OpinionIran in the World PressCalling Iran to account

Calling Iran to account

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Toronto Star – Editorial: Ayatollah Ali Khameini and Iran’s ruling clerics seem perversely bent on plunging their nation of 68 million into an international black hole. The murder of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in a Tehran jail in 2003 was symptomatic of what Human Rights Watch calls a general deterioration in respect for rights. Toronto Star

Editorial

Ayatollah Ali Khameini and Iran’s ruling clerics seem perversely bent on plunging their nation of 68 million into an international black hole.

The murder of Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in a Tehran jail in 2003 was symptomatic of what Human Rights Watch calls a general deterioration in respect for rights. Dissidents including journalists, democracy activists and students are routinely harassed, detained without charge and physically abused.

Last year the regime tainted the 25th anniversary of the Islamic revolution by brazenly rigging elections to freeze out reformers.

The United Nations worries that Iran’s leaders are perfecting technology to build nuclear weapons. Tehran also supports groups like Hezbollah that oppose the Mideast peace process and attack Israel.

For Canadians, Kazemi’s murder drove home the sheer brutality of Tehran’s regime. While Prime Minister Paul Martin’s efforts to obtain justice in her case have gone nowhere, he seems rightly determined to step up Canada’s efforts to hold Iran’s leaders accountable in the court of world opinion at least.

Martin bluntly labelled Iran an “emerging threat” at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit last month. He warned that “stronger measures” than mere words may be required to deal with that threat.

And Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew has taken the same message to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and to the Conference on Disarmament. In speeches yesterday, Pettigrew slammed Iran for “serious” rights violations that “must stop.” And he called for “permanent cessation of Iran’s uranium enrichment and other proliferation-sensitive activities,” matters to be verified by United Nations inspectors.

These efforts are welcome, but Ottawa can and should do more.

It can press the Kazemi case at the International Criminal Court, sharply limit visas for Iranian officials, restrict trade and curb study opportunities here for Iranian college and university students.

We also should urge Russia, Iran’s main nuclear partner, to tell Tehran to give up uranium enrichment and reprocessing, or face sanctions.

No one expects Iran to forgo nuclear technology and champion human rights all in a heartbeat. Pressure, including the threat of Security Council sanctions, must be applied cautiously. Iranians vote in June to replace President Mohammad Khatami. No one wants to trigger a backlash among the voters that could sink a reform-minded replacement.

But Khatami’s successor must understand that Iran will face dire consequences unless it changes course.

Canada’s diplomats must make that clear, every chance they get.

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