Ahwaz : UNPO and AHRO Submit Joint Report to UN on Ahwazi Water Protests and Iranian Dam Building Practices
UNPO, together with the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, is submitting a report on Iranian water management policies and the protests that have ensued from them to 7 relevant UN Special Rapporteurs including the one for Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The report primarily concerns the region of Al Ahwaz, officially known as Khuzestan. Iran, through its Energy and Oil ministries, has systematically engaged in policies of water diversion and environmental degradation there that have led to the livelihood of Ahwazi Arabs being destroyed. The environmental crisis in Al Ahwaz is having a multi-faceted effect though, with the capital of the province, Ahvaz/Ahwaz City, suffering from dirty water supply; internal migration affecting its ability to ensure food security; and poor air quality. The perceived injustice of these deliberate policies has led Ahwazi Arabs to demonstrate in the street over water policy autonomy and better redistribution. These protestors were met with a fierce Iranian government response, with several dead in the protests and many others disappeared or held without due process.
UNPO and AHRO thus felt it was necessary to call on UN intervention into the issue by addressing a letter and report to the Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights and the Environment; Toxics and Human Rights; Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation; Right to freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. We hope to remind the Islamic Republic of Iran of their responsibilities when it comes to ensuring their citizens have adequate and equitable water management policies, in order to respect the civil and political rights above.
Between July and August 2021 protests took place in more than a dozen cities in the Khuzestan province of the Islamic Republic of Iran over an ever-rising water crisis. These protests were suppressed by the government, with over 300 people, including children, being arbitrarily arrested and detained. The protests highlight both an urgent environmental disaster in the province and the systemic marginalization of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority, who are indigenous to the region.
Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the central government of Iran via the Ministry of Energy, the National Iranian Oil Company, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have taken control of the rich traditional natural resources of Khuzestan. Discriminatory water policies have resulted in long-term droughts, water shortages, increased poverty and the displacement of villagers, leaving the region in a disastrous environmental condition. State run energy and farming companies have allowed the diversion of water resources from Ahwazi communities to farming development projects. Water has been transferred to the central Iranian plateau for industrial purposes and to permit the cheap extraction of oil through the drying of the Hoor Al-Azim marshland.
Government authorities have also caused the pollution of the natural environment in the region. Oil extraction companies have rendered entire marshlands of Khuzestan uninhabitable for the wildlife in the area and many who have depended on the marshland have lost their livelihoods.
Water shortages and long-term droughts have had a large impact on the traditional ways of living of more than 5 million Ahwazi Arabs living in the region. They have also destroyed the flora, fauna and environment of the area. The province was once Iran’s main producer of dates and rice, but is now suffering from severe and permanent water shortages which have left the area barren. The environmental impact has put at risk the very existence of farmlands and marshlands. Moreover, around 700 villages in Khuzestan province do not have access to tap water. Drinkable water can only be accessed through tankers coming in from other regions of Iran.
The issues facing Ahwazi Arabs are multi-faceted. These issues include discriminatory land confiscation, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial execution, and lack of language rights. Ahwazi Arab citizens have no opportunity to participate in the decision-making process of their administration and region: they have been excluded from the political, social and economic decision-making processes and have no control over their resources. The water crisis brings all of these problems into light in the most dramatic way, threatening the very existence of the Ahwazi Arab people.
Between July and August 2021 protests took place in more than a dozen cities in the Khuzestan province of the Islamic Republic of Iran over an ever-rising water crisis. These protests were suppressed by the government, with over 300 people, including children, being arbitrarily arrested and detained. The protests highlight both an urgent environmental disaster in the province and the systemic marginalization of Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority.
We are calling on the government of Iran to cease the systemic repression of the civil and political rights of the Ahwazi Arabs, and to engage in reforms to better protect minorities and indigenous communities, guaranteeing them free, prior and informed consent and an active role in water management in the region, as well as for policies to remediate this urgent environmental disaster. Moreover, we are calling on the international community to press the government of Iran on these urgently needed reforms.