At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
By Nazanin Boniadi and Roxana Saberi
Nazanin Boniadi is an actress, activist and spokesperson for Amnesty International USA. Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist, author and human rights advocate. www.roxanasaberi.com
Behrouz with his newborn son, Harmang.
The imprisonment of Iranian filmmaker Behrouz Ghobadi appears to be the latest attempt by Iran’s regime to silence the country’s artists. Hollywood has united with Amnesty International to call for his release; now others can join them by sending a message of concern to Iran’s supreme leader.
Behrouz, a younger brother of exiled Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi, was arrested on November 4 in western Iran. Since then, he has had no contact with either his family or an attorney. His family has asked the Iranian authorities for information, but no one has told them why or where he is detained.
Imagine you have spent nearly 30 years in prison just for writing poems—the only thing that keeps you going is the hope of someday being reunited with your wife and family. But then when the day of your release finally comes, you discover that your family has been told that you are dead and you are left to wander the earth like a ghost, caught between the horror of the past and a present where you don’t even really exist.
This is the tragic situation faced by the protagonist of a powerful new movie called Rhino Season (Fasle Kargadan) by the eminent Iranian film director Bahman Ghobadi. It can also be interpreted as a metaphor for an entire society, haunted by the human rights violations that shattered so many lives, yet unable to move forward because of the Iranian government’s stubborn refusal to accept responsibility for the crimes they perpetrated. Thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and executed in Iran in the 1980s; there has never been a reckoning, there has been no accountability and it is impossible for any of those scarred by those years to find peace and closure.
May Day honors the contributions that hard-working men and women make to society everywhere around the world. In Iran, those who advocate peacefully on behalf of their fellow workers are likely to wind up spending May Day in prison.
When brothers Kamiar and Arash Alaei were finally granted a brief medical furlough, they rejoiced at the prospect of spending a little time with their families as a reprieve from their grim and unjust imprisonment in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Internationally renowned experts on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, the two physicians were targeted by the Iranian government for having participated in international conferences and workshops in the United States. In the authorities’ twisted way of thinking, they were a part of a U.S. plot to undermine the Iranian government.
When the two brothers arrived at their family home, they received an additional and very delightful surprise—they were greeted with hundreds of Nowruz (Iranian New Year) cards sent by Amnesty International Activists around the world in response to AIUSA’s now-annual Nowruz Action.
Noted blogger Mehdi Khazali knew he was in trouble with the Iranian government. He had already been arrested in the summer of 2009 and again in October 2010, and was facing pending charges from those arrests.
Nevertheless, he decided to openly express his opinion, urging a boycott of Iran’s upcoming March 2, 2012 parliamentary elections as a gesture of protest.
For that, Mehdi Khazali suffered the full brunt of the Iranian authorities’ fury. On January 9, 2012 security forces came to arrest him. They brutally beat him, breaking his arm.
2011 was an unprecedented year in the region — a year in which millions of people flooded the streets to demand change. While change has come to some countries, in others repressive governments continue to clamp down on dissent with deadly force and censor their citizens: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
By now I can write the script in my sleep: Foreign citizen (but usually Iranian in origin) picked up and slapped into detention; family told to be quiet about it and things will “go well”; implausible televised confession to acts of espionage or involvement in plot to undermine the Iranian government made by weary-looking defendant is aired on Iranian television; unfair trial in Revolutionary Court; harsh sentence handed down; media fire-storm ensues.
Students would ordinarily celebrate if they found out that they received a star, and be even more delighted if they got three stars. But in Iran receiving stars is cause for distress and consternation. Being assigned three stars from Iranian authorities means that students are permanently barred from pursuing their university education in Iran.
Such is the fate of hundreds of Iranian students who have done nothing more than peacefully work on behalf of candidates for public office, join student associations, write for student publications and blogs, or participate in peaceful demonstrations. This is in addition to harsh prison sentences served in deplorable conditions in filthy and unsafe prisons often handed down to activists.
Sayed Ziaoddin (Zia) Nabavi is one of the many courageous Iranian student activists who we remember as he spends his 28th birthday behind bars on December 21.