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  • Emily Amador

What's going on in Iran? A rights movement finds a powerful symbol



Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman was arrested on September 3 by Iran’s "morality police" and killed in their custody. She was arrested for not conforming to conservative legal restrictions on dress and behavior, particularly among women. Specifically, in her case, for not completely concealing her hair with a headscarf or hijab. Amini’s murder has ignited domestic and global retaliation and defiance. Iranian women have actively been demonstrating, particularly petitioning the government: taking to the streets, burning their headscarves, and even cutting their hair.



In response, Iran has lashed out violently, resulting in 70 reported additional deaths. However, it is speculated that there are far more fatalities at the hands of the Iranian government. The Iranian government has restricted the internet which has made it challenging to report accurate data. Furthermore, internet blackouts in Iran equate to suppression and mass killing. The last protest, which was women-led, dates back to the revolution. They are advocating for an end to the gender apartheid regime. The Iranian government has a history of using violence to suppress demonstrations. Sexual violence has also been employed as a means of suppressing women. Sexual violence is used to drive fear into protestors.


Iranian women are pleading for international policy support and intervention. Instead of legitimizing their murderers, we must work to legitimize the citizens. This means shutting down the intersection between Iran and Washington D.C. This means stopping negotiations.


Ultimately, what needs to be understood is that the death of Mahsa Amini was not an isolated incident of abuse. It is an incident, one in many in decades of Iran’s authoritarian regime. The brutal murder of Mahsa Amini catalyzed deliberate retaliation of the scale we observe now.


What has come as a result of tensions between the U.S. and Iran paints a clear picture: the Iranian government is unstable and nuclearized, which poses an imminent threat.


Tensions are rising quickly amongst countries worldwide due to the increase in retaliation from civilians. A leading contender to the cause of this tension is the unearthing of conflicts is hidden from the public by government officials. The recent strain between the US and Iran is a prime example of detrimental issues that can arise from tensions between two resilient countries. The US and Iran have had issues in the past. Tensions between the U.S. and Iran date back to 1979. This is when the U.S. supported the Shah, who ruled Iran for the entire second half of the 19th century and was overthrown. Ultimately, resulting in the country becoming the Islamic Republic. Their tension was never steady or extremely harmful.


That is until January 3, 2020, when an airstrike conducted by the US government and promoted by President Trump killed a prominent general and commander of the IRGC in Iran, Qasem Soleimani. Former President Donald Trump supported this action by saying, “Suleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him. We took action last night to stop a war, we did not take action to start a war.” However, as agreed upon, many agree that this situation should have been handled differently. The death of Soleimani resulted in Iran vowing revenge.


The promising revenge from Iran was believed to be rhetoric to some people, however, on January 9th, 2020, Iran attacked US troops on Iraqi territory with six missiles, four of which were reported to have malfunctioned. Before the attack, Iran may have tried to send a message by alerting Finland. News outlets and officials began suggesting that Finland allegedly alerted the US to prepare for these launches. Though no physical harm was reported, Iran demonstrated its potential power and furthered denuclearization efforts.


In the early morning of January 9th, 2020, a Ukrainian jet crashed over Iran. The major catastrophe resulted in the death of all 176 passengers aboard. US and Canadian officials believed that the attack was targeted by the Iranian government, though at the time they denied all claims affirming they were related to the cause of the crash. Eventually, on January 12, 2020, they admitted to the wrongdoing, however, Tehran rejected allegations of attempting to cover up the incident. The Iranian government explained this disaster was an accident and placed the responsibility for the incident on human error. According to Iran, the missile operator only had a grave 10 seconds to dictate whether or not the place posed a threat. The decision was made. And a surface-to-air missile streaked toward the passenger jet.


Tension is also arising between Iran and US civilians with the possibility of spikes in gasoline prices. The Iranian government’s pledge to retaliate against the US may affect the flow of crude oil. However, the 6% increase is minimal compared to the patterns observed in recent years. Furthermore, over the last decade and through fracking, the U.S. has squeezed oil and gas from shale. This has put the U.S. in a position of great advantage as the largest producer of both. Ultimately, experts believe there will be no significant gas price spikes.

There was much controversy over the drone strike the US carried out that resulted in the death of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani. Fears over a potential draft and a World War arose. According to officials, Iranian authorities were reported to have claimed the lives of a U.S. contractor and injured 4 U.S. service members.


In 1979 U.S. diplomats and citizens were held hostage, by students. These students were associated with the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s line. This Iranian student group supported the Iranian revolution. The unrest and turmoil rooted in deep devotion to their country suggest these passionate Iranian students stopped at nothing– they were motivated to cease what they viewed as communism and an invasion, observed through the overwhelming effort of western modernity.


The assets and commodities the US gains from Iran, the most valuable oil, are at risk. Perhaps, however, there are better alternatives that would appease the greater Iranian society. The Shah had breached its authority and clearly did not seek to serve the majority in Iran which was shown in countless instances. The responsibility of a leader of a country includes the responsibility to represent the public, use common intelligence, and use resources to serve your nation as you see fit best. The Shah’s disregard for these basic principles brings light to a greater and, now more easily observable, unstructured regime.


To prevent issues like this and create resolutions, it is necessary to identify what caused the situation and events to unfold as they did. The US should have resisted as soon as the illegitimacy of the Shah and Ayatollah regime was made evident. Once the overthrow of a host country's government has occurred it is not only vital but absolutely necessary to retrieve diplomats whose security is no longer guaranteed. Now, this same regime is using its power against its own people.


Domestic conflict, such as that which is observed in Iran, is reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide. The genocide progressed as a result of a lack of intervention from international bodies. Rwandans pleaded for support but to no avail. We can not repeat the same mistake.


I hope the following policy recommendations can be considered:


The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, was an agreement created in 2015 and held effective in 2016, between Iran and the UN Security Council’s five permanent members: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany. For the following 15 years, Iran committed to enriching uranium up to, only, 3.67%. Furthermore, Iran agreed to completely eliminate its medium-enriched uranium, reduce its low-enriched uranium by 98%, and cut down roughly two-thirds of the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. At this time, the people critically involved in the 1979 revolution will no longer be politically active. This agreement is a preventative measure of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and potentially beyond, and was one of the most advanced and restrictive nonproliferation agreements to have ever been reached. In addition, JCPOA helps the EU maintain some sort of control over Iran. In 2018, however, the U.S. withdrew from JCPOA. This has catastrophic implications.


The U.S. should rejoin JCPOA, as its removal causes great danger to Europe’s policy of cooperation and reconciliation with Iran. The new administration has the opportunity to immediately tackle areas of concern, specifically prioritizing human rights violations. Basic liberties such as freedom of expression and rule of law can keep officials accountable. Without, however, their abuses will continue. Destabilizing Iran would result in further chaos and conflict in the Middle East. The Iranian Center Offers an opportunity for political change in Iran, as it has consistently supported collaboration with the West. Under sustained pressure, Iran's government may come to respect human rights. Iranian authorities care about public image and narrative considerably. So much so, that a policy reversal was enacted to reform Iran’s death penalty policies.


This also accounts for their blockage of the internet and social media. Cyber technological advancements in the EU and U.S. can be used for these efforts. The U.S. has helped Iranians communicate with loved ones despite restrictions. However, this must be done under encrypted protection. This is because Iranian leaders can accuse the U.S. and other countries of inciting violence in their countries. They do not consider these demonstrations, “protests,” but instead, “riots.” Government officials are still actively using social media platforms to spread rhetoric, while Iranian citizens are banned.


Countries in the EU must use multilateral forums for global censure of Iran's human rights abuses. By connecting the benefits and interests of Iran, and human rights, Iran will appeal to this. There must be a line of communication with human rights organizations to ensure accuracy and informed decision-making. This comprehensive approach places human rights and other strategic issues equally. Doing so is the only way effective change will happen. In addition, there should be an appeal for domestic economic stability. This will encourage Tehran to accept the EU and the changes it is promoting. As described, the EU must have close relations with Iran’s elite. This advantage must be utilized to gain intel.


Ultimately, Iran is not just a nuclear power to negotiate with. Washington is focused on pressuring the Tehran regime via sanctions. In Nov. 2018 the U.S. targeted Iran’s oil exports. This has caused Iran's national currency to devalue and has stopped other European companies from collaborating with Iran. The U.S. and Europe need to impose sanctions on Iranian officials involved with the crackdown. This way we can isolate Iran diplomatically. Iranian women and supporters abroad have shared a shared demand to remove Iran from the U.N commission on Women. Either entirely remove them from the commission or suspend them.


There has to be a complete intervention to pressure Iran. Women do not have access to survivor-centered support and protections and are facing clear human rights violations. Further, there is a lack of transparency between the authority and the public.


International bodies to accumulate evidence of human rights violations in Iran, which can be later used in trials. A U.N. fact-finding team could verify this material. An investigative process would provide a clear understanding of what is happening in Iran.



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