Nov 07, 2004

Protection needed for Ahwaz Refugees

Ahwaz representative writes to Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to protect Ahwaz refugees in Australia
Untitled Document
Louise Arbour,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Dear Mrs. Arbour,

Re: Arab-Iranian Asylum Seekers in Australia

My name is Karim Banisaid-Abdian. I am the executive director of Ahwaz Human Rights Organization in the USA. I had the pleasure of meeting you in Geneva during the 22nd session of working group on Indigenous Populations in July 2004 where I delivered a paper on the current situation of the Indigenous Ahwazi- Arab Iranians of Southwestern Iran

Today I am writing to you to seek your urgent help for the indigenous Ahwazi men who currently held in detention in Australia. Independent of each other, the men arrived in Australia by boat seeking political asylum only to be placed in high-security prisons in the Australian desert. Most have suffered there for 4 – 5 years without any hope of release other than on the occasion of their forced deportation to Iran.

You would be aware that 4.5 million indigenous Ahwazi Arab-Iranians in the province of Khuzestan in Iran are an oppressed ethnic minority. This has been confirmed by the UN on numerous occasions. For example, the 2001 report by the United Nation’s Special Representative on the situation of human rights in Iran found,

“However, it is also possible to conclude that breaches of human rights are in large part as egregious today as they were five years ago. The jailing of journalists and political dissidents, and the general denial of fair trial continues unabated. The equality rights, that is, those of gender and those to which minorities, both ethnic and religious, are entitled are by and large unrecognized…”

In his interim report to the General Assembly, the Special Representative urged the Government to adopt a national minorities policy.

It is self-evident, on the one hand, that certain minorities are among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the country and, on the other, that most minorities are not enjoying the rights set out in article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, nor indeed even the limited rights set out in the Constitution.

“In Iran, the status of minorities remains a neglected area of human rights. There are some initial glimmers of change, but there is a long way to go in terms of achieving a more forthcoming approach to the concerns of the minorities, both ethnic and religious. The Special Representative urges the Government to address this matter in an open manner, with the full involvement of the minorities themselves.

In 1994, the United Nations Economic and social council resolved that it was

“Shocked by the systematic repression of the Baha'i community and at the situation of the Iranian Kurds and the Arab minority in Iran…”

The situation has not improved since. To the contrary, information from reliable sources confirms that the situation is, in fact, worsening. Human Rights Watch in its recent report “Like the Dead in Their Coffins: Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran” states inter alia:

‘The Iranian government has intensified its campaign of torture, arbitrary arrests, and detentions against political critics.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division is quoted as saying: “Claims that reforms in Iran have put an end to torture are simply false,” From:

The Indigenous Arab minority in the south-western province of Khuzestan (al-Ahwaz or Arabistan) has been fighting for the right of self determination since the annexation and incorporation of their land into the nation state of Iran. The relationship between the Ahwazi Arabs and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s government is therefore strained. Political motivation is attributed to the slightest sign of discontent or minor offence by indigenous Arabs and is brutally suppressed. Many of our people have died in Iranian prisons or simply disappeared.

The Ahwazi Arab men in Australian detention fled Iran for various reasons. Their persecution by Iranian authorities in each case, however, can be traced back to their ethnicity. Unfortunately, the Australian authorities deny the fact that Ahwazi Arabs suffer discrimination and persecution in Iran and insist on refusing them protection.

Australia has limited the right of review of an unfavorable decision by its Refugee Review Tribunal to such an extent that even where asylum seekers present documentary evidence verifying their claim under the Convention, it will not be taken into account. This leads to the continued incarceration of 11 Ahwazis at the notorious Baxter Detention Facility, where their physical and psychological health deteriorates by the day.

In late 2002 or early 2003, Australia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, which, amongst other matters, provides for the voluntary or involuntary return of asylum seekers to Iran. Following the signing of this agreement, Australian authorities passed personal and identifying information to Iranian embassy staff and permitted them ‘consular visits’ with direct access to the detainees in contravention of both domestic and international law. This further jeopardizes the safety of detainees should they be returned to Iran.

The reliance on diplomatic assurances by Western governments when deporting asylum seekers or ‘terrorist suspects’ has been found to be unwarranted and was criticized by Britain's Highest Court. Human Rights Watch reported on October 6, 2004

The British government has said it is seeking “diplomatic assurances” that terrorism suspects deported to their home countries will not be tortured there. It argues that, on receipt of such assurances, the men … could safely be deported. But experience shows that these assurances are an ineffective safeguard against torture’

‘...The British position is moral abdication - there is a real risk that the men will be tortured if they are returned, whatever promises their home governments may offer.’

Holly Cartner
Executive Director Europe and Central Asia Division

I am writing to respectfully request that you intervene with the Australian government on behalf of these Indigenous Arab-Iranian men. They cannot return to Iran without facing torture, imprisonment and, in some cases, death for either trumped-up charges or ‘crimes’ not recognized by any jurisdiction outside the Islamic Republic.

If Australia sees herself unable to grant protection to those men, I beseech you to include them in the UNHCR resettlement program to give them the opportunity to find safety in a third country.

I attach the names and Australian identification numbers of the Ahwazi Arabs for your information, but ask that they are treated with the utmost confidentiality out of concern for the men’s safety. If you require further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will be happy to provide you with whatever case details you may require.

I thank you in anticipation of your help.

Yours sincerely
Karim Banisaid-Abdian