Sep 25, 2013

UNPO General Secretary Speaks At European Parliament Hearing

UNPO General Secretary, Marino Busdachin, participated in an exchange of views on the situation in Iran at the European Parliament on Thursday, 26 September 2013

In cooperation with the Delegation for Relations with Iran, the Sub-committe on Foreign Affairs at the European Parliament held an exchange of views on the situation in Iran on Thursday, 26 September 2013, at 9am. Mr. Busdachin gave an update to Members of the Parliament and those present on the subject of minorities in Iran, in particular the Kurds, Baloch, Azeris and Ahwazi.

Mr. Busdachin was joined on the panel by three speakers who provided their personal and very poignant testimonies of the massive arrest and execution of political prisoners which occured in the 1980s in Iran, particularly targeting innocent political dissidents and minorities.

Mrs. Lochbihler, Member of the European Parliament, and Chair of the Subcommitte on Human Rights, then opened the floor to interventions from her colleagues and the European External Action Service.

Please find below a copy of Mr. Busdachin's address to the assembly. It can also be consulted in pdf here.

For more information on minorities in Iran, please read UNPO's recent briefing note.

For a draft agenda of the proceedings, please visit the DROI Secretariat webpage.


Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed Members of the European Parliament,

I would like to start by thanking the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Iran as well as the Human Rights Subcommittee for inviting UNPO once again to speak before this assembly. I am honoured to be able to provide you with an update on the situation of human rights and minorities in Iran.

 My name is Marino Busdachin, and I am the General Secretary of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, an international, non-violent and democratic membership organisation. Our members are indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognised or occupied territories. Today, I would specifically like to raise the issue of the plight of minority groups in Iran, where minorities account for a majority of the population. We represent the Baloch in the South-East, the Ahwazi Arabs in the South-West, and the Iranian Kurds and Southern Azerbaijan in the North-West.

Since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June this year there have been hopes for a significant shift in the Iranian political landscape. For instance, during the election campaign, Rouhani pledged to issue a “civil rights charter”, which calls for greater freedom for minorities and opposition parties, in addition to equality for all citizens without discrimination based on race, religion or sex[1]. However, UNPO remains wary of such hopes. As one of our members stressed on a side event to the 23rd HRC in Geneva this year, “all challenges that Iran faces today, including assaults against the rights of unrepresented nations will remain unresolved”, not least because it is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, who has ultimate decision power on key domestic, and international, issues.

A systematic assimilation policy from Teheran threatens the continuation of the languages and customs of minority groups in the country. While it is unclear if Farsi is indeed spoken by a small majority of the country – or even less than this - Farsi is  the official national language; it is forbidden to use other languages in formal or public places or as a language of instruction. The regime prevents any public mention of the Ahwazi Arabs minority population and has, consequently, imposed a silence and news blockades in the national and international media against the existence of Arabs in Iran[2]. Students belonging to this minority group have a drop-out rate of 70% because they find it hard to keep up in classes held in their second language.[3]

In Iranian Kurdistan, all newspapers, magazines and radio broadcasts in Kurdish have been banned. This linguistic discrimination means that local history, oral traditions and writing systems might be lost within generations.

The rate of unemployment among minorities is high, especially considering that the regions they inhabit are rich in natural resources. Al Ahwaz boasts one of the richest oil fields in Iran, West-Balochistan is rich in gas and oil, and Iranian Kurdistan provides a large part of Iran with water. The local populations in each of these regions, however, do not benefit from the highly profitable extraction of these resources. Often, minority groups in Iran have become victims of ecological and social disasters left in the wake of careless oil mining and other industrial and hydro-electric projects, a situation exacerbated by the Iranian government’s increasing confiscation of land and property. 

Another reason for the high level of unemployment reported among minority groups is the use of an ideological selection test for jobs in government and, sometimes, in the private sector. This test requires candidates to pledge allegiance to Shia Islam, which effectively excludes the majority of Baloch, Turkmen and Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims. Furthermore, Teheran’s highly centralised development policy has led to a wide socioeconomic gap between the centre and the periphery, the latter inhabited largely by minority groups.

Minorities are increasingly being denied state employment in Iran, and are therefore also underrepresented in political positions. Arabs in Al-Ahwaz hold fewer than 15% of the top government positions in their region, despite comprising a majority of the population. This year’s elections were marked by a severe crackdown on activists, especially those representing minorities, prior to the poll. This lack of representation in government means that minorities have very little influence as to the decisions which affect them.

I would also like to draw your attention to the drying up of Lake Urmiya, which is extremely worrying. Located in the Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, the drying up of the lake continues to pose grave problems for the surrounding population, estimated at 76 million people. The lake has lost 70% of its water mass, leaving salt instead, in large part because of the Iranian government’s mismanagement of dam construction on rivers feeding into the lake. These dams have jeopardized the livelihood of thousands relying on the lake for farming and irrigation purposes. Long term environmental consequences, such as severe salt storms, the collapse of the local ecosystem and alteration of the climate have begun to appear.

The most acute concerns facing all minority groups in Iran are arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and the death sentence. The judicial system in Iran is notoriously unjust and unreliable, with a much higher rate of persecutions towards minorities. Especially in Al-Ahwaz, prisons are overcrowded. There are reports of 300 inmates sharing only five toilets and sleeping in the toilets and corridors because there is no room in the cells. There is also limited access to clean drinking water, food and medical care.[4] Suspects are not allowed to meet with a lawyer until the preliminary investigation, which means they don’t receive any legal assistance during the interrogation period. There are reports of torture being used to extract false confessions, which are then recorded and televised to frame suspects as terrorists.[5] Human rights lawyers who speak out against this practice are in danger of being stripped of their licenses and arrested. Some have been sentenced to prison for up to 18 years.[6]

Minorities are especially vulnerable because they are distrusted by the authorities, and they are often accused of being separatists and terrorists when they try to speak out. I will now discuss two recent examples in more detail.

Firstly, Mohammed Seddigh Kaboudvand is a journalist from Iranian Kurdistan who was named ‘International Journalist of the Year’ at the 2009 British Press Awards. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the ceremony to receive his prize because he was serving a ten-year prison sentence for his establishment of the Human Rights Organization for Kurdistan in 2007. Even though he is gravely ill, he has been on three hunger strikes to protest the Iranian government’s refusal to grant him permission to visit his son, who is in hospital.[7]

Secondly, five South Azerbaijani politicians from north-western Iran, who had established a political party - the New Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement Party (Yeni GAMOH) - advocating for their identity rights, were sentenced to nine years in prison in May 2013 on the charge of forming an illegal group and distributing anti-government propaganda. Families of the prisoners have confirmed that the five activists were in solitary confinement and that they were tortured physically and mentally by Iranian intelligence officers before being sent to prison in March. Included in the unlawful treatment of the detainees were long periods of interrogation, severe beatings and days of solitary confinement. They were only permitted to see a lawyer almost five months after their detention and just one week before the court hearing. In an attempt to plead their case internationally, the five South Azerbaijani prisoners started a hunger strike in July, and were reportedly transported to a prison in Teheran on the eighth day of the strike[8].

Minority rights in Iran are not only being severely violated, but ignored altogether. It is extremely unfortunate that I had to make exactly the same statement in my speech last year.

The human rights situation in Iran is particularly grave and requires increased and continued attention on the part of the European Union and other relevant international bodies. The latest UN resolution on human rights in Iran, denouncing persecutions against Arabs, Azeris, Balochis, and Kurds, as well as secret group executions of the Ahwazi Arab minority is a welcome step, but further action is urgently needed. Amid debates about the nuclear threat posed by Iran, we must not lose sight of the urgent need for improvements in minority and human rights in the country.



[2] p. 20

[3] Jamleh Sharhani, ‘ Intervention to the United Nations Human Rights Council Forum On Minority Issues, Fourth Session, 29-30 November 2011’ available at [accessed 5 October 2012].

[4] ‘ Khuzestan Prisons At Three Times Capacity’ (3 September 2912) Ahwaz News Agency available at: [accessed 5 October 2012].

[5] See ie Ahwaz News Agency, ‘ Teen Ahwazi Arab  Tortured For Religious Converseiron’ (4 October 2012) available at: [accessed 8 October 2012].

[6] Guardian, ‘Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Jailed For 13 Years’ (13 June 2012) available at:; [accessed 8 October 2012]; Guardian, ‘ Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Jailed For 18 Years’ (4 March 2012) available at: [accessed 8 October 2012].

[7] Human Rights Watch ‘Iran: End Abuse Of Imprisoned Journalists’ (13 July 2012) available at: [accessed 8 October 2012].