Saturday, April 02, 2005

Canada's PM considers new action against Iran

Campbell Clark, Globe and Mail:
Although Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew has rebuffed calls for dramatic diplomatic steps, a lawyer for the family of slain photojournalist Zahra Kazemi says they are now "very optimistic" that the Prime Minister's Office is listening to calls for new action against Iran. READ MORE

Marlys Edwardh said Ms. Kazemi's family believes the government is now open to their calls for a broader range of measures, even if it does not have the taste for diplomatic protests like withdrawing Canada's ambassador to Tehran.

"We have a number of things we want to talk about, and they don't all relate to diplomatic initiatives from Foreign Affairs at all," she said.

Calls for Canada to take strong new action have been sparked by revelations that Ms. Kazemi was brutally raped and tortured while in Iranian custody in 2003.

That new information came from Iranian emergency-room physician Shahram Azam, who saw Ms. Kazemi at Tehran's Baghiattulah hospital four days after her arrest.

The information confirmed allegations that Ms. Kazemi had been beaten to death by Iranian security officials after being arrested while taking pictures of a demonstration outside a Tehran prison, although Iran's official position is that she fainted and hit her head.

On Thursday, Mr. Pettigrew called that new information "most disturbing" but added that it did not fundamentally change the nature of the case. He rebuffed calls from opposition critics for Canada to take tougher diplomatic action, including recalling its ambassador.

But yesterday, Prime Minister Paul Martin said the new account means the international community must hold Iran to account for the death, and he suggested new legal avenues might be open on the international stage.

"I think there's no doubt whether you are talking about international courts or whether you are talking about the UN Commission on Human Rights," he said, "I would certainly think the details of what happened to her now in the testimony that has been brought has got to make the world aware of just what Iran is all about and that they have got to be held to account."

Ms. Edwardh said that she and Ms. Kazemi's son, Stephan Hachemi, have been given new hope because the Prime Minister's Office quickly agreed to a request for a meeting with senior advisers even though they know what demands the Kazemi family will make.

"We are very optimistic," she said. "The government knows the kinds of issues we want to put on the table. And I think there is no stomach from Canadians to do nothing."

For one thing, they will ask the government to amend Canada's State Immunity Act so that the families of victims of torture can sue foreign countries in Canadian courts. Under that law now, foreign governments are immune from Canadian court actions. Ms. Edwardh said that she also wrote yesterday to ask for a meeting with Justice Minister Irwin Cotler to make the case for that amendment.

In addition, the Kazemi family is calling for Canada to demand that they negotiate a claim for a financial settlement regarding Ms. Kazemi's death.

"It would be Canada espousing its citizen's claims," she said. If Iran agreed to settle, "it's at least a recognition of some accountability," Ms. Edwardh said.

The United States demanded that Iran mediate a claim for damages caused by the 1979 Tehran hostage-taking, and Iran agreed to talk, she noted.

She said she would also like to see Canada enlist allies with deeper relationships with Iran, like France, to back its demand for justice.

The Prime Minister's foreign-policy adviser, Jonathan Fried, will attend the meeting, and possibly other senior advisers, a PMO spokesman said.

That meeting will focus on legal avenues, rather than potential political steps like withdrawing ambassadors or imposing trade sanctions, which Mr. Pettigrew has rebuffed as unlikely to work.

An aide to Mr. Pettigrew, Sébastien Théberge, said discussions are continuing with the family and lawyers about what can be done on the legal front to push the appeal of the process in the Iranian court.

Canadian diplomats met Thursday with representatives of the Iranian judiciary in Geneva, where a human-rights conference is under way, to reiterate Canada's position that Ms. Kazemi was murdered and Canada expects those responsible to be held accountable.

Canada's new ambassador in Iran, Gordon Venner, has instructions to use every opportunity to impress upon Iranian authorities that the failure to prosecute those responsible will remain an impediment to improving relations, which are now "tense," Mr. Théberge said.