Joshua Keating asks an important question: “Do We Have to Sell Out Human Rights to Get a Nuclear Deal With Iran?” Observing that Hassan Rouhani’s moderate politics either don’t or (more likely) can’t extend far beyond the nuclear brief and the reintegration of Iran into the international community, Keating is wondering whether improving relations with Iran will require the U.S. to betray its commitment to human rights in practice, even if we maintain our objections to Iran’s lousy human rights record on paper:
There aren’t any signs that the U.S. has backed off its criticism of Iran’s human rights record — the State Department was quick to condemn [Reyhaneh] Jabbari’s execution, for instance — but the UN’s [Special Rapporteur on Iranian Human Rights Ahmed] Shaheed expressed worry this week that Iran “would use the nuclear issue as a ‘positive front’ while allowing human rights to become a ‘backwater.'”
This is a question the Iranians are asking themselves, albeit from a different point of view. That CISSM/University of Tehran poll I wrote about a few weeks ago found that the vast majority of Iranians are skeptical that Rouhani will be able to achieve significant sanctions relief, which they blame on what they see as an American desire to stifle Iranian development. They likely expect that any sanctions that are lifted over the nuclear issue will be reimposed over something, like “human rights violations.” Heck, they might even be right.
My answer to Keating’s question is no…more than we’ve already sold out human rights in order to have close, or at least working, relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Uganda, China…say, did Israel bomb Gaza again today? Just popped into my head for some reason. I’m being a little flippant, but clearly a country that has, at one time or another, backed such human rights luminaries as Augusto Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, the Duvalier boys, Suharto, Saddam Hussein, our old friend the Shah of Iran…I’m getting carried away again, but human rights have never been a big sticking point for us in foreign relations, so why should the Islamic Republic’s crappy human rights record be the one example that actually does affect U.S. policy?
As an aside, I was absolutely remiss in yesterday’s bit about Iran’s corrosive “vice” vigilantes in not even mentioning the case of Reyhaneh Jabbari. Just 26 years old, Jabbari was hanged Saturday morning for the crime of murder. The victim was a 47 year old surgeon, Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, who may well have been trying to rape her when she stabbed him in self-defense (whether she or an unidentified man who was in Sarbandi’s house with her actually killed Sarbandi is another open question). We simply don’t know what happened because it doesn’t seem like the Iranian authorities were particularly interested in investigating the case. Sarbandi’s family claims that Jabbari confessed to premeditated murder, but that’s not verifiable and, anyway, Iranian police have ways of coercing confessions. Jabbari’s case is emblematic of a justice system that relies far too much on execution; the UN investigator Ahmed Shaheed’s most recent report on the subject estimates that Iran executed an incredible 852 people (at least) between July 2013 and June 2014. That still doesn’t put them close to the World Heavyweight Champion of executions, China, but it is a shocking figure nonetheless.