By: Irwin Cotler
National Post, April 9, 2010
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran--and I use that specific term to make it clear that I am not talking about the people of Iran themselves -- has emerged as a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to stability in the Middle East, and, increasingly, to its own citizens.
We are witnessing in Ahmadinejad’s Iran the toxic convergence of four inter-related threats: nuclear weapons; state-sanctioned incitement to genocide; state sponsorship of international terror; and the danger of persistent assaults on the rights of its own citizens.
Iran has embarked upon a significant expansion in the enrichment of uranium to nuclear weapons-grade capability. In the last year alone -- Obama’s year of engagement -- Iran has trumpeted higher-grade enrichment capabilities and facilities, tested enhanced long-range missile technology, and begun construction on more centrifuges.
While defying the international community on the nuclear issue, both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad have reaffirmed their incendiary calls for Israel’s disappearance, with the former stating ’God willing, its obliteration is certain,’ while the latter has threatened to ’finish [Israel] once and for all.’
The massive domestic human rights violations -- unmasked since the fraudulent June 12, 2009 election -- have intensified ever since, with a pattern of arrests, detentions, beatings, torture, kidnapping, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, all replete with Stalinist show-trials and coerced confessions. Iran has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world; and has executed more prisoners than any other county, except China, including juvenile offenders.
Iran already has committed the crime of incitement to genocide, prohibited under the Genocide Convention and international law. As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I prosecuted Rwandans for incitement. And so I can say that the critical mass of incitement in Ahmadinejad’s Iran parallels the state-sanctioned incitement to hate prior to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Iran has appointed as its Minister of Defence -- overseeing its nuclear program and weapons-development -- Ahmad Vahidi, the object of an INTERPOL arrest warrant for his role in the planning and perpetration of the greatest terrorist attack in Argentina since the end of the Second World War--the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center.
The question becomes: What is to be done?
While I supported Obama’s year of engagement, the 2009 end-of-year deadline for Iranian compliance has come and gone. Obama’s extended hand was met with a clenched fist.
What is needed now, as Obama recently acknowledged, is a set of comprehensive, calibrated, and consequential sanctions. In applying such sanctions, the focus on the nuclear threat, while understandable and necessary, should not overshadow the other three dangers described above.
The sanctions would include: targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and those that do business with it; targeting gasoline and other refined petroleum imports sold to Iran (the regime’s economic Achilles heel), including the shipping and insurance industries that facilitate such trade; curbing investment in Iran’s energy sector; monitoring and enforcing arms embargoes; targeting the Central Bank of Iran, the nerve centre of the banking industry; sanctioning companies that enable Iranian domestic repression; and denying landing permission to the Iranian transportation industry.
In the matter of Iranian human rights violations, governments should regularly display public condemnation of actions of the Iranian leadership; provide moral and diplomatic support for the democratic movement in Iran; impose limits and travel restrictions on Iranian officials engaged in repression; keep the issue on the international agenda in any and all bilateral meetings with Iran; hold Iran to account before the UN Human Rights Council (incredibly, not one resolution of condemnation has ever been adopted against Iran); and work to ensure that Iran is not elected to the council in voting this month.
In the matter of incitement to genocide, State Parties to the Genocide Convention -- such as Canada and the United States -- should refer the matter of Iranian incitement to the UN Security Council for deliberation and accountability -- a modest remedy that astonishingly has yet to be taken.
The time has come--indeed it has passed--to sound the alarm, to send a wake-up call to the international community. Silence is not an option.
-Irwin Cotler, is a Canadian Member of Parliament and Special Counsel on International Justice and Human Rights for the Liberal Party. He is a Professor of Law (on leave) at McGill University and the former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.