Iranians Hadi Ghaemi and Parvin Ardalan say that Brazil´s position is critical to combatting human rights violations in the country.
23/02/2011By Natália Suzuki
Brazil and Iran are two geographically distant countries. Despite this, Hadi Ghaemi and Parvin Ardalan, Iranian human rights activists, say that Brazil´s stance at the UN is very important for them.
Ghaemi, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, is based in the United States. The journalist Parvin, one of the founders of the One Million Signatures Campaign, which seeks to collect a million signatures for the equality of rights of men and women, lives in Sweden. Today, they cannot return to their country of origin because of the government?s repression. There, they would be sentenced to years in prison or even the death penalty. The crime of which they would be accused would be their demands for rights like freedom of expression and association, gender equality and the abolition of the death penalty. The government would interpret this as "propaganda against national security". "We are not asking for anything extraordinary, but only that fundamental rights and universal values be respected", says the activist.
Since 2005, when Ahmadinejad won in the presidential elections, there has been a severe crisis in relation to human rights. In the last five years, the country executed more people than any other except China. According to Ghaemi´s organization, in 2010, this was 542 persons. In 2011, there were already 111. At least 24 human rights defenders are detained and the Iranian government has introduced measures that discriminate against women, such as a quota in places for women in the universities. The NGO Reporters without Borders considers the country the world´s biggest prison for journalists. Today, 37 professionals have been detained there.
Ghaemi says that Brazil is loved by Iranians for its music, literature and football. But the activist has come to meet with the Brazilian authorities for other reasons. This week, Ghaemi and Parvin have meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary for Human Rights and parliamentarians of the House of Representatives, in addition to NGOs, academics, and the Brazilian Bar Association (Organização de Advogados do Brasil - OAB).
The activist explains that Brazil has significant weight internationally. According to him, the way in which Brazil positions itself in the UN Human Rights Council is critical in order that the violations in Iran be, at least, the subject of discussion, as Brazil´s stance in the international area will influence the foreign policy of other Latin American countries. In the last 10 years, Brazilian foreign policy has privileged "cooperation", as it is defined by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, abstaining condemning the atrocities in Iran.
Parvin´s hope is in the cooperation and alliances between NGOs and human rights groups in Brazil and Iran. For her, Brazil could collaborate through a "vibrant and powerful" civil society that lives in a democracy which would permit it to freely express ourselves.
Hadi, Parvin and many other activists are counting on Brazil. They are counting that Brazil can influence their government so that one day they can return to a better country.
Parvin Ardalan (Irish Times) Hadi Ghaemi (personal file)
Below you can read the interview that they gave to Conectas: Conectas: How did you first make contact with Conectas? And how has this alliance been important for you and your cause? Hadi Ghaemi:
We first made contact with Conectas in Geneva through other human rights groups during the Universal Periodic Review of Iran in June of last year. This alliance with Conectas is very important for us. We are very happy to have this partnership, which is our bridge to Brazilian civil society. Parvin Ardalan:
Working as an independent activist is very difficult in Iran, because you have to show that you are not following American policy on Iran. We always have to struggle to show our independence the United States. For this reason, we need support human rights groups in independent countries. For me, it was really moving to know that there are people like me here. It is important to maintain connections with different NGOs, unions, women´s and human groups, especially in Brazil. HG:
Brazil is a leader among emerging countries and there is a strong connection between the two countries. Iran loves Brazil for its culture: music, literature and, of course, football. Paulo Coelho is very popular in Iran. Latin American literature, in general, was an important reference point in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. As Iranian writers were censored, they translated Latin American fiction on political repression and, in this way, educated Iranian youth about the situation in their own country. So, Latin American literature was very influential among dissidents. C: Conectas has monitored the votes of Brazil at the UN since 2005. How can this work assist collaboration with civil society in countries like Iran? HG:
These multilateral actions are very important. There is a serious problem in relation to human rights in Iran, and there is a total lack of cooperation with UN mechanisms; the country has not permitted a single monitoring procedure, such as those carried out by special rapporteurs, since 2005, when Ahmadinejad came to power. No organization - like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch - or independent observer has permission to work in the country. Local communities are also under attack: their leaders and their lawyers are in prison and they are closed down, as happened with Shirin Ebadi and Parvin Ardalan´s groups. For this reason, the voice of the UN is really essential. (The government of) Iran insists on saying that any protest in favor of human rights is incited by Western countries in Europe and by the United States, but this is not the reality. If countries like Brazil vote "yes" (for the resolution that will be presented at the next session of the Human Rights Council, in March, with the objective of creating a special rapporteur for Iran) at the UN - which represents all countries - they will not be able to say this, it would be hypocritical.
Human rights are not a western value, but rather are universal. We are all struggling for human rights in our own countries; Europe and the United States are merely one part of all this. We try to support each other and are trying to get other countries like Brazil, Indian and South Africa to help others like Iran. PA:
Countries like Brazil are very important because they influence others in an independent way. The victory of Dilma for the presidency was good news for us. The position of Brazil at the UN is important, as is the connection with Brazilian civil society. C: How can the position of Brazil at the UN help to fight human rights violations in countries like Iran? HG:
We are very disappointed with the abstention of Brazil in November of last year in supporting the revolution in Iran. We hope that this will change with the Dilma government; if it does not the Brazilian government would also be hypocritical and would be politicizing the issue. C: What are your expectations in relation to the visit to Brazil? PA:
I believe that we need to create a good connection between Brazilian and Iranian NGOs and unions. I hope to be able to educate Brazilians about issues related to human rights, the rights of women and of workers in Iran in the meetings that we will have. For us, it is important to have a special rapporteur on Iran and Brazil has an important role in this context. We need to continue this connection, and carry out similar activities. HG:
We hope to have an assurance that Brazil will vote "yes", will co-sponsor the resolution in Geneva, and will lead other Latin American countries. We hope that they will tell the Iranian government to change its position on prisoners of conscience and, in this way, will make the government of Iran understand that there is strong pressure opposing violations in the country and that these are not acceptable to Brazil. Brazil must be very open with the Iranian government on this issue; silence will not be acceptable. C: What makes you think that President Dilma can change the orientation of Brazilian foreign policy?HG:
Iranians are hoping for a transformation in relation to fundamental rights and Brazil can take on a critical and constructive role more than any other country at the moment. Dilma can create a transition the Lula government: she is a woman and in Iran the women´s movement is one of the most important; she was tortured, imprisoned and, for this reason, we hope that she will understand our call for fundamental rights. . . PA:
...and the demands of local social movements in Iran. C: Tell us about the action for International Women´s Day, the 8th of March. PA:
Iranians hope that women´s groups around the world, especially in Brazil, will unite in solidarity with women in the Middle East in order to ensure that transitions and transformation occur in these countries, including Iran. We don?t accept that they should lose their rights and hope that they will no longer be victims of repression. It would be a form of international solidarity to achieve their objectives.
The demands of women in Iran are simple, they are about equal rights, they are fundamental demands that should be integrated into the Constitution and related to laws related to the family, inheritance, marriage, the age of marriage, and the age of criminal responsibility. To illustrate (gender inequality), the testimony of a women is worth half of that of a man in a tribunal (Today, in Iran the testimony of a man is worth the testimony of two women). A girl can be married at the age of 9 and can also be held criminally liable as an adult at this age, including being condemned to the death penalty. For boys the age of criminal responsibility is 15 years, according to the law. My lawyer is in prison now; she was sentenced to 11 years in prison for her activities in favor of human rights. HG:
If we were in an accident together, she and I, she would only receive half of the compensation that I would because she is a woman. What we are asking for Iran is support for human dignity, it is not ideological.
Biography of activists
Hadi Ghaemi is the Executive Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, created in 2008. He lives in the United States. The campaign has become one of the organizations responsible for leading in the elaboration of reports and documentation of violations of human rights violations in Iran and for creation international coalitions in defense of the rights of human rights defenders in Iran. In 2004, Ghaemi joined Human Rights Watch as a researcher on Iran and the United Arab Emirate in the Middle East and North Africa division. His work with Human Rights Watch drew international attention to the rights of migrant workers in Dubai, as well as the repression of civil society in Iran. After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 he became a member of the first UN commission to undertake a mission n the ground to investigate the situation of human rights in the country. Between 2001 and 2004, he worked with NGOs focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan. Born in Iran, Ghaemi travelled to the United States as a student and completed his doctorate in physics at Boston University in 1994. Until 2000, he was a professor of physics at New York University.
Parvin Ardalan, in addition to being a writer and a journalist, is one of the most dedicated activists in the women´s rights movement in Iran. She lives in Sweden. She is one of the founders of the One Million Signatures Campaign, which seeks to collect one million signatures for the equality of men and women in Iran. Activists in the campaign went door to door speaking to women in parks and beauty salons on how the law affected their lives and how it was possible to fight for change. As part of the campaign, Ardanlan participated in protests which were violently silenced. In the 90s, Ardalan was co-founder of the Women's Cultural Centre (Markaz-e Farhangi-ye Zanan), which was a center of opinion making, analysis and documentation on questions involving women in Iran. Between 2002 and 2004, the organization published a feminist magazine online (Iranian Feminist Tribune) and, 2005, the first online magazine on women´s rights called Zanestan, in which Ardalan worked as editor. Both were closed by the government. Ardalan articulated important demands of the democracy movement, like the right to education, the rights to freedom of exression and the right to fight for civil rights. In 2007, she was awarded the Olof Palme prize for her work for the equality of rights of men and women; in 2010 she received the Hellman Hamett prize for her action in the field of human rights.
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