The Iranian threat: A clear and present danger

By l'Hon. Irwin Cotler on July 22, 2010

Ahmadinejad’s Iran – a term used to distinguish the regime from the people and publics of Iran who are themselves the targets of massive domestic repression – has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to regional and Mid-East stability, and increasingly – and alarmingly so – to its own people.

Simply put, we are witnessing in Ahmadinejad’s Iran the toxic convergence of four distinct – yet interrelated – dangers – the nuclear threat; the genocidal incitement threat; state-sponsored terrorism; and the systematic and widespread violations of the rights of the Iranian people.

Accordingly, a consortium of international law scholars, human rights advocates, former Government leaders, Parliamentarians and Iranian activists for democracy and freedom – The Responsibility to Prevent Coalition – has released an International Report on the “Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal, and Rights-Violating Iran: The Responsibility to Prevent Petition”.

Let there be no mistake about it, as the Report demonstrates, Iran is in standing violation of international legal prohibitions against the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons; 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 Iran is engaged in widespread and systematic violations of the rights of its people.

In the matter of the Iranian nuclear weaponization program, the Report documents Iran’s defiance of international law, and its serial deception respecting its serial violations, including: the significant expansion of its uranium enrichment to nuclear weapons-grade capability; the discovery of its hidden uranium enrichment site at Qom; its planned development of an archipelago of enriched uranium centres; and the concern of the IAEA that Iran was “advancing in its efforts to construct a nuclear warhead, to develop a missile delivery system for such a warhead, and a mechanism to detonate such a weapon”, such that the IAEA and arms controls experts have reported Iran’s enrichment of enough nuclear fuel to build nuclear bombs.

In the case of state-sanctioned incitement to genocide – building upon the lessons of Rwanda, the Balkans, and Darfur – the Report documents the critical mass of precursors to genocide in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, constituting thereby not only the prelude to a preventable tragedy, but a crime in and of itself under international law. Preventing and combating such incitement by State Parties to the Genocide Convention and inter-governmental bodies is not just a policy option but an international legal obligation of the first order. Indeed, there exists a panoply of mandated legal remedies for the purposes of preventing and  combating such incitement.

In the matter of state-sponsored terror, the Report documents the emergence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as the epicentre of the four-fold threat, and, in particular, state-sponsorship of terrorism abroad and massive domestic repression at home, while bearing responsibility for the murder of political dissidents both outside and within Iran. Indeed, a former head of the IRGC – Ahmad Vahidi, now Iran’s Defence Minister overseeing Iran’s nuclear program – was named by Argentina’s Judiciary as being responsible for the planning and perpetration of the greatest terrorist atrocity in Argentina since the Second World War, the bombing of the Jewish Community Center (the AMIA) in 1994. The Report therefore recommends that the sanctions in the UN Security Council Resolution be augmented and enhanced by regional and country specific sanctions, including prohibiting transactions with the IRGC and its designated agents and entities, the freezing of assets, and travel bans against designated individuals.

In the matter of human rights, the Report documents the widespread and systematic violations of the rights of the Iranian people, including: the beatings, execution, killing, torture and other inhumane treatment of Iranians; the systematic and widespread oppression of a minority – the Bahá’í as a case study; the exclusion of, and discrimination against, religious and ethnic minorities; the persistent and pervasive assault on women’s rights; the murder of political dissidents; the assault on freedom of speech, assembly and association – including assaults on students, professors, activists and intellectuals – and the imprisonment of more journalists than any other country in the world; the crackdown against cyber dissidents; the assault on labour rights; the wanton imposition of a death penalty, including the execution of more  juveniles than any other country in the world; the denial of gay/lesbian rights – the whole overladen with show trials and coerced confessions – and constitutive of crimes against humanity under international law.

In particular, the Report has an express focus on the intensification of human rights violations in Iran since the fraudulent presidential elections of June 12, 2009, including state-sanctioned escalation in each of the ten categories of human rights violations herein detailed above; and throughout these state-sanctioned assaults, the absence of any justice, a culture of impunity, the denial of due process, the absence of an independent judiciary, and the targeting of human rights defenders.

Accordingly, the Report, drawing on international law principle and precedent, sets forth a comprehensive set of generic remedies – smart sanctions – to combat the critical mass of threat, as well as threat-specific remedies for each of the nuclear, incitement, terrorist, and rights-violating threats. The underlying principle of these remedies and sanctions is to target the Iranian regime and its leaders – e.g. the IRGC – while not harming, and indeed protecting, the Iranian people.

In conclusion, the Report calls on the international community, building upon the most recent UN Security Council Resolution of June 9, 2010 – both as an important symbolic statement and as an enabling juridical authority – to support regional and country-specific action to implement this comprehensive set of generic and threat specific remedies to hold Ahmadinejad’s Iran to account.

While recognizing the compellability of the nuclear threat, the Report cautions against focusing on this threat alone, thereby marginalizing if not sanitizing the other three threats and undercutting the case for comprehensive, calibrated, and consequential sanctions. Indeed, the international community would do well to organize its policy around the findings and recommendations in this Report. Sadly, the perfunctory G8 statement on Iran neither appreciated the gravity of the threat nor the imperative of the response.


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