Linda Frum on Human Rights in Iran

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May 22, 2013

Linda Frum is a Conservative member of the Canadian Senate, writer, and journalist, and outspoken critic of human rights abuses in Iran. Below, Sen. Frum answers questions on Canadian policy toward human rights in Iran, the relationship between nuclear aggression and domestic oppression, and what Canada can do to protect human rights around the June general election.

What has Canada done to speak out for prisoners of conscience being held in Iran? Can and should we be doing more?

In the winter of 2012, I initiated a Senate Inquiry which called attention to the egregious abuse of human rights Iran, particularly the use of torture, and the cruel and inhumane treatment of unlawfully held prisoners of conscience. The Inquiry united Conservative and Liberal Senators as we called for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran. From February to March 2012, 25 Senators delivered speeches exposing the plight of more than 25 political prisoners.  Audio excerpts from the speeches were released on YouTube and are also available on my website. In many cases, the prisoners themselves received word from family and friends that their unlawful incarceration had been recognized and condemned by the Canadian Parliament.  Later, the Speaker of the Senate, the Honourable Noel Kinsella, presented the collected speeches to Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani, then the Iranian Chargé d'Affaires in Ottawa, who has since been expelled. 

Can the international community productively engage Iran on the nuclear issue while simultaneously pressuring it to respect human rights? Must progress on one issue wait for movement on the other, or are they interconnected? 

Iran's human rights record is an important reason that Iran's nuclear program is so extremely dangerous. The way the Iranian regime treats its own people confirms our worst fears of how the regime would behave internationally, if it had the power. Conversely, an improvement in the human rights situation inside Iran would offer hopeful evidence that the regime was rethinking its aggressive foreign-policy posture. The Iranian regime does not think, "OK, world, you have one wish: nuclear disarmament or human rights improvement - which will it be?" There's no trade-off: Iran won't be at peace with the world again until it is at peace with itself.

In the lead up to the June election, is there anything the international community can do to prevent or mitigate the kinds of human rights violations that occurred in 2009?

International attention is the best protector of human rights. Every abusive regime tries to keep its worst practices hidden. Iran is an interesting and special case, because it wishes to be thought of as a kind of democracy. They could skip elections altogether, but they don't. They could report 99 per cent of the ballot for the regime parties, but they don't do that either. Their craving for democratic legitimacy means that exposure of their abuses of individuals and the democratic process has special power. 

Does Canada's decision to close its embassy in Teheran and its steadfast support for Israel complicate our ability to engage in advocacy for human rights in Iran?

The Iranian regime announced itself by taking American diplomats hostage in 1979. In the years since, it has detonated bombs at the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, and attempted to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Iran is not a country with a strong commitment to diplomatic immunity, to put it mildly, and the Canadian government acted prudently to safeguard those Canadians serving inside Iran. As for Israel - look, the virulent anti-Semitism of the Iranian regime comes from the same place as its misogyny, as its murderous homophobia, as its oppression of religious minorities like the Bahá'í. We're not going to get very far with Iran if we say, "We want you to stop hanging gays, but it's OK to sponsor terrorism against Jews." We support Israel's democracy for the same reason that we oppose Iran's barbaric human rights abuses, and I can't help but notice that those who support Israel less, ignore Iranian human rights abuses more. 

Also in the series


Human Rights and Historical Amnesia

Kaveh Shahrooz on why it is essential to revisit Iran's painful past to get to a democratic future.

Nationalism & Human Rights in Iran in Historical Context

Ali Ansari on the historical context of the Iran's push for human rights.

John Baird on Canada’s New Dialogue with Iran

Minister John Baird on Canada's advocacy on the issue of human rights in Iran.

The Key to Religious Freedom in Iran

Geoffrey Cameron and Robert Joustra on why the rights of Iran's religious minorities won't be respected until those of the majority are as well.

Why Iranian Women Can't Have Any of It

Gissou Nia on why denying women the right to run for President is only a small part of the regime's apparatus of repression.