Long before the current United Nations General Assembly, it was well-understood that Iran policy would feature prominently in high-level debate. Iranians inside and outside the country were looking forward to it. But they recognized that the focus would most likely be far too narrow, with little bearing upon their efforts to secure a democratic, secular and non-nuclear future.
Leading Western powers have remained heavily preoccupied with the fallout from President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). The international community’s single-minded focus on Tehran’s nuclear program has been detrimental to the Iran policy because it ignores key dimensions of the regime.
In recent years, unrest and uprisings have been constant in Iran. In 2017, protests were sparked over the dire economy situation in more than 100 cities. The anti-regime sentiment was unprecedented in the four-decade history of the fundamentalist regime. Protesters chanted “death to the dictator,” and left little doubt about the widespread support that exists for regime change.
In early January 2018, the regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, publicly acknowledged that the organizers of the protests were the main democratic opposition Mujahedin-e khalq (MEK). The MEK formed in 1965 with the aim of establishing a free and democratic country. It has long been recognized by the mullahs as an existential threat to their rule. The MEK had called on its Resistance Units inside Iran to turn 2018 into a year of uprisings.
In November 2019, nationwide protests erupted once again, this time encompassing approximately 200 cities and towns. Panicked by the organized nature of the protests and direct calls for democratic change, the mullahs directed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to open fire on crowds of protesters, killing 1,500 people in a matter of days.
Much of this has flown under the radar in the West. The Trump administration has at least offered expressions of support for demonstrations. And the U.S. president personally took up the cause of saving the life of Navid Afkari, a wrestling champion arrested during protests and later executed. But little concrete action has been taken to connect “maximum pressure” to the regime’s abhorrent human rights violations.
Still, the White House deserves credit for at least ramping up pressure in general, thereby challenging Tehran’s assumption that it enjoys impunity. On September 18, President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani participated in a virtual “Trans-Atlantic Summit on Iran Policy” and suggested that maximum pressure had played a major role in fueling recent uprisings inside Iran.
Speaking on behalf of Iranian-Americans, I can confirm Mayor Giuliani’s assessment. Hundreds of Iranian-Americans organized rallies in Washington D.C. and other Western capitals recently to support imposing more sanctions on the clerical regime.
In his remarks to the Trans-Atlantic Summit in support of a free Iran on September 18, 2020, Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, said, “I also want to encourage people that are in Iran and that are fighting oppression to stay strong and know that you have friends around the world that believe in you and that believe in a free Iran.”
Recently, over 250 lawmakers from Europe and the Arab world signed onto a statement from the British Committee for Iran Freedom which urged their own government to support American efforts to re-impose all the UN sanctions that were suspended under the JCPOA.
European policy has repeatedly reinforced Tehran’s sense of impunity, signaling the EU’s intention to stand by the nuclear agreement regardless of the regime’s worsening behavior. But the growing pressure from European supporters of the Iranian Resistance shows that such policy needs to change. More pressure is needed, and from broader sources
It is imperative for global peace and security that Europe’s policy on Iran holds the regime accountable for its human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.
There is a long list of vile deeds that the regime has perpetrated both at home and abroad since its inception. They include the massacre of an estimated 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 – an incident for which no one has been held accountable to this day, even though credible investigations have identified dozens of current regime officials who once served on the “death commissions” that were involved in this crime against humanity.
The signatories of the British parliament statement have urged the United Nations to open a formal inquiry into Iran’s past misdeeds, with an eye toward filing relevant charges at the International Criminal Court. In so doing, they echo a call to action by the Iranian people, including at major international conferences and summits organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in July and September.
European powers have used their commitment to the nuclear deal as an excuse to turn away from ongoing crimes against humanity. That inaction could be interpreted as complicity in the regime’s crimes. A more responsible policy would join the “maximum pressure” campaign against a barbaric, fundamentalist regime that has wreaked havoc in the region and continues to murder and torture the Iranian people.
Homeira Hesami is Chairwoman of the Iranian-American Community of North Texas (IACNT), a member of the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (www.oiac.org). She resides in Carrollton, Texas and works as a medical physicist in Irving, Texas.