When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in New York to address the UN
General Assembly, a man who should be in the dock of the accused will instead be
given an international podium – a cruel parody of law and justice that will put
us on the wrong side of history.
Ahmadinejad will enter the US despite
being inadmissible under American law. He will address the UN General Assembly
despite being in violation of its UN Charter and international law. And he will
be indulged by universities, institutes and the media, thereby sanitizing his
crimes and mocking the suffering of the Iranian people.
Let there be no
mistake about it: A person who pursues the most destructive of weaponry in
violation of UN Security Council resolutions, who incites to genocide, who is
complicit in crimes against humanity, who is engaged in a massive repression of
the human rights of his own citizens, who assaults the basic tenants of the UN
Charter – such a person should be indicted by this international body; rather
than have it provide a pulpit.
Simply put, this charade – repeated
annually since 2007 – ignores and undermines basic principles of domestic,
international and humanitarian law.
Indeed, Ahmadinejad belongs on the US
“watchlist” – those who “aid terrorists... persecute religious minorities... or are prohibited from entering the US.
The evidence of Ahmadinejad’s
criminality on each of these counts is compelling.
In the matter of
aiding terrorists, the US State Department has once again named Iran as the
leading state sponsor of international terrorism. In particular, Ahmadinejad’s
Iran recruits, trains, finances, instigates and arms its terrorist proxies, such
as Hamas and Hezbollah, whose platforms and policies are themselves replete with
genocidal calls for the destruction of Israel.
Indeed, Iran and Hezbollah
have their footprints not only in the recent attack on Israelis in Bulgaria, but
in terrorist attacks spanning five continents in 2012 alone.
Iran is complicit in the international criminality of Bashar Assad’s Syrian
regime. This criminal support includes sending military equipment, munitions and
surveillance technology – involving also Iranian al-Quds special forces – all to
help sustain the brutality of the Assad regime.
In the matter of
religious persecution, one need only recall Iran’s massive domestic repression,
particularly targeting religious minorities, especially the Baha’i – Iran’s
largest such group – whose members are subject to harassment, repression,
torture, imprisonment and execution.
Women, students, workers,
dissidents, journalists and academics – and those who would defend them – are
also routinely persecuted. Moreover, Iran leads the world in per capita
executions and the execution of minors – as well as in the imprisonment of
journalists and bloggers.
In the matter of incitement to genocide, the
evidence here is particularly compelling and disturbing, as Ahmadinejad’s
genocidal incitement is the terrifying and vilifying context for Iran’s illegal
pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Last month alone, Ahmadinejad called to
“remove the Zionist black stain from the human society,” adding that “the very
existence of Israel is an insult to humankind and an affront to all world
nations,” and requiring the wiping out of this “scarlet letter from the...
forehead of humanity.”
Indeed, this state-sanctioned culture of hate and
incitement to genocide has been persistent, pervasive and pernicious.
21st century began with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling
for “the annihilation of the Jewish state.” It was followed by the parading in
the streets of Tehran of a Shihab-3 missile draped in the emblem “Wipe Israel
off the map, as the Imam says.”
It has continued with the use of
epidemiological metaphors referring to Jews as “filthy bacteria,” and Israel as
“a cancer that must be removed,” reminiscent of the Nazis calling the Jews
“vermin” and the Rwandan Hutus calling the Tutsis “cockroaches,” the whole as
prologue to and justification for a genocide foretold.
Instead of being
granted a podium at the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad should be the object of
a criminal indictment.
Simply put, a person who has already committed the
crime of “direct and public incitement to genocide” in violation of
international law – punishable whether or not a genocide has occurred – who is
complicit in crimes against humanity both at home and abroad – has no place at
the UN. Let alone at its most distinguished podium.
Indeed, how can a UN
forum host one who openly and avowedly seeks the destruction of a member state?
As UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon said recently in Tehran, “I strongly reject
threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny
historical facts, such as the Holocaust” – yet, Ahmadinejad continues to call
for the destruction of Israel while denying the Holocaust.
clear and compelling evidence of Ahmadinejad’s inadmissibility to the US under
both domestic and international law, he is likely to return to the UN because of
the 1947 Headquarters Agreement – a UN treaty wherein the US agreed not to
impede access of representatives of member states to UN headquarters in New
While this agreement is said to trump American domestic law, the
fact is that the Vienna Law of Treaties affirms that jus cogens – the preemptory
norms of international law – such as incitement to genocide and crimes against
humanity – override any treaty. Ahmadinejad’s crimes are such jus cogens crimes.
The Headquarters Agreement should not avail and must not
Moreover, Article 99 of the UN Charter grants the
secretary-general the power to refer issues that “threaten the maintenance of
international peace and security” to the UN Security Council. This can – and
should – be done, as surely there is no greater threat to international peace
and security today than Ahmadinejad’s Iran.
Member states should call on
the secretary-general to take proactive measures to ensure the UN does not
provide a forum to one who callously and deliberately defies, mocks and violates
the principles and decisions of the UN and its respective agencies, its charter,
and American law itself.
If the US nonetheless allows him entry,
Ahmadinejad’s travel should be restricted to only those parts of New York under
UN authority, the Iranian Mission and the airport. The US government is not
obliged to treat him as an innocent tourist; rather, it should isolate and shun
him as the war criminal he is.
Even if none of these options is
exercised, there are ways to break this cycle of impunity and hold the Iranian
leadership accountable for its crimes.
The international community should
act in solidarity with the oppressed people of Iran by providing neither shield
nor platform for their oppressors.
Countries should fulfill their
responsibilities under international law – including the Genocide Convention –
and refer the Iranian leaders’ criminal incitement to genocide to appropriate UN
agencies for investigation and sanction.
It is astonishing that this
criminal incitement has yet to be addressed by any UN body, though the UN finds
it fit to give Ahmadinejad a podium this week.
complaints against Iran could be initiated at the International Court of
Justice, while the Iranian leadership could be made to answer for its crimes at
the International Criminal Court.
Similarly, Ahmadinejad and other
Iranian leaders should be placed on a watchlist by concerned countries,
preventing their entrance as “inadmissible persons.”
comprehensive, consequential and targeted multilateral sanctions must be adopted
– and enforced – not only for Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, but
also for its sponsorship of international terrorism and massive violations of
History shows that sustained international juridical
efforts can bring dictators like Milosevic and Pinochet to
Ahmadinejad must be held to account for his criminality – not
rewarded for it. Our choice is clear: We can either act or be on the wrong side
Irwin Cotler is a Canadian member of Parliament and is the
former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is a
professor of law (Emeritus) at McGill University and has written extensively on
Iran and has previously prosecuted for incitement to genocide. He is a former
Canadian justice minister and currently a co-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary
Group for Human Rights in Iran.•
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