Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi is a political prisoner in Iran, incarcerated since August 22, 2010, and has been sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment. He is a member of the Central Committee of the Organization of the University Educated of Iran (OUEI), a group of former university activists, many of whom, including its head Dr. Ahmad Zeidabadi, are currently in prison. Asadi Zeidabadi is in charge of human right division of OUEI. This article was originally published in Persian.
The slogan “Taxation without representation is tyranny” was the foundation of the broad-based opposition to the political and economic policies of the British Empire imposed on its North America colonists in the mid eighteenth century, an opposition that ultimately resulted in the independence of the United States from Great Britain in 1776. The Founding Fathers of America believed in their right to oppose a government that sought to generate revenues and more importantly govern from across the other side of the Atlantic Ocean by imposing taxes on stamps, tea, etc., for they were of the opinion that the "fundamental right to ownership of property" and its safeguarding were a manifestation of their "freedom," a value for which they had emigrated to the New World and were finally ready to fight for.
Today, two and a half centuries after American independence, the adoption of punitive policies and economic sanctions against Iran, this time by the same country that fought against the British tyranny, are threatening some of the fundamental rights of ordinary Iranian citizens, and more specifically violating their right to ownership of property. Despite being coined as "smart," such unilateral sanctions, which are illegal because they have not been approved by the United Nation Security Council] have, in reality, resulted in the deterioration of the lives of ordinary Iranians and a dramatic increase in socio/economic hardships. The adverse impact of unilateral sanctions on Iran’s domestic market and overall economy has been so severe that the mere mention of a new round of sanctions led to an overnight devaluation of the national currency and a 25% reduction in value of the capital and personal assets owned by Iranian citizens. It goes without saying that all citizens, regardless of their ideology, religious or political inclination are dependent on their national currency when "earning a living" in their domestic market. As a result, the devaluation of the national currency has a direct impact on the quality of the lives of ordinary citizens, and in particular their right to ownership of property. Much like the rejection of taxation from across the Atlantic by the British colonies in the 18th century, who viewed such policies as tyrannical, the economic sanctions against Iran designed to pressure the Iranian government into shifting its policies have only led to the violation of the right to ownership of property by ordinary citizens, despite the fact that Iranian citizens have had no role in the political decisions made.
It is often said that human rights are universal values. Notwithstanding a number of minor exceptions (often civil-rights related), the international obligations of governments as related to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (both the declaration and the two Covenants), are not only commitments towards their citizens but also to mankind. It has therefore been argued that the US government had no right to violate the standards of fair trial under the pretext of national security, even in the case of the Taliban, Al Qaeda or foreign terrorists held at Guantanamo, and there has been much criticism of the violation of the Principle of Non-Refoulement (convention against torture) in the case of a number of defendants, despite their evident role in terrorist operations. Likewise, the policies of the Western powers, supposedly motivated by political and security concerns, including the United States over the past several years, manifested in the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, cannot be justified as legitimate and rational grounds for the violation of the basic human rights of Iranian citizens, basic rights that the international community is not only committed to but also accountable to. The preamble of the United Nations Charter stipulates that all states have an obligation to “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom," while Article 55 defines the conditions of stability and well-being necessaryfor peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, guaranteed througheconomic development, international economic and cultural cooperation and universal and effective respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights respects the right of ownership, and Article 22 stipulates that everyone as a member of society has the right to social security and is entitled to realization of his/her economic, social, and cultural rights through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each state to. Additionally, Article 15 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights includes the right to science and culture and to acquire knowledge, encouraging all parties to promote the conservation, development and diffusion of science and culture, “respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity” and promote international contacts and cooperation in these fields, all begging the question whether the sanctions against Iran have not only been a serious obstacle to, but also a violation of the rights of Iranian citizens vis-à-vis the aforementioned international covenants and laws.
One of the real and tangible consequences of the sanctions has been the further alienation of Iranians from international cooperation, from both cultural and economic perspectives. As a result of the sanctions on the banks and foreign currencies, many Iranian merchants and businessmen have been forced to either cut off or reduce all foreign trade and relations, and are no longer present in markets where they had once been active for centuries. The importance of free markets, commercial relations and free trade in forging an understanding and cultural exchange amongst nations, leading to a message of peace across nations in particular, has been argued by both economic and political experts. Experience has shown that the expansion of trade and the broadening of common economic interests between two nations are inversely related to the probability of military conflict and the outburst of violence. For example, as a result of the trade a military conflict between China and the United States is highly unlikely today, compared to the potential of a conflict between the United States and North Korea. The foundation of such international institutions as the European Union, the WTO, the African Union, the ECO etc. is based on the same economic and cultural premise. Sanctions have also negative impacted the academic and cultural participation of the Iranians across the globe. Today, Iranian universities face a myriad of challenges in the area of exchange of technology and knowledge and many art and sport groups have difficulties travelling abroad.
Furthermore, despite the fact that tourism has been vital in forging alliances amongst nations and played a key role in spreading peace, tourism in Iran has decreased to its lowest levels, and ordinary citizens have even been deprived of their right to tourism and the occasional visiting of their family members abroad.
It goes without saying that sanctions have also had a negative impact on human rights in Iran, for they have diverted global public opinion from human rights violations to the nuclear issue. Those imposing unilateral sanctions against Iran have repeatedly claimed that they are designed to shift the policies and behavior of the Iranian government. Proponents of the sanctions have touted their positive impact in the area of human rights and strengthening the process of democracy. The inaccuracy of such claims becomes evident when reviewing the past.
The breadth and depth of the sanctions imposed on Iran today are comparable to the United States’ policies towards the governments of such countries such Iraq, Cuba, Libya and North Korea, and when measured against the aforementioned objectives and criteria, these policies have clearly failed. Sanctions have by no means contributed to the establishment and the development of democracy. To the contrary, they have played a key role in weakening and damaging the middle class, the civil society and impairing the process of development, peace and democracy. In short, when comparing the conditions in Eastern Europe in the early nineties to the above examples, one can only conclude that isolationism is not a means whereby peace and democracy can be nurtured, but rather as the text and spirit of major international documents, such as the UN Charter and international human rights treaties, emphasize, peace, democracy and international security are first and foremost facilitated through international cooperation on an economic, cultural and social level amongst both nations and ordinary citizens and viewed as a fundamental human right.
In the mid-sixties and at the height of Vietnam war, proposals by the late French President Charles De Gaulle, brokered by then Secretary General of the United Nations U Thant, gave rise to golden diplomatic opportunities for talks and mediation that could have resolved the catastrophic Vietnam crisis ten years earlier, with similar conditions to those attained by the United States when it withdrew its forces, albeit with far fewer losses for both sides. A vast segment of the Iranian nation, who has had no control over the policies of its government in the past several years, demonstrated its will during the 2013 elections by voting for change, tolerance and peace and electing President Hassan Rouhani’s moderate, peace seeking government. Iran and the international community now have a valuable opportunity to adopt the principles of dialogue and peaceful policies in resolving an international crisis, and to put an end to the current casualty-filled economic warfare waged on Iran, through an attainable, yet mutually acceptable solution. Let us be mindful of the fact that democracy is achieved through respect for the will and the vote of the people and an opportunity for open dialogue.