The Iran accords: neither security nor rights

The removal of sanctions gives international legitimacy to a totalitarian theocracy that the people of Iran tried to reject. Now, legitimization makes the prospects for the opposition more hopeless.

August 22, 2015 22:01
4 minute read.
Muhammad Javad Zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures as he talks with journalist from a balcony of the Palais Coburg hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Much of the discussion about the US-led nuclear accord with Iran, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has focused on the security issues. Indeed, the accord is plagued by numerous fundamental security problems. What has been little addressed and less understood, however, has been the accord’s profound threat to human rights in Iran and its long-term implications for Iranians and the people of the region.

Let there be no mistake that in terms of security alone this accord is a very dangerous detour. Arms control agreements by their very nature are fragile and unpredictable and their historical record, as a whole, is hardly encouraging. Complicating matters, this pact with an extremist Iranian regime that remains committed to the genocide of another people is both complex and opaque. Worse, it is bracketed by side agreements which have not been and may never be made public. These “sides” may not even be available to key signatory states.

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But rather than become embroiled in the arcane details of this agreement it should suffice to focus here on what is always the seminal component of any arms control protocol: verification. The Obama administration itself has declared repeatedly that the latter is central.

Even a cursory examination of the accord shows that the verification system that has been agreed to is risible and legally dubious. The 24-day notice requirement for inspections on closer examination reveals that the time period could be stretched to perhaps as long as three months. This is not only an invitation to cheat but a virtual guarantee of the success of subterfuge and subversion.

Further, the heavy involvement of Russia in the accord and the enthusiastic support of Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Iranian regime (with his perennial hope of diminishing American power) in a sense puts at Iran’s disposal all of Russia’s proven skills at evading and subverting verification. Moscow has amply demonstrated such skills, for instance in its subversion of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty. Thus the Iran accords that rest on such a fragile and illogical verification edifice will not enhance regional or world security or prevent nuclear proliferation.

These grave security concerns, though, are equaled or surpassed by the dangers to human rights. This is in part because the accord addresses nuclear weapons in a vacuum and Western proponents of the deal confuse means and ends.

As the United States rushes to disengage from the Middle East and Europe speeds to profit by opening up economic relations with Iran, the dangers to human rights in Iran, as its regime moves relentlessly to acquire nuclear weapons, needs to be better understood. A nuclear Iran or even a nuclear threshold one would enjoy not only international immunity (witness the case of North Korea) but would be far better positioned to act with complete impunity in suppressing the rights of it own citizens.

The current trend lines on human rights in Iran are profoundly disturbing. Under the supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani executions have increased sharply, according to the Iran Human Rights center, far exceeding a thousand, at a rate of at least two per day. Many are political prisoners or people convicted of crimes not punishable elsewhere. Bloomberg has also reported that the violation of human rights and the oppression of women and minorities has worsened under Rouhani.

The removal of sanctions gives international legitimacy to a totalitarian theocracy that the people of Iran tried to reject on masse in 2009 as the Western world looked away. Now such legitimization makes the prospects for the opposition even more hopeless as democracies may worry that popular demands for rights may put at risk their profits or prompt some aggressive act by a regime that has the capacity to develop a nuclear weapons system and may be sufficiently irrational to use it.

Lifting of sanctions will also put vast sums of money into the coffers of the ruling mullahs so that they can lavishly reward the cadres that enforce their brutal rule. The accord dooms the hopes of the vast opposition and leaves the population entirely at the mercy of a fanatical anti-women, anti-gay and anti-minority theocracy. An increasing number of Iranian dissidents and their families are consequently have started to voice their opposition to the nuclear accord.

In the long term, the answer to the human rights violations of the regime has to be to remove from power the ideologues who drive the regime. Change though has to come from Iranians, not foreigners or through foreign invasion. The mullahs are a tiny minority of Iranians, ruling by force. The duty of outsiders is to help the oppressed, the Iranians who resist the tyranny of the regime. That means doing nothing to give credit or legitimacy to the regime and letting the long-suffering people of Iran know that the world understands their quest for dignity and rights, supports their aspirations and sans this regime will welcome them back into the community of nations in a meaningful way. That is the opposite of the message that these ill thought- out accords send.

Aurel Braun is a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto and an associate of the Davis Center, Harvard University. David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba and a member of the Order of Canada.

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