, as was Sakineh Ashtiani's story. Yet, her murder merited only a passing mention in the Western media.
So, why is it that the international community does not hold the Iranian government to account on the issue of human rights? The answer, it seems, is that when it comes to dealing with Iran, the Western governments have a single-item agenda: the nuclear issue. Is the reason for this single-track emphasis a fear that including the human rights issue on the agenda may make the nuclear issue less of a paramount one? If so, for all the time, effort, and the political capital that have been spent on this issue, the result has been anything but satisfactory. More importantly, the exclusion of human rights issues has had profound effects on two other fronts.
First, knowing that its behavior will not be scrutinized, the regime has been effective in its brutal silencing of all domestic voices of reason. Second, not having been forced to explain its gross abuses of human rights, the Tehran regime has had full latitude in deploying its propaganda machine to argue to both its own citizens and the Arab street that it has been the victim. Indeed, the regime has been relentless in exploiting its self-perceived victimization by Western powers bent on denying technological advancement to a Muslim country.
Therefore, our single-item agenda has failed to produce tangible results on the nuclear issue, and has provided the Iranian regime a valuable opportunity to win the minds and hearts of a portion of the Muslim world. Not exactly good results! Yet, we keep digging the same hole over and over again.
The history of the past few decades has shown that an organized human rights campaign is effective in forcing changes in behavior by authoritarian regimes. By moving from a one-track to a two track strategy and spotlighting the human rights abuses of the Iranian regime, America and its allies can undermine the, hereto, moral standing of the regime in the Middle East, and elsewhere.
Time, and again, we have seen the Iranian regime forced to back off whenever it has been forced on its back foot to defend its human rights record. And, given its effectiveness, it is surprising how infrequently we have used this tactic. Putting the human rights issue among the top agenda items for the Geneva meetings is more likely to bring about success on the nuclear issue than a decision not to. By excluding it, or the rendering of its status to a secondary position, America will give the Iranian regime an unambiguous signal that it can get away with murder.
Therefore, our special plea to the United States and its partners in the nuclear negotiations: don't let Ahmadinejad get away with the murder of the Shahla Jaheds of Iran, with the wholesale imprisonment, torture and harassment of its youth. Hoping to not be the next victims, Sakineh Ashtiani and hundreds of others in Iranian prisoners will be keeping their watchful eyes on the Geneva meetings.