International Law – Law is Cool The law school blog and podcast from Canada Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:10:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 1338880 Living Under Drones: New Study Finds Drones Miss their Mark Tue, 25 Sep 2012 21:57:16 +0000

A new study out of New York University and Stanford University has questioned the efficacy of military drone strikes. The authors make 3 main points:

  1. First, while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians.
  2. Second, US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted-for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury.
  3. Third, publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best.
  4. Fourth, current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents.

The study finds that drones have a marked effect on civilian behaviour:

Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.

The findings can be found in depth on a dedicated website, Living Under Drones. The complete report is available here.

On Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 Campaign Thu, 15 Mar 2012 12:39:22 +0000 If there was a prize for the NGO who best commodifies white man’s burden on the African continent, and more specifically in Uganda, Invisible Children would win.They recently struck again with a new video and campaign titled “Kony 2012.” I was surprised to see it popping up everywhere on my Facebook feedback yesterday: clearly, their social media tactics are to be admired. Their underlying message – which is, of course, more important – is not to be.

I think it would be useful for persons unfamiliar with the issues featured in the movie and with the difficulties of poverty porn messaging to read up on some past blogs about Invisible Children before sharing this film. A friend has circulated a list of links providing critique from bright and well-qualified individuals speaking on these issues:

Wronging Rights is headed by two human rights lawyers who, for many years, have been on top of the development and humanitarian aid debate, as well as international justice. A few thoughts on the previous Invisible Children “Abduct Yourself” campaign from their blog:

First, organizations like Invisible Children not only take up resources that could be used to fund more intelligent advocacy, they take up rhetorical space that could be used todevelop more intelligent advocacy. And yeah, this may seem like an absurdly academic point to raise when talking about a problem that is clearly crying out for pragmatic solutions, but, uh, the way we define problems is important. Really, really important. Choosing to simplistically define Congolese women as “The Raped” and Ugandan children as “The Abducted” constrains our ability to think creatively about the problems they face, and work with them to combat these problems.

Second, treating their problems as one-dimensional issues that can be solved by a handful of plucky college students armed only with the strength of their convictions and a video camera doesn’t help anyone. These gets back to something very simple and very smart that Alanna Shaikh wrote a few months ago: “Bad development work is based on the idea that poor people have nothing. Something is better than nothing, right? So anything you give these poor people will be better than what they had before.”

Over on Texas in Africa, the blog has previously hosted two students who have provided some additional thoughts on Invisible Children. The students made a good faith effort to get in contact with Invisible Children and get both sides of the story on their former abduction campaign:

This is a symptom of the larger problem at hand. Not only does IC fail to base its decisions on what Ugandans think is best for them, the organization also make efforts to explain away any dissent. IC has become a brand with machine guns and cameras as its apparent logo and celebrity filmmakers as the protagonists against the evil LRA. The war is no longer about the people versus the LRA; it has transformed itself into something far too sensationalized and, at times, seemingly insincere. Poole, Russell, and Bailey v. Kony.

… And this is why we are as concerned as we are. IC has great potential and opportunity to do good. The organization has successfully motivated masses of young people to be globally and politically active. Advocacy, however, does not end at trendy t-shirts and cool graphics.

While I could reiterate what bad advocacy looks like and why we do not want nor need it, Texas in Africa has provided a thoughtful list of issues to consider as well. There is little I could add to it and I strongly suggest you read the whole post here.

Unmuted has also posted an excellent critique of this new video. An extract:

The dis-empowering and reductive narrative: the Invisible Children narrative on Uganda is one that paints the people as victims, lacking agency, voice, will, or power. It calls upon an external cadre of American students to liberate them by removing the bad guy who is causing their suffering. Well, this is a misrepresentation of the reality on the ground. Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of child and youth advocates who have been fighting to address the very issues at the heart of IC’s work. Want evidence? In addition to the organizations I list above, also look at Art for ChildrenFriends of Orphans, andChildren Chance International. It doesn’t quiet match the victim narrative, does it? I understand that IC is a US-based organization working to change US policy. But, it doesn’t absolve it from the responsibility of telling a more complete story, one that shows the challenges and trials along side the strength, resilience, and transformational work of affected communities.

Revival of the White savior: if you have watched the Invisible Children video and followed the organization’s work in the past, you will note a certain messianic/savior undertone to it all. “I will do anything I can to stop him,” declares the founder in the video. It’s quite individualistic and reeks of the dated colonial views of Africa and Africans as helpless beings who need to be saved and civilized. Where in that video do you see the agency of Ugandans? Where in that Video do you see Jacob open his eyes wide at the mere possibility of his own strength, as Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters describes here? Can we point out the problem with having one child speak on the desires, dreams, and hopes of a whole nation? I don’t even want to mention the paternalistic tone with which Jacob and Uganda (when did it become part of central Africa by the way?) are described, not excluding the condescending use of subtitles for someone who is clearly speaking English.

Finally, a few words of my own. My impression is that the movie is being used as means for Invisible Children to (i) stay relevant and (ii) raise more funding. Capturing Kony and the focus on international justice is a good excuse. Regardless of this opinion, running campaigns to raise awareness is not necessarily damning in itself (and, indeed, in many cases should be commended). Rather, as all the writers above suggest, the manner in which it is done is very important. A few comments on this new video.

The issue with social media is really highlighted by Invisible Children. The number of “likes” on your Facebook page is not necessarily related to the quality of information you share. Social media allows making anything viral, quickly. People often do not look into the substance of the message, or even watch the video you are sending. Once you become a brand, you can do anything. Invisible Children has successfully become a brand, but is sharing information that is far from nuanced and based on emotional reactions. It fails to paint the full picture. In addition to what Unmutedand others have said, I’d like to add the following thoughts:

My main concern is that Gulu – and Uganda – has gone through some incredible changes. The economy is booming. The region is re-stabilizing. While Kony’s men continue to kill, rape and slaughter elsewhere, Gulu is not a static, unchanging place. Neither is Uganda, neither is the continent. Portraying a region like Gulu as such, and sending the mass message that the whole continent reflects this, is damaging. It undermines possibilities of investment. It clouds story of entrepreneurship, success and innovation. This goes hand in hand with saying “I work in Africa.” Lumping the continent as one messy area.

When it comes to the ICC indictment of Kony, the film clip fails to consider the difficulties that such an international indictment can have and what alternative effects an offer like amnesty might have had. There have been major debates about the peace versus justice debate (an interesting and recent reflection on this is available here), which not only have an impact on how we conceive of the Kony indictment, but also of the ICC as an institution. When it comes to supporting American troops in Uganda, it fails to consider the wider systemic problems that are likely contributing to a failure to arrest Kony and which have little to do with whether the US sends a few soldiers abroad or not. Surely Invisible Children’s audience is not so simplistic that being presented with these critical questions would kill their messaging? I think Musa Okwonga, writing in the Independent, highlights the tension between the need to draw attention to these issues, while using sophisticated techniques:

I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism.  I will admit to being perturbed by its apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots.  On the other hand, I am very happy – relieved, more than anything – that Invisible Children have raised worldwide awareness of this issue.  Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity, and if not that then respectability: that way, they can go about their work largely unhindered.  For too many years, the subject of this trending topic on Twitter was only something that I heard about in my grandparents’ living room, as relatives and family friends gathered for fruitless and frustrated hours of discussion. Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken.

The thing is that Joseph Kony has been doing this for a very, very, very long time.  He emerged about a quarter of a century, which is about the same time that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni came to power.  As a result the fates of these two leaders must, I think, be viewed together.  Yet, though President Museveni must be integral to any solution to this problem, I didn’t hear him mentioned once in the 30-minute video.  I thought that this was a crucial omission. Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora.  It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.

About ten minutes into the video, the narrator asks his young son who “the bad guy” in Uganda is; when his young son hesitates, he informs him that Joseph Kony is the bad guy.  In a sense, he let Kony off lightly: he is a monster.  But what the narrator also failed to do was mention to his son that when a bad guy like Kony is running riot for years on end, raping and slashing and seizing and shooting, then there is most likely another host of bad guys out there letting him get on with it.  He probably should have told him that, too.

There is another aspect about this particular video and campaign that I, and others, find disturbing. Invisible Children says it will be targeting “culture makers.” Not one of these individuals have significant, vested interests in the African continent (let alone Uganda). Not one person is from Uganda or the wider region. Encouraging a diversity of voices, and providing a platform for new African leaders – whether political, economic, or social – would help highlight that the continent is not just Kony, war and rape and would provide a valuable, wider messaging. The bottom line with poverty porn messaging is that it paints leaders who are struggling in their communities to tackle these problems as hopeless and useless. Keep the American “culture makers,” but why not also provide Ugandan leaders with a platform from which to speak?

In closing, I think the ‘we must start somewhere’ and the ‘better than nothing’ arguments are really tricky. The thing with Invisible Children is that they are not just starting from nowhere and they aren’t just doing nothing. They affect a huge contingent of people around the world. Through extensive fundraising, they have incredible resources. They have a strong foundation and could present a more nuanced and respectful campaign if they wanted to. With that said, I guess I think it is a shame that, after all this time and with their experience, they (i) believe their listeners do not want more answers to the complicated questions and (ii) that they have not considered including and uplifting leaders from the communities which they talk about who could provide a more honest and in-depth picture.

Regardless, I’d like to thank Invisible Children for giving us yet another opportunity to discuss how destructive bad advocacy can be. Here’s an opportunity to challenge ourselves, particularly those who work in development and aid communication, to try and collectively brainstorm how we can generate important stories and campaigns, while sending messages that are empowering, accurate and thought-provoking. It is also an opportunity for each of us to personally dig a bit deeper into the challenge of Kony and the LRA and become more familiar with these issues in a respectful way.

My first suggestion would be to start listening and engaging with the following individuals:

For more see Siena’s personal site.

Review of Dennis Edney’s Lecture, “The Rule of Law in an Age of Terror” Fri, 23 Sep 2011 21:10:52 +0000 “Human rights have a dysfunctional relationship with justice. The language is certainly beautiful, but it’s all dressed up with nowhere to go,” charged Dennis Edney in a scathing lecture at the Faculty of Law at UBC on September 15.

Edney worked from 2004 to 2011 on Omar Khadr’s defence against charges stemming from the July 2002 firefight death of a US soldier. Khadr, who is Canadian, was 15 at the time. American forces interrogated him for three months in the US-operated Bagram Theatre Detention Facility in Afghanistan, before transferring him to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains. In 2005, Khadr’s chief interrogator from Bagram, US Sergeant Joshua Claus, was found guilty of offences relating to the routine torture and homicide of Bagram prisoners. Claus received a five-month prison sentence. He testified at Khadr’s military trial in 2010.

In April 2009, the Federal Court ruled that Canada was complicit in the US’s torture of Khadr and ordered Ottawa to seek his repatriation. The Federal Court of Appeal concurred, but the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that though Canada was violating Khadr’s human rights, it was not obliged to seek his repatriation.

In October 2010, after insisting on his innocence for years, Khadr pled guilty in a military trial to terrorism-related offences, in exchange for a promise from Canada to repatriate him by October 2011 to serve the rest of his prison sentence in Canada. On September 20, the Conservatives tabled the controversial omnibus Bill C-10, which adds “additional criteria” to decisions about “whether or not to allow the transfer of a Canadian offender back to Canada to serve their sentence.”

Shortly after the trial, Edney declared that Khadr “would have confessed to anything, including the killing of John F. Kennedy, just to get out of this hellhole” and that if he had refused, Khadr would have been faced with “an unfair [military] trial based on evidence that would be inadmissible in a real court.” On Thursday, Edney said the detainees are entitled “to all kinds of international protections, but our governments are not asking for them. And by not asking, we become complicit.” There are nearly 800 prisoners in Guantanamo, but only 4 have been charged and given a trial. Detainees cannot see the evidence used against them.

In his lecture, Edney denounced the Canadian government for perpetuating a culture of fear in the camp’s defence. Edney stated that “since there has always historically been terrorism, and since there will always be terrorist threats, this war on terror – if allowed to be one – is unlike any other, because it is never-ending.” Thus, last decade has been marred by “habeas corpus being abandoned, secret courts being created to hear secret evidence, guilt inferred by association, torture and rendition nakedly justified.”

“I went into Guantanamo Bay as a lawyer and I came out as a broken father,” said Edney. “I never thought that in my lifetime I would go to such an evil place and see such evil being done.” Of the infamous cages, Edney said that “people go into those cages thinking they’re having a holiday in there.” He drew attention to Camps 5, 6, and 7. The first two are “designed for enhanced interrogation tactics: torture.” He said about Camp 7 that “We are not allowed to talk about it. We have prisoners in there who came from Europe, about a year and a half ago, and they’re going to be there forever, because there’s no one there to help.”

Edney discussed the 9/11 witch hunt, in which “the US government detained hundreds, if not thousands, of people of colour on the suspicion of terrorist activity, some of them up to a year, all without charges.” He continued that “almost none of those individuals were found to have been in any way connected with terrorism. Yet many continue to be held without being formally charged with any crime or immigration violation.” In this way Guantanamo “provides powerful evidence of how America and the West are making war on terror synonymous with the war on Islam. No white Anglo-Saxon goes to Guantanamo Bay. Any American picked up for terrorism offences gets due process in a federal court system in New York.”

One audience member suggested that the camp must serve some purpose, because otherwise US President Barrack Obama would have followed through on his promise to shut it down. Edney responded that the camp primarily functions as “an important propaganda tool.” He argued the Obama administration has in fact “systematised” the culture of torture normalised under George W. Bush, for instance by disallowing victims of extraordinary rendition from suing Washington for torture suffered overseas.

Edney was also critical of “lazy” media and academics who have persisted in “slotting events into a sort of juicy clash of civilisations story,” as exemplified by mainstream media coverage of Anders Behring Breivik’s terrorist attack in Oslo. He killed 69 people in July, avowedly to protect Europe from Muslims. Edney said, “as soon as the bomb went off, media organisations began reporting on jihadist organisations.” This, he said, “fit perfectly the story we have all been telling each other since 9/11 that who else, who else could be so hateful, so crazy, so disrespectful of life but Muslims.” He pointed out that though Breivik is a white Norwegian Christian, “we don’t hold Christians or conservatives or liberals responsible for Brievek’s despicable acts.”

He said that “since September 11 2001, race, ethnicity, and religion have become proxies for suspected terrorist activity, which in turn has become a pretext for the application of Canadian immigration laws in an unequal manner towards Arabs, South Asians, Muslims and so on.” In an apparent nod to Bill C-4, the anti-refugee bill that the Conservatives tabled on Tuesday despite widespread condemnation, he noted that “we just have to listen to media descriptions coming out of Ottawa when we talk about refugees today. We call them queue jumpers and potential terrorists.”

Edney also expressed anger at the public’s willingness to be lulled into complicity. He described the transfer of the prisoners to Guantanamo “in rows in aircraft, hooded and shackled for transportation across the Atlantic” as similar to eighteenth century slave ships. He maintained that for “the watching world, no knowledge of international humanitarian conventions is needed to understand that what was being witnessed was simply unlawful.” He blamed public apathy for “allowing anti-Muslim sentiment to become part of our mainstream conversations.” He said, “I say to you we cannot tackle manifestations of intolerance, unless we learn and understand how the constant use of fear pervades our everyday life, and how that fear is being used to influence how you and I think and how you and I act. It’s that same manipulation of fear that has allowed military escapades into countries beyond those who bombed the twin towers. It is that same message that has been exploited by participating countries to reduce civil liberties and infringe upon human rights by allowing such places as Guantanamo Bay to exist.”

The need for action had been a prevailing theme throughout the lecture. Edney returned to it at his lecture’s close: “Not only does it [Guantanamo] continue to exist, they continue building it. Guantanamo is going to be there for a long, long time, unless you do something. Unless you really do something about it.” He concluded that “the only crime equal to wilful inhumanity is the crime of indifference, the crime of silence, the crime of forgetting.”

In that vein, we cannot afford to forget that Guantanamo Bay’s precedents in the West include Canada’s own internment camps, built in BC expressly to detain Japanese-Canadians during WWII. Similarly, Bill C-4’s predecessors include the Chinese head-tax policy.

Credit rating agencies as courts of international finance Mon, 01 Aug 2011 02:15:58 +0000 As I am writing this, President Obama announced a deal to avoid default on US government debt. If lawyers think in terms of courts, then what would be the legal consequences of the US default? While the legal issues of government’s failure to pay its debt to domestic lenders are unique and complex, the default in respect of foreign nation-state lenders such as China is probably even more interesting. There are no courts of international jurisdiction that can declare the US bankrupt, administer its assets, or enforce their judgment. The US is an independent country subject no one’s will despite the international law. But since the international law is a legal system, there must be some consequences for the US. One such factor is international rating agencies. You could hardly hear about the debt crisis in the US without learning that its excellent credit rating would likely suffer as a result. Apparently, private international rating agencies are filling some of the void in the international legal system that courts usually occupy within nation-states.

The three most important international credit rating agencies are Standard & Poor’s (S&P), Moody’s, and Fitch Group. S&P and Moody’s are American, and Fitch Group is controlled by a French corporation.

The biggest difference between credit rating agencies and courts is that rating agencies do not adjudicate disputes. But under the surface this difference is not so important. We can view events affecting credit ratings as disputes between the debtor and the lending community. Such events include defaults, budget deficits, and so on. The lending community wants some objective basis, for example, to charge a different interest rate as a result of one of the events above. And the debtor government wants to minimize its borrowing cost. Often these interests would come into conflict giving rise to the need for a third party to establish an objective basis for new lending terms. It sounds awfully like adjudication.

In theory, credit ratings are such independent, impartial, and objective assessments of the most optimal relationship between lenders and a borrower in accordance with generally accepted rules. Credit ratings basically result from applications of such rules and principles to a given debtor.

In practice, credit agencies are hardly accountable to anyone. They are for-profit, private organizations whose decisions are final and are not subject to review. The ratings’ impact is fast and powerful, and it usually directly affects interest rates available to the borrower. There is a good overview of other criticism of rating agencies on Wikipedia.

When countries, which desire to keep as much of their independence as possible, fail to establish formal and binding international governance and adjudication bodies, private organizations fill the legal void. It’s not necessarily a bad or a good thing, but it’s important to recognize the legal and enforcement role that these organizations play. Their existence also supports the view that international law exists.

Pulat Yunusov is a Toronto litigation lawyer.


(Post sponsored by AdviceScene)


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EU Arms Exports to Libya Thu, 03 Mar 2011 03:53:34 +0000

Complete table data here.

Seumas Milne:

The “responsibility to protect” invoked by those demanding intervention in Libya is applied so selectively that the word hypocrisy doesn’t do it justice. And the idea that states which are themselves responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in illegal wars, occupations and interventions in the last decade, along with mass imprisonment without trial, torture and kidnapping, should be authorised by international institutions to prevent killings in other countries is simply preposterous. The barefaced cheek of William Hague’s insistence that there would be a “day of reckoning” for the Libyan regime if it committed crimes or atrocities took some beating.

The reality is that the western powers which have backed authoritarian kleptocrats across the Middle East for decades now face a loss of power in the most strategically sensitive region of the world as a result of the Arab uprisings and the prospect of representative governments. They are evidently determined to appropriate the revolutionary process wherever possible, limiting it to cosmetic change that allows continued control of the region.

Show Me Ghadafi’s Money Wed, 02 Mar 2011 18:49:30 +0000 Where is Gadhafi’s money?

See Slate on whether the U.S. can now spend this money any way they want.

Free Internet to Citizens of Oppressed Nations: Genuine Interest in Democracy or Attempts to Monopolize Information? Sat, 08 Jan 2011 18:21:31 +0000 Uncle Sam has $30M to bypass Chinese, Iranian ‘Net filters

By Nate Anderson

Need to get around a Chinese government firewall? Burning to smuggle your samizdat writings past Iranian Internet censorship? Hoping to blog with impunity in Burma? Uncle Sam wants to help. The US government has a $30 million pot of money to spend on “Internet freedom” programs around the world, and it’s not afraid to make a few enemies.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year gave a major speech on Internet freedom and the new “Information Curtain” of censorship that has fallen in some parts of the world. In that speech, she said that State would support development of tools that can bypass Internet censorship. She also outlined a program in which State would fund mobile phone apps that allow people to rate government ministries on responsiveness and efficiency and that can ferret out corruption through crowdsourcing. The hardware is already in the wild, she said; all what’s needed is some money to make it worth developers’ time.
This year, State has $30 million for such projects, and it’s asking interested parties to apply for the cash. Top on its list of wants: “counter-censorship technology” that can bypass firewalls and filters. Such tools may be general (like Tor) or can be specific to individual governments. China and Iran can probably look forward to some US-funded encryption and circumvention tools coming their way in the near future.
The grants will focus on “East Asia, including China and Burma; the Near East, including Iran; Southeast Asia; the South Caucasus; Eurasia, including Russia; Central Asia; Latin America, including Cuba and Venezuela; and Africa.” North America and Western Europe get a pass.
In addition to circumvention tools, State wants to fund secure mobile communications tech that can make mobile phone usage safer. The government will also help nonprofits and digital activists build communication platforms, and it wants to establish “virtual open Internet centers” that exist outside of closed countries and provide a spot to post and archive censored content.
If you’re part of a nonprofit or a university (and are not an affiliate of a “designated terrorist organization”), you have a month to submit an online statement of interest.



Interesting comment by a reader:
“govt, doesnt give anything away to anyone (except themselves and their filthy bosses).

it smells like a trick to start the censorship and as usual in the name of democracy.
I had heard many years ago that they are planning to introduce the Internet 2 and shut this one down.

in any case the problem in USA and the West is Not the censorship the problem is Monopoly on info!
the rest of the world gets its info from this monopolized source!”

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Excerpts from Open Letter to the Head of Judiciary: the Islamic Republic of Iran re the imprisonment of 7 Iranian Baha’is on baseless and unproved charges and other human rights violations of followers of Iran’s largest religious minority Fri, 10 Dec 2010 21:52:27 +0000 7 December 2010





866UnitedNationsPlaza, Suite120, NewYork, NY10017USA

Telephone: 212-803-2500, Fax: 212-803-2566, Email:

Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq Larijani

Head of the Judiciary

Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Honor,

You are undoubtedly aware of the outcome of the trial and the subsequent appeal of Mrs. Fariba Kamalabadi, Mr. Jamaloddin Khanjani, Mr. Afif Naimi, Mr. Saeid Rezaie, Mrs. Mahvash Sabet, Mr. Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Mr. Vahid Tizfahm—the seven individuals who before their arrest were responsible, as the members of the group known as the Yaran, for administering the social and spiritual affairs of the Bahá’í community in Iran…

Alongside their professional pursuits and family duties, they have rendered, on a purely voluntary basis, distinguished service to the people of that land, as, for example, in the advancement of women, in the promotion of literacy among the country’s general population, and in the provision of the means of education for the thousands of Bahá’í youth who have been denied admission to Iranian universities since the inception of the Islamic Revolution.

Convinced that they had committed no wrong, and as there existed no proof whatsoever to support the accusations leveled against them, they had every hope that the judicial proceedings would exonerate them.  Sadly, however, their hopes have thus far been frustrated, and the treatment they have received has unjustly violated every legal norm and every standard of fairness and equity.  As history bears witness, whenever innocent citizens are brought before show trials, it is the judicial system itself and those who wield authority within it that are on trial before the public gaze.  The case of these seven individuals, which from the outset has been watched with growing interest by Iranians and non-Iranians alike, has been marked by such egregious violations of the law at every turn as to call into question the adherence to the principle of justice by a system that claims to uphold Islamic values.

The blatant injustice of a sentence to ten years’ imprisonment handed down to such honest and law-abiding citizens impels us, as the representatives at the United Nations of one hundred and eighty-six national Bahá’í communities, to ask you to rectify this grave failure and accord the defendants the justice they have been denied…

The officials of the Ministry of Intelligence, resorting to many reprehensible measures—illegal detention, denial of proper access to legal representation, interrogation methods that contravene standards of civilized behavior and aim to extract false confessions—all of which transgress even the current law of the land, exerted every effort to build a case against them.

Despite this, the prosecutors were ultimately unable to present any credible evidence in support of their claims.  Instead, what was exposed was the nefarious schemes of certain officials, as well as the inhumane conduct and sinister motives of the interrogators…

The trial itself was so devoid of the impartiality that must characterize judicial proceedings as to render the process a complete mockery.  The defendants, certain of their own innocence and having nothing to hide, had asked for an open hearing.  What then, one might ask, was the reason for the judge to have declared the proceedings to be “open and public” and yet refuse requests for attendance from observers, including representatives of diplomatic missions?  Why was it made so difficult for the families of the defendants to attend the trial? Why were journalists excluded, while government cameramen were allowed an active presence?  What was the reason for permitting the menacing presence of the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence throughout the trial?  How was it that the verdict issued by the judges could refer to the religion of the defendants as a “misguided sect”?  Is this not a clear sign that the court has violated the legal principle of neutrality?  The obvious conclusion is that such actions have been motivated by blind prejudice and hatred against the Bahá’í community for its religious beliefs.  How can a just society, or a just world, be built on a foundation of irrational oppression and the systematic denial of basic human rights to any minority?  Everything your country overtly professes to seek on the world stage is contradicted by your treatment of your own people at home.

The 12 September 2010 ruling issued by the court of appeal overturned the verdict of the lower court in relation to the charges of espionage, collaboration with the State of Israel, and provision of classified documents to foreign nationals with the intention of undermining state security.  The lower court itself had already found the defendants not guilty of the charge of “tarnishing the reputation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the international arena” and of “spreading corruption on earth”.  What remained of the case, therefore, were those charges that pertained to the activities undertaken by these seven individuals in administering the social and spiritual affairs of the Iranian Bahá’í community.  Meanwhile, the judges, well aware that there were no grounds whatsoever for the charge of acting against the interests of Iran and its citizens, were under pressure from officials bent upon a finding of guilt.  Consequently, the judiciary chose in essence to distort and present as illegal the religious beliefs of the defendants and their service to the Bahá’í community—a selfless service which their fellow Iranian Bahá’ís warmly acknowledged and appreciated.  Thus, the seven were each sentenced to ten years in prison.  This sentence has been strongly denounced not only by the defendants themselves, their families, and the Bahá’í International Community but by advocates of justice in Iran and the world over.

Given that for the past twenty years the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been fully aware of the work of these individuals in managing the affairs of the Bahá’í community, to accuse them now of illegal activities is as baseless and unjust as it is inexplicable.  Our open letter dated 4 March 2009 to the Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic of Iran established in detail the spurious character of the charges leveled against the Yaran and we commend it to your attention.  An unbiased reading of that letter will confirm that there are no grounds whatsoever on which the Islamic Republic could assert that the Bahá’ís of Iran, including these seven individuals, represent the least threat to public order or to the common weal in that land.

There is not a shred of evidence to support the accusation that these Bahá’ís were seeking to compromise national security, participating in subversive activities, or engaging in propaganda against the regime, charges which the defendants themselves have categorically denied.  Such accusations are entirely inconsistent with the outstanding record of the Bahá’ís in Iran and around the world, who regard service to one’s homeland and to humankind as an inescapable moral obligation.  Nor do they accord in any way with the Bahá’í teachings, which assert that “in every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty, and truthfulness.”  The approach adopted by the judiciary and the accusations leveled against these individuals constitute again a patent violation of the freedom of conscience and belief of Iranian citizens, and are a brazen contravention of Article 14 of the Iranian Constitution, which stipulates:  “In accordance with the sacred verse, ‘God doth not forbid you to deal with kindness and fairness towards those who have not made war upon you on account of your religion, or driven you forth from your homes’ [60:8], the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and all Muslims are duty-bound to treat non-Muslims kindly and in accordance with the principles of Islamic justice and equity, and to respect their human rights.”

Now in their third year of what is shamelessly still termed a “temporary” detention, these seven prisoners have been subjected to every manner of indignity and violation of their fundamental rights.  Their high resolve and their gracious character amidst the hardships they have been made to endure stand in sharp contrast to the brutality of their oppressors and attest their forbearance and purity of motive.  This is a truth to which the noble people of Iran can now bear witness.  The accounts we have received indicate that fellow inmates admire their conduct and demeanor, see them as beacons of hope and sources of consolation and comfort, seek strength from their wisdom, and regard them as the symbols of the free spirit and sincere heart that are characteristics of the people of Iran.

Your honor, we ask you, what purpose is served by seeking to extinguish such moral attributes and spiritual qualities?  Are such acts of oppression faithful to the high principles extolled by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him)?  In Gohardasht Prison, there are surely other innocent inmates.  How can you allow any soul to be subjected to that prison’s appalling state of filth, pestilence, disease, and the privation of facilities for basic personal hygiene?  Such an odious and degrading environment is unworthy of even the most dangerous criminals.  Does the government of Iran believe the principles of Islamic compassion and justice to be consistent with the imposition of such conditions on citizens?  Why are the prisoners’ pressing needs for medical care and treatment ignored?  Who will be called to account if the health of any of these seven further deteriorates?  Why are these innocent individuals not given adequate food, and why are they confined to prison cells of such insufficient space as to make it difficult for them to lie down or even to perform their daily prayers?  Why has the judiciary callously deprived them of their right to compassionate leave?

Are not all of these privations intended to break their spirits and those of the other Bahá’ís of Iran?  Consider how the members of the Bahá’í community are continually forced to withstand the slander of their beliefs and the distortion of their history in government-supported mass media; to endure provocations in the streets, from the pulpits, and with the support of certain officials, that incite hatred against them; to suffer illegal imprisonment; to see themselves denied access to higher education and to the means of earning a livelihood; to have their children suffer abuse and vilification in schools; and to witness their properties destroyed and their cemeteries desecrated with the support and approval of government authorities.  Yet, what results have such efforts yielded?  The response of the Bahá’ís of Iran to the persecution they have suffered in recent decades has made them, in the eyes of the Iranian population, embodiments of unyielding attachment to spiritual principle and of constructive resistance to oppression.  What is more, it has brought about a heightened desire among that population to become acquainted with the verities of their Faith…

The Bahá’ís are not “others” in your country:  they are an inseparable part of the Iranian nation.  The injustices meted out to them are a reflection of the terrible oppression that has engulfed the nation.  Your respect now for the rights of the Iranian Bahá’ís would signal a willingness to respect the rights of all the citizens of your country.  Redressing the wrongs suffered by the Bahá’ís would bring hope to the hearts of all Iranians that you are ready to ensure justice for everyone.  Our call, then, is in reality a call for respect of the rights of all the Iranian people.

With our hearts filled with love for Iran and our earnest hopes for the exaltation and glory of that land, we urge you, in your capacity as the Head of the Judiciary, to release the former members of the Yaran from prison and, along with them, all the Bahá’ís who are incarcerated across the country.  These include Miss Haleh Rouhi, Miss Raha Sabet, and Mr. Sasan Taqva, the three young Bahá’ís who have now entered the fourth year of imprisonment in Shiraz for the crime of helping impoverished children to learn how to read and write.  We likewise request that the Bahá’ís in that country be granted their full rights of citizenship, in order that they may be able to fulfill their heartfelt aspiration to contribute, alongside their fellow citizens, to the advancement of their nation.  This, indeed, is no more than what you rightfully ask for Muslim minorities who reside in other lands.  Bahá’ís merely seek the same treatment from you.


Bahá’í International Community

cc: Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations

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Azar Nafisi, New York Times Best Seller Author Discusses Baha’is’ Human Rights Violations in Iran Wed, 08 Dec 2010 06:15:03 +0000 Azar Nafisi is the author of the New York Times 117-week bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran. In this video she discusses the widespread violations of Baha’is’ human rights in Iran as well as her personal experience with Baha’is in light of the baseless accusations that they bear. Ms. Nafisi is not a Baha’i.

click here for the video

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Political Prisoner in Iran – A letter to the supreme leader Tue, 23 Nov 2010 21:20:04 +0000 Mr. Ali Khamenei,

I am a first year law student in a Canadian Law School.  I lived in Iran until the age of thirteen.  My family and I immigrated to Canada in 1997 because of the lack of freedom of expression in Iran.  As immigrants, we were not always treated well and we suffered discrimination and were pushed back to work within our own small Iranian community in Toronto.  We loved Iran but actions by some Iranians have embarrassed our people at an international level.  In this letter, I will explain to you how I have personally suffered as a result of these actions.  If you and I, as Iranians do not treat each other well, how can we expect the international community to truly and genuinely respect our people?

One of the latest actions that bring disrepute to all Iranians all over the world is in regards to Blogger Hossein Derakhshan, 35, a dual Canadian-Iranian national.  He has been unfairly tried and sentenced on 28 September 2010 to 19 and a half years’ imprisonment on vaguely worded charges relating to national security. He was detained without charge for about 19 months prior to trial and denied regular access to his family and lawyer. Amnesty International believes he is likely held solely for the peaceful expression of his views, and if so should be immediately and unconditionally released.   

I have personally seen that in Europe, the situation is even worse for Iranians.  In addition, videos of Iranian refugees in places like Greece and Australia speak to the failure of our 1979 revolution.  In my opinion, you and your government are partly responsible for ensuring the well-being of all Iranians.  Your actions, though it highlights some of the malfunctions in the Iranian culture, have nevertheless followed innocent Iranians everywhere we have sought refuge.  Most Europeans and North Americans today look down on Iranians because we have created a bad image of ourselves.  We have been intolerant to women, homosexuals, bloggers, religious minorities, racial minorities and almost every other group that is different than the majority. 

I was born in Iran but see myself as belonging to the 6.8 billion people on Earth, and yet, the actions of the Iranian government constantly undermine my attempts personally to make a good living.  Mr. Khamenei, this is how your actions at the macro level results in problems for an Iranian like me at a micro level.  It is time to address the negative image that Iranians have created for us.  Iran was the first country in the world and Iranians are a warm and passionate people who have many beautiful cultures.  You as an Iranian and selected leader need to promote the positive aspects of our culture.  It is easy to shout and be critical of individual bloggers and exploitative foreigners.   Maybe it is time to pick the difficult path of self-reformation.  Why divide people based on their differences such as religion, race, and way of thinking when we can bring them together through our similarities?  We don’t need enemies in this world; we don’t need to shout “death” at others; what we need is to show that we can respect people who think different, act different, and live different than the majority.  The strongest people are the most merciful and the kindest.  

Releasing Hossein would be a first micro step that would help all Iranians show how we are a kind people.  As the leader you are responsible for reforming a positive image for all Iranians especially in Europe and North America.  The world watches how we treat one another as Iranians, and they treat us in the same way that we choose to treat each other.  Please act in a way that Iranians will be treated better from now on inside and outside of the land where both you and I opened our eyes to this world.

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