Canada’s Parliament hosted Iran Accountability Week last week, documenting the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations, particularly its clerical leadership’s use of domestic and international terrorism to stymie dissent.

Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister and current Liberal MP, spearheaded the week of events in Ottawa. He and his fellow parliamentarians from a broad range of parties in the House of Commons condemned the assault on the human rights of the Iranian people.

“We are witness to state-sanctioned assaults that are tantamount to crimes against humanity, including the highest per capita rate of executions in the world; the imprisonment and silencing of more journalists and bloggers than any other country; the persistent and pervasive assault on women’s rights; the targeting of religious and ethnic minorities, particularly the Baha’i and the Kurds; the criminalization of fundamental freedoms of speech, association and assembly; and the imprisonment of opposition leaders, human rights defenders, and the lawyers who would defend them,” Cotler said.

Iran Accountability Week in Canada coincided with increased US congressional focus on Iranian government human rights violations and new US Treasury sanctions targeting Iranian officials for stamping out personal freedoms.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) told The Jerusalem Post, “I applaud my friend, Irwin Cotler, for his leadership on the Iran Accountability Week in Canada, and for his efforts to mobilize other parliamentarians to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran.”

Kirk, who works with Cotler on an intra-parliamentary committee addressing the Iranian issue, added, “It is my hope that the US Congress and governments throughout the world will join Canada in the campaign to speak out against the atrocious human rights abuses of the Iranian regime. I look forward to working with Mr. Cotler to increase awareness of this issue through our Iranian Political Prisoner Global Advocacy Project.”

A series of remembrance dates fell last week, including the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of the Baha’i leadership in Iran, the 25th anniversary of the 1988 massacre of thousands of Iranian political dissidents and a report showing 2,600 political prisoners in Iran.

The Canadian parliamentarians jump-started a campaign to “adopt” Iranian prisoners of conscience to draw attention to individuals who are imprisoned because of their religious and political views.

Cotler wrote in a Huffington Post Canada column last week, “I will be advocating on behalf of Nasrin Sotoudeh, as well the seven imprisoned leaders of the Iranian Baha’i community. As a lawyer, Ms. Sotoudeh represented political prisoners – including women, lawyers, journalists and children sentenced to death – until, while visiting one of her clients in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison in 2010, she was arrested and became one of Evin’s inmates herself.”

Iran arrested the Baha’i leaders – Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm – in 2008, accused them of “espionage for Israel, insulting religious sanctities, and propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and sentenced them to 20 years in prison.

Cotler said it was a sham judicial process that failed to meet all established international legal norms.

The Canadian House of Commons invited leading US experts on the Iranian nuclear weapons effort and human rights violations to deliver testimony.

Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said before the legislature’s International Human Rights Subcommittee, “There is little indication that the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Basij [militia] are playing a less sinister role in this year’s [Iranian presidential] election. Indeed, there is every reason to expect that the 2013 presidential election is likely to prove even more fraudulent than the 2009 election, which unfortunately means the regime is therefore more likely to give more freedom to the IRGC and the Basij to prevent public protests.”

He added, “In the days and weeks prior to the coming June [14] election, Revolutionary Guards officers have openly declared they intend to manipulate the course of the election: Hojjat al-Eslam Ali Saidi, representative of the supreme leader to the IRGC, infamously declared that ‘engineering elections is the natural duty of the Guards.’” Dubowitz, a leading international expert on Iran sanctions, made a series of policy recommendations, including designating the entire IRGC as both a terrorist entity and a human rights abuser.

Dr. Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also testified at the Ottawa hearings. He told The Jerusalem Post: “Today’s focus is going to be not on the traditional issues: The human rights abuses, which the Canadians are quite familiar with as a lot of their citizens or dual citizens have been at the hard end of those abuses.”

He said his testimony covered Syria and international terrorism.

“The UN Charter talks about human rights, and as a basic human right, when Iran or Hezbollah target civilians – whether it’s terrorism abroad or what they’re doing in Syria – those are not just terrorist activities, but human rights abuses. Life, liberty and security of the person: That last one is often overlooked as a human rights issue. Canada has been at the forefront on this,” Levitt said.

The Subcommittee on International Human Rights and the Foreign Affairs and International Development Committee unanimously adopted motions calling on Iran to stop “state-orchestrated policy of wanton executions” and “release its political prisoners, particularly the seven imprisoned Baha’i leaders, whose 20-year sentence at their advanced age is a virtual death sentence.”

The motions asked that Iran cease using stoning and flogging as punishment and “desist from its persistent and pervasive assaults on the rights of women.” 

Benjamin Weinthal is a European affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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