Analysis: Canada's move to cut ties with Iran

Silence not an option when states threaten genocide – especially when, like Iran, they are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu walks with Harper 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
Netanyahu walks with Harper 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
The Canadian government’s decision to close its embassy in Iran and expel Iranian diplomats from Canada is as important for the reasons underlying the decision as for the decision itself. In a word, Iran has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security. The Iranian threat is fourfold.
Iran is in standing violation of international law prohibiting nuclear weaponization; Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited under the Genocide Convention; Iran is a leading state-sponsor of international terrorism; and finally, Iran is engaged in the massive domestic repression of the rights of its own people.
Certainly three other considerations underpinned the Canadian decision: Iran’s complicity in Syria’s atrocities; Iran’s complicity in assaults upon diplomats from Central Asia to Central America; and the intimidation of Canadian- Iranians living in Canada.
The decision highlights – and indeed calls for – a set of initiatives to combat these Iranian threats, including:
• Listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist entity under Canadian law – something the federal government has yet to do;
• Enhancing sanctions for Iran’s defiance of international law in its nuclear weaponization program;
• Sanctioning major human rights violators in the Iranian political and juridical leadership for their criminal violations of the human rights of the Iranian people; and
• Undertaking mandated legal remedies under international law to hold the Iranian leadership accountable for its state-sanctioned incitement to genocide, which has intensified dramatically of late.
In this last regard, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon has, yet again, issued a statement condemning the recent “offensive and inflammatory statements” of the Iranian leadership.
Curiously, while the statement also cited international law as the authority for the condemnation – that “in accordance with the United Nations Charter, all members must refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” – it failed to appreciate that international law requires juridical action to sanction such incitement, not just issue mere statements of disapproval.
The most recent offensive and inflammatory statements emanated from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who characterized Israel as an “insult to humanity” and “a cancerous tumor” while calling, yet again, for its “disappearance.”
These followed the no-less-incendiary remarks from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni demonizing Israel as “the Zionist cancerous tumor in the heart of the Islamic world,” while also calling for its “annihilation.”
What is missing in statements expressing disapproval of Iran’s words and actions – including those from the EU, US, Canada, France, Germany and others – is a commitment to action. And let me be clear up front: action in this regard need not be military; indeed, the remedy is juridical.
In a word, the Genocide Convention – framed in 1948, in the wake of the Holocaust – prohibits the crime of “direct and public incitement to commit genocide.” Incitement itself is the crime, whether or not genocide follows. The objective is to prevent genocides before they occur, by sounding the alarm on this type of state-sanctioned incendiary incitement that has in the past led us down the road to horrific tragedy and atrocity, as it did in Rwanda, Srebrenica and Darfur.
The Iranian regime’s criminal incitement has been long documented. An all-party report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Canadian Parliament found that “Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited under the Genocide Convention.”
Yet not one state party to the convention has undertaken any of its mandated responsibilities to prevent and punish such incitement – an appalling example of the international community as bystander that reminds us also that genocide occurred not only because of cultures of hate, but because of crimes of indifference.
Closing our embassy will not stop this incendiary incitement.
Neither will it sanction it; that is something that can only happen by exercising the required juridical remedies provided in international law.
Such remedies include: Initiating an inter-state complaint against Iran – which is a state party to the Genocide Convention – before the International Court of Justice, for its standing violation of the convention; referring this genocidal incitement to the UN Security Council for accountability and sanction; calling upon the UN secretary-general to refer the situation to the Security Council as one that threatens international peace and security, pursuant to Article 99 of the UN Charter; and requesting that the Security Council itself refer the matter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who can indict Iranian leaders as it has others.
Simply put, this panoply of juridical remedies – which have brought about the indictment of seemingly immune dictatorial leaders – should be added to the existing political, diplomatic and economic initiatives invoked to sanction Iran’s nuclear weaponization program, where such state-sanctioned incitement to genocide is the terrifying and vilifying context in which Iran’s nuclear weaponization is being accelerated.
Silence is not an option when states threaten genocide – especially when, like Iran, they are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons and even boast that they can thereby bring about a Holocaust “in a matter of minutes.” Condemnation has not served as an effective deterrent.
The time for action is now. The exemplary case made by the Canadian government for closing its embassy in Iran is the same case warranting these targeted remedies.Irwin Cotler is chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and international chairman of the Responsibility to Prevent Coalition. He is a member of the International Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran and co-chairman of the Global Iranian Political Prisoner Advocacy Project. He has written extensively on Iran.