Friday, April 07, 2006

Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005 - 2006

U.S. Department of State:
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic, constitutional republic dominated by Shi'a religious leaders. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dominates the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, directly controls the armed forces, and indirectly controls internal security forces.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a four-year term after a flawed election in 2005 and heads the executive branch. Hard-liners dedicated to the maintenance of the Islamic Republic blocked the legislative agenda of the previous "reformist" government led by President Khatami, closed down many of the reformist newspapers, and banned an attempt to start up a nongovernmental satellite station. They also physically injured, arrested, or intimidated supporters in the streets, impeached or otherwise intimidated some of Khatami's ministers, and stripped sitting members of the legislature of their rights as deputies, including the ability to run for re-election. The process of silencing the national debate on civil reforms initiated by Khatami's election in 1997 was all but complete by 2005. Inevitably, the election of a hard-line legislature and government that emphasized revolutionary dogma negatively impacted the human rights of average Iranians. In 2005, the Government committed a number of serious human rights abuses. Summary executions, discrimination based on ethnicity and religion, harassment and arrest of journalists and bloggers, disappearances, extremist vigilantism, widespread use of torture, and other degrading treatment remained problems.

Violence and a brutal crackdown in which dozens were killed or injured accompanied protests by ethnic Arabs in Khuzestan in April 2005 and by ethnic Kurds in northwestern Iran in the summer of 2005. The Government continued to detain and torture dissidents and individuals exercising freedom of expression, including scores of political prisoners. Imprisoned journalist Akbar Ganji, arrested in April 2000, was hospitalized on July 17, 40 days into a 70-day hunger strike protesting his six-year sentence on charges of collecting confidential state documents to jeopardize state security and spreading propaganda. He has reportedly been tortured. At the end of the year, he was being held in solitary confinement in a high security section of the notorious Evin prison. Iranian bloggers continued to endure arrest and stiff penalties for expressing their ideas on the Internet. On February 2, Internet writer and journalist Arash Sigarchi received a sentence of 14 years in prison on charges including espionage, aiding "hostile" governments, and insulting the country's leaders. He was released pending appeal on March 17 after posting $127,000 bail. There were also reports of executions based on charges of homosexuality, but details remained difficult to verify.

The Government continued to discriminate against and arrest members of the Baha'i religious community. Other religious and ethnic minority groups, including Jews, Christians, and Sunni and Sufi Muslims faced continued social, political, and economic discrimination. Reports of women sentenced to death by stoning continue, but there were no confirmed reports that sentences were carried out.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy centered on urging friends and allies to condition improvement in bilateral and trade relations on positive changes in Iran's human rights policies. READ MORE

The United States worked to advance UN and other international resolutions condemning Iran's human rights record and practices and publicly highlighted the Government's abuse of its citizens' fundamental rights and freedoms. Although the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Iran, it continued a multi-faceted effort to support the Iranian people's aspirations to live in a democratic country where human rights are respected. The United States also supported in various ways the continuing efforts of the Iranian people to broaden real political participation and reassert their right to fundamental freedoms.

In 2005, for a third year in a row, the United States co-sponsored and actively supported a resolution that passed in the UN General Assembly's 60th Plenary condemning the human rights situation in Iran. This sent an important signal to the Iranian people and their Government that serious concerns regarding Iran's overall behavior would not overshadow concerns regarding the internal human rights situation.

The United States also regularly raised concerns about Iran's poor human rights record during consultations with allies, urging that these be raised during any formal human rights dialogue or other bilateral contact with the Government. U.S. policy consistently called for Iran to respect the human rights of its citizens, and all public statements reflected this core issue. President Bush and senior-level U.S. officials repeatedly expressed support for the Iranian people in their quest for freedom, democracy, and a more transparent and accountable government. U.S. officials regularly met with individuals and members of various groups suffering human rights abuses in Iran, documenting incidents for dissemination to other governments and inclusion in the annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Iran and the Report on International Religious Freedom. The Secretary of State also re-designated Iran as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

Under current law, Iran is ineligible for most assistance from the U.S. Government. However, in 2005 the United States renewed a grant to document abuses inside Iran under the limited special authority granted by Congress. This program provided sub-grants to educational institutions, humanitarian groups, NGOs, and individuals inside Iran to support the advancement of democracy and human rights. The project sought to raise public awareness of accountability and rule of law as an important component of democratization in Iran. In addition to this grant, other U.S.-funded programs promoted respect for human rights and advocacy for freedom of assembly, free speech, and political participation. During the past two years, the United States directed four million dollars to projects that promote respect for human rights and empower citizens in their call for more representative political participation.

In addition, the United States supported the advancement of democracy and human rights standards inside Iran through NGOs and funded Voice of America radio and television broadcasts into Iran, a website in Persian to speak directly to the Iranian people about U.S. policy, and Persian-language Radio Farda, which operated 24 hours a day.

Iran was believed to be a source, transit, and destination country for sexual exploitation and labor-related trafficking in persons (TIP). Although lack of access prohibited a full assessment of official anti-TIP efforts, Iran has taken measures to sign memoranda of understanding with source countries and international NGOs to prevent TIP. Victims of trafficking have access to counseling, legal, and health services. The United States has encouraged Iran to improve screening of TIP victims to distinguish them from illegal immigrants and to pursue cooperation with neighboring countries to monitor borders.