Envisioning the Next Iran: The Indispensable Interplay of Human Rights and Democracy

06/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Following is an extract of a speech I gave on March 27th as a featured speaker at The International Society Of Human Rights conference in Bonn, Germany.

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The relentless pursuit of human rights is the essence of democracy. And, without democracy, human rights cannot, by definition, prevail.

With that premise in mind, the establishment of the clerical regime in Iran has grossly compromised both democracy and human rights. Since its inception, this regime has oppressed the Iranian people, and 2009 was one of the most challenging for millions of my compatriots -- a year in which the world witnessed the most flagrant violations of both political and human rights of our citizens.

Yet every time the people attempt to in some way soften the regime, the results yield a swift and unforgiving government response. This is precisely why few would argue today that the thought of reforming this regime -- whether it be a domestic attempt or a foreign expectation -- has proven to be unrealistic and unattainable. The very nature of clerical leadership, the very essence of its existence is in direct conflict with the principles of democracy and human rights. This regime's survival depends on denying what the people of Iran demand for themselves. Thus, it is my longstanding belief that so long as this regime remains in power, Iran will not reverse its course.

So what is the alternative to Iran's clerical regime, and how would a new system uphold the indispensable principles of democracy and human rights? My vision of a future Iran is inseparable from these two interdependent ideals and principles.

I believe in a constitution that is predicated on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration has established a standard interpretation of all of the listed principles in addressing all of our social, cultural, religious and political concerns. As exhibited by the current regime, without a secular democratic system, the fundamental principles of the Declaration are difficult, if not impossible, to implement.

Ironically, Iran is the nation credited with the first-ever documented Declaration of Human Rights, dating back 3,000 years to the time of Cyrus the Great, the replica of which adorns the Great Hall of the United Nations. However my compatriots now yearn for their most basic human rights. In today's Iran, when an Iranian woman has half the right or voice of an Iranian man, equality is lacking. When a Kurdish or Balouch Sunni Moslem faces discrimination by a regime that denies him the right to erect a Sunni mosque, justice is lacking. Today, when an Iranian Jew or Bahai is been persecuted, simply because of his faith, freedom is lacking.

Which brings us to the next question: Where, in a new Iran, would religion exist? The ruling clerics have repeatedly accused those of us striving for a secular alternative of leading a campaign against religion. This is, of course, not true. On the contrary, it is in the interest of religion and the clergy itself to maintain a separation of religion from government. Separation allows the sustainable existence of both church and state. For years, many of Iran's high-ranking non-governmental clergy men have often attested to this fact. Today, Iran's traditional clerics lament about their loss of reverence and empty mosques. In fact, since the advent of Islam in Iran, the biggest harm done, not only to people, but to the faith itself, has been under this so-called Islamic regime - which I frankly prefer to call the anti-Islamic regime.

The reality is that the great majority of Iranians are no longer influenced by the desperate rhetoric of a regime that has lost both its political and religious legitimacy. Instead, they believe, like me, that we should move beyond this regime and secure our aspiration under a secular, democratic system of governance which will guarantee all that this regime has denied us as a nation.

Democracy and human rights for Iran is not just a slogan; it is our unique hope for salvation and long-term political stability. It is our enduring campaign to put our nation back on the track of modernity, progress and prosperity. Iranians have come a long way, particularly in this last century. We have paid a heavy price while learning valuable lessons. As such, we are stronger as a society, and perhaps clearer in our collective vision of a better future.

Yet my vision of a new Iran is not complete without reference to a final critical dynamic: the role of the international community, particularly that of western democracies. Campaigns of non-violent civil disobedience in many countries were ultimately successful as a result of tacit support from the free world. Today, Iranians expect, and I might add deserve, the same degree of commitment and support from democratic societies. Specifically, we expect the world to realize that the central issue for us is not the peripheral so called "nuclear issue," but in fact the question of human rights and political freedom, and lack thereof in Iran. There is no question that change will have to come at the hand of the Iranian people. But the cost could be heavily reduced as a result of the tacit participation of the international community. As Dr. Martin Luther King has said, "In the end we will forget the words of our enemies, but we will remember the silence of our friends."

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For the full text of my speech at The International Society Of Human Rights conference in Bonn, please visit: http://www.rezapahlavi.com/speeches/?english&id=437

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