By Mark D. Wallace and Irwin Cotler
Late last year, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on human rights, Ahmed Shaheed, briefed the General Assembly about the state of human rights in Iran, and he painted an extremely bleak picture.
In his report, Shaheed documented Iran’s brutal record of persecuting religious and ethnic minorities within its borders – in particular the Baha’i – and decried Iran’s “dramatic” increase in executions, which according to Amnesty International totaled more than 600 last year. As if that weren’t troubling enough, Shaheed reported that the regime in 2010 conducted more than 300 secret executions at Vakilabad prison in the city of Mashad.
Certainly, it’s helpful to have more light shed on the repression occurring inside Iran. Yet no matter how diligently international officials might try, there is simply no way to find out its full extent and scope. Indeed, the Iranian regime is notoriously secretive and opaque about its activities, and dismissive of international inspectors and human rights officials.
Perhaps all we can be sure of is that Iran has an abysmal human rights record, and companies who do business there seriously risk having their products misused for nefarious ends. The evidence is overwhelming.
As The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News have reported in-depth, the Iranian regime exploits telecommunications companies and technologies to track and spy on democracy activists, as well as to censor news and block services. Indeed, as one detained journalist, Saeid Pourheydar, revealed – officers not only knocked out his front teeth during captivity, but they presented him with transcripts of his tapped called, e-mails, and text messages. This is all an (unfortunately successful) effort to keep the Arab Spring from spreading to Iran by aggressively cracking down on protesters through the help of Western technology.
Companies around the world have also indirectly aided Iran in its public executions. Last year, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) sent crane manufacturers pictures from Iran showing that their cranes were being used to hang Iranians in public squares. Thankfully, as a result of UANI’s efforts to highlight the misuse of their equipment, manufacturers like Liebherr, Konecranes, UNIC, Tadano, and Terex took the principled stand of ending their business in Iran, and sent a message to the regime that they do not want their products being used for such heinous acts.
UANI has been putting similar pressure on telecommunications companies, including Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and MTN. In November, UANI confronted the Chinese corporation Huawei, which had 1,000 employees and six offices in Iran, and was providing the regime with mobile technology that could be abused to track down human rights activists and political dissidents. Huawei had partnered with Iranian firms that work directly with Iran’s military and intelligence services-the same individuals who have been implicated in the deaths of U.S. and NATO troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who were involved in Iran’s 2011 plot to commit terrorist acts on U.S. soil.
Thankfully, Huawei responded to UANI by announcing that it would no longer seek new contracts in Iran, and would scale down its existing business there. This was the first time that a major Chinese firm voluntarily pulled back from Iran, and it disproved a common argument used by Western firms, that pulling out of Iran would just result in Chinese companies rushing in to fill the void. Just a week after Huawei’s announcement, Nokia Siemens Networks announced a similar decision.
Given what we know about human rights situation and the regime’s abuse of technology, there are no excuses left for a company to be doing business in Iran. Even if companies intend for their products to be used purely for commercial, civilian, or other legitimate uses, the Iranian regime has proven that it will gladly misuse them to violate human rights. Information about the nature of the regime and its manipulation of Western technology is widely available, and companies that continue to provide such technology should be held accountable.
The human rights situation in Iran is deteriorating, and we can be certain that even more abuses are being committed outside the careful view of the international community. Companies must be responsible and cut off their Iranian business, lest they allow the regime to continue turning today’s products of progress into tomorrow’s tools of terror.
Ambassador Mark D. Wallace is President of United Against Nuclear Iran. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Representative for U.N. Management and Reform. Irwin Cotler is a member of the United Against Nuclear Iran Advisory Board. He is a Member of Parliament in Canada, and a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
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