A ploy by Tehran that has nothing to do with freedom
BY HILLEL NEUER
Monday, November 21, 2011
Global conferences inaugurating a “human rights” center in Iran this week will boost a growing campaign by anti-Western states at the UN to erode universal human rights in favor of a doctrine of “cultural diversity.” If left unchallenged, this could well justify repression of basic freedoms around the world.
Incomprehensibly, the International Committee for the Red Cross as well as a leading human rights authority, the London-based William Schabas, have given their credibility to the initiative by the Tehran-based Center for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity, despite its intimate ties with the fundamentalist regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Schabas — author of numerous textbooks on international humanitarian law, chairman of a UN human rights fund and president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars — is billed as keynote speaker at the first of the conferences on Nov. 22. The center says the ICRC is working “in cooperation” with it to stage the conferences, as is an institution Schabas directed for the past decade and still chairs, the Irish Center for Human Rights at Ireland’s National University in Galway.
Yet everything about the Tehran center, spearheaded by Iran and Cuba, shows it is the opposite of what it claims to be.
First, its ideological mission is to undermine the obligation of all governments to respect basic liberties, such as the freedoms of speech, assembly and religion. The institute was created in 2007 by a ministerial meeting in Tehran of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement, whose membership of mainly nondemocratic countries dominates the UN General Assembly. The meeting produced the “Tehran Declaration and Programme of Action,” a thinly veiled attack on the idea that human rights are universal.
Human rights, proclaims the manifesto, should defer to “the significance of national and regional particularities” and “various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds.” Implicit in the text is the concept that the world should give a free pass to the oppressive rulers of Iran, Syria, Cuba, China, Zimbabwe and others, due to their alleged “cultural” differences.
Western democracies are accused of seeking “to impose their values, opinions and lifestyles on developing countries, to the detriment, and even the loss, of cultural identities.” In particular, Israel is vilified throughout the text, including for the alleged “cultural uprooting” of Arabs based on doctrines of “cultural superiority” and “apartheid.”
The declaration expresses no concern for victims in a slew of NAM member states where human rights abuses are systematic — including Iran itself and also Cuba, one of the center’s key backers.
Second, the Tehran effort is part of a broader NAM campaign, now escalating throughout the UN, to enshrine cultural diversity as a global human rights principle.
In 2009, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on cultural diversity that incorporated a special reference to the NAM’s Tehran meeting and called on high UN officials to promote the concept. Shortly thereafter, the office of UN rights chief Navi Pillay convened a global seminar to explore the subject, and the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council established an “independent expert in the field of cultural rights.”
This past June, the council adopted a resolution giving added weight to the notion that national and religious “specificities” constitute “cultural rights” equal to other human rights. Cuba led the initiative, together with Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Pakistan and Egypt.
Third, the center is a tool of Iranian propaganda. Speaking at its May opening, Iran’s deputy foreign minister articulated one of the center’s core messages: the Iranian government is a “victim of the politicization of human rights” despite having, he claimed, “always played a leading role in promoting human values.”
The center’s current director is Kamran Hashemi, a former political officer with Iran’s foreign ministry. He argues on the center’s website that Sharia law offers ideal protections for Jews and other minorities. His predecessor and many of the center’s lecturers also emanate from the Iranian foreign ministry.
Given all this, how can the ICRC and Schabas endorse the center?
While the ICRC’s mission to help war victims may require dealing with unsavory regimes, nothing justifies lending its name to an Iranian-NAM subversion of the organization’s own universal ideals. As for Schabas, he has a personal connection. Hashemi wrote his Ph.D under the academic at the Irish Center for Human Rights, and later taught there.
At a time when the Iranian regime continues to arrest, beat and rape its own citizens, and when the universality of human rights remains tenuous in too many countries, the ICRC and Schabas should pull out of this insidious project.
Neuer is executive director of UN Watch, a nongovernmental organization in Geneva.
More Red Cross Ties with Tehran “Human Rights” Center
From today’s UN Watch Press Release:
GENEVA, Nov. 21 – “It’s one thing for the ICRC to deal with dubious regimes as part of its mission to help war victims everywhere,” said UN Watch director Hillel Neuer, “but it’s quite another thing for the humanitarian organization to willingly lend its name to what is clearly an effort by Iran, Cuba and the center’s other NAM backers to subvert the Red Cross’s own universal ideals.”
The ICRC has prior connections with the center. In June, the ICRC’s Delegate for Islamic Affairs in Tehran, John Strick van Linschoten, delivered a presentation at the center that emphasized ICRC operations in favour of victims in Islamic states and the importance of seeing the Shiite “point of view.”
In 2008, the ICRC as well as Schabas’ Irish institute co-sponsored a seminar with the Iranian centre’s director entitled “60th Anniversary of the Occupation of Palestine.”
The first of the conferences this week is set to begin after a Western-led resolution today in a key UN General Assembly committee condemnedIran – as in previous years – for its poor human rights record. The resolution received 86 votes in favour, 32 against and 59 abstentions. According to Reuters, it showed a decrease in support for Tehran compared with last year, when a similar resolution received 80 votes in favour, 44 against and 57 abstentions.
Also, the General Assembly on Friday voted 106-9, with 40 abstentions, to condemn Iran for an alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Washington.
The new Iranian “human rights” center is getting into full swing just months after countries acting on behalf of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) ended – at least for now – their separate effort to recast universal human rights principles at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
That bid had involved winning UN resolutions over a decade that contained demands to combat “defamation of religion,” particularly Islam.
Western countries opposed the measures, saying human rights protections extend only to individuals, and warned that protecting a belief could lead to persecution of people criticizing or not following that faith.
The OIC – which now calls itself the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – faced the prospect of an embarrassing defeat in March after Western campaigning led to a fall in global support. But the Tehran center – by focusing on “cultural diversity” – effectively picks up the baton.
In a recent UN debate on cultural rights, the EU warned against “diffuse and dangerous notions of cultural relativism,” and noted that “some cultural practices violate human rights.”
UN Watch is grateful to Mattia Zanazzi for his research on this matter.