The Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy in 2015

November 12, 2015

This month, the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundations’ (ABF) co-founders, Roya and Ladan Boroumand, each delivered a high profile speech on democracy and human rights.  Roya Boroumand spoke at a briefing in the United States House of Representatives and Ladan Boroumand spoke at a global meeting of the World Movement for Democracy on the promotion of democracy in the 21st century. Both speeches called on the international community to be vigilant and defend universal rights and the United Nations’ human rights mechanisms as a matter of principle, but also for pragmatic reasons.   

Speaking before the Lantos Human Rights Commission on October 28, 2015, Roya Boroumand highlighted the importance of directing attention to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s poor human rights record:

“Iran’s treatment of its own citizens needs to be discussed, because for too long, the international community has focused on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, more recently on business and trade, and not enough on the country’s appalling human rights situation. What happens to citizens and foreigners in any country, and the pervasive violence they are subjected to, is relevant not only because we should care as fellow human beings and because governments should take international human rights obligations as seriously as other international obligations, but because it helps the understanding of a society as a whole.

The new context created by the easing of tensions with Iran offers opportunities and challenges. If Iran becomes more open to the world and foreign business, as it clearly desires, it will be difficult for the Islamic Republic’s leaders to hide or carry on egregious violations of the rule of law, mass executions, and political repression. But unless the international community, including Iran’s friends, holds those responsible to account and persists in calling on Iran to respect its international obligations, establish the rule of law, and stop denying its citizens justice, it will be business as usual at the risk of long term stability and prosperity for Iran, its neighbors, and its partners.”

Dr. Boroumand went on to outline broad patterns of human rights abuses in Iran in recent years and highlighted the individual cases of Reyhanek Jabbari, Bahram Amadi, Mehdi Qasemzadeh, Behnud Shoja’i, Hadi Rashedi and Ata’ollah Rezvani .  She ended her presentation by calling for the international community and the United States in particular to hold the Islamic Republic accountable in particular for the skyrocketing number of executions and systematic due process violations:

“Ignoring the gravity of the ongoing massacre in Iranian prisons makes little sense for those who believe in the rule of law and are hoping to see more accountability from the Iranian government. It makes even less sense for those who hope for a more prosperous Iran respected and treated as an equal by the international community. Ignoring the truth does not eliminate it. But it reassures and emboldens human rights violators. It is not pragmatic to look the other way. The problem must be addressed and addressing it begins with acknowledging it.

Today, the international community and the US have hopes of engaging Iran in a more positive dialogue. Iranian leaders are also showing interest in engagement, but they have to do more than give proud and impassioned speeches or try to convince diplomats of their respectability in private conversations. They must work hard for real and fundamental changes to establish the rule of law and end impunity. If the international community believes in the values entrenched in the United Nations Charter and other international treaties, if they hope for long-term cooperation with Iran and stability in the region, they should hold the Islamic Republic’s leaders accountable for ignoring their human rights obligations and call on them to revise their laws and practices and to cooperate with United Nations experts. The international community must increase the political cost of the ongoing death race and bring it to an end.”

Read Roya Boroumand’s complete presentation here.

The World Movement for Democracy is a global network of activists, practitioners, scholars, policy makers, and funders who work to advance democracy. Approximately every two years, the group brings together hundreds of democracy and human rights activists at a global assembly to discuss the significant challenges they face advancing democracy in their countries and the ways they are addressing those challenges.

At the opening of the Eighth Assembly on Empowering Civil Society for Democracy and Its Renewal on November 1, 2015 Ladan Boroumand addressed the attendees.  Dr. Boroumand described the current state of the global democracy movement:

“Sixteen years after that first World Movement Assembly, the situation has dramatically changed. We no longer have the strong wind of triumphant democracy in our sails. Instead, we are facing a reinvigorated wind of authoritarianism that defies us not only in practice but also ideologically and tests our understanding of our own values, our consistency, and our commitment.

Chaos in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, plus the lingering economic crisis and need for lucrative new economic ties with rich authoritarian regimes, have prompted democratic governments to de-emphasize democracy promotion and favor a traditional diplomacy based on selfish and shortsighted notions of “national interest.” But reality keeps getting in the way. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; the tragic war of Boko Haram in West Africa; the annexation of Crimea and Putin’s “hybrid war” in Ukraine; China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors; the assassinations of Jewish kids and journalists in the heart of old Western democracies; the hundreds of thousands of refugees at the doors of these same societies; the financing of propaganda outlets and extreme rightist parties in their midst by foreign authoritarian regimes—these continue to demonstrate that what authoritarians do is not easily contained within national borders.

Democratic regimes urgently need to rethink and rearticulate their foreign policies and their alliances based on their democratic values rather than on the legacy of the Treaty of Westphalia or the pressure of irresponsible commercial lobbies.

Inaction, ladies and gentlemen, is as much founded on principles and values as action is
Inaction, ladies and gentlemen, is as much founded on principles and values as action is. It is time for democratic polities to name the principles that preside over their inaction and disunity, and to ask if they are consistent with their democratic values. For at this point what is at stake is not only the expansion of democratic values in the world, but also and more urgently the preservation of these values within established democracies.”

Dr. Boroumand pointed to Iran’s case as symptomatic:

“Let me speak as an Iranian activist in exile. At this very moment, most of the human-rights advocates who were active in my country in 2005 are either executed, in exile, behind bars, or living in a state of enforced silence. This includes Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, who is in exile while three of her fellow human-rights lawyers—Abdolfattah Soltani, Narges Mohammadi, and Mohammad Seifzadeh—are in prison. Similarly, reformist members of the ruling elite have been jailed or subjected to house arrest.

In the confrontation between Iran’s pro-democracy activists and its Islamist state, the government’s arsenal is made of violence and lies. Violence seeks to spread fear and silence dissent through detention, torture, and executions. In 2004, Iran reportedly executed 94 people. In 2010, it executed 818, while in 2014 the number reportedly climbed to 983. This year so far, as I speak to you, 950 people have been executed without due process of law. Once society is silenced, then the way is clear for the government’s lies to prevail.”

However, Dr. Boroumand concluded on a note of hope:

Our enemies’ arsenal is terrifying, and we, at first glance, seem powerless in comparison. But in reality we are stronger, for we have the truth. Faced with force and fraud, activists for human rights and democracy insist on “living in truth,” as Václav Havel put it. They rely on the truth, with its subversive might, to annihilate lies and leave tyrants speechless. We also have our faith in and commitment to universal human rights which is the guarantee of our steadfastness.”

Read Ladan Boroumand’s complete address here.

Abdorrahman Bouroumand Foundation
November 12, 2015