Feb 17, 2006

Ahwazi: Iran Condemned for Treatment of Ethnic Minorities

Ahmadinejads administration has been criticized for neglecting human rights of ethnic minorities, such as the Ahwazi, who, despite constitutional guarantees of equality, are subject to an array of discriminatory laws and practices
The administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come under severe criticism from Amnesty International in a report entitled "New government fails to address dire human rights situation", which was published this week.

Amnesty focuses on the treatment of ethnic minorities, particularly the Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds and Azeri Turks, but notes that Balochis, Turkmen and nomads also face persecution.

Sections of the report relating to Ahwazi Arabs have been reproduced below.

General: Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, individuals belonging to minorities in Iran, who are believed to number about half of the population of about 70 millions, are subject to an array of discriminatory laws and practices. These include land and property confiscations, denial of state and para-statal employment under the gozinesh criteria and restrictions on social, cultural, linguistic and religious freedoms which often result in other human rights violations such as the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, grossly unfair trials of political prisoners before Revolutionary Courts, corporal punishment and use of the death penalty, as well as restrictions on movement and denial of other civil rights.

Some of the problems currently confronting Iran's minority groups were brought to international attention by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, when he visited the country in July 2005. In his preliminary findings he noted that minorities were subject to discrimination in the distribution of state resources, in access to and the quality of housing, water and sanitation provided in the areas of the country where they reside, and are disproportionately affected by policies of "land grabbing".

The mainly Shi'a-Muslim Arab community in Iran constitutes between 3 per cent and 8 per cent of the total population. The Arab community lives mainly in Khuzestan province (known as Ahwaz by the Arab community) adjoining Iraq, the location of much of Iran's oil resources. Members of Iran's Arab community have a long-standing grievance against successive governments, claiming that Arabs have been overlooked in terms of the distribution of resources aimed at social development. Frustration and economic deprivation has spilled over in recent months into a cycle of violent protest and repression which seems likely to continue unless the Iranian authorities take the measures necessary to address the social, economic and other grievances that gave rise to the unrest.

Economic, social and cultural rights: The Arab population of Iran is one of the most economically and socially deprived in Iran. Even where the majority of the local population is Arab, schools are reportedly not allowed to teach through the medium of Arabic; illiteracy rates are reportedly high, especially among Ahwazi Arab women in rural areas. Arabs have also reportedly been denied state employment under the gozinesh criteria. Many villages and settlements reportedly have little or no access to clean running water, sanitation or other utilities such as electricity.

Use of force: Since President Ahmadinejad's election, several people have been killed and scores injured by security forces possibly using excessive force, in the context of ongoing violent unrest in Khuzestan Province. This began in April 2005 and has included bomb explosions in Ahwaz city in October 2005 and January 2006 which killed at least 12 people and injured hundreds, and attacks on the economically important oil installations in September and October 2005. The Iranian authorities have accused the United Kingdom (UK) government of involvement in the blasts, which the UK has denied.

In mid-September 2005, Iranian security forces were reported to have used live ammunition, tear gas and beatings with batons to suppress stone-throwing demonstrators. At least two people were reported killed and many injured. The authorities were later reported to have cut off the water supplies to some villages of the al-Bughobeysh tribe, possibly in reprisal for the inhabitants having participated in the demonstrations.

On 4 November 2005, Id al-Fitr, possibly partly in protest at earlier arrests (see below), several hundred Arab Iranian demonstrators began marching towards the centre of Ahwaz city, where they met Iranian security forces. Scuffles may have broken out. Iranian security forces reportedly fired tear gas grenades at the crowd. Two Arab youths affected by the tear gas, which is said to have caused a temporary paralysis, reportedly drowned after falling into the Karoun River. Scores, if not hundreds, of demonstrators were arrested. Amnesty International wrote to the Iranian authorities urging that these deaths be investigated, and asking for clarification of the rules governing the use of force and firearms by Iranian law enforcement officials and whether in this instance there were attempts made to disperse the crowd by non-violent means and whether the crowd was warned before tear-gas was used. By early February 2006, no reply had been received.

Detention: Hundreds of Arabs have been arrested since President Ahmadinejad's election and many are feared to have been tortured or ill-treated. The prisons in Khuzestan province, and particularly the capital Ahwaz, are reported to be extremely overcrowded as a result of the large numbers of arrests. One ex-detainee is said to have estimated that during his time in detention, there may have been over 3,000 prisoners held in Karoun Prison, reportedly designed to accommodate about 800 and that the cells were so crowded that detainees were forced to sleep in shifts, as there was insufficient space for them all to lie down at once. This degree of over-crowding reportedly led to extremely unsanitary conditions. Children as young as 12 are reported to have been detained with adult prisoners. Some of those detained are believed to have been sentenced to imprisonment or death after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts.

Iran is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), as well as to the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which require the immediate prohibition, and steps towards the elimination of discrimination against minorities, in the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights to free choice of employment, to housing, to education, to equal participation in cultural activities and to social services. Reports of huge disparities between minority communities and majority groups in literacy, access to education, basic services such as adequate water supplies, sanitation and electricity, as well as reports of "land grabbing" which appears to target minority communities, all suggest that Iran is failing to comply with these international obligations.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated in paragraph 14 its concluding observations in 2004: "The Committee takes note with concern of the reported discrimination faced by certain minorities, including the Baha'is, who are deprived of certain rights, and that certain provisions of the State party's legislation appear to be discriminatory on both ethnic and religious grounds.”

The Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights has stated in relation to Article 11(1) of the ICESCR, which provides the right to adequate housing, that forced evictions from a place of habitual residence without consultation, due process or assurance of adequate alternative accommodation are prohibited. The Human Rights Committee (HRC), has stated in relation to Article 12(3) of the ICCPR: "the right to reside in a place of one's choice within the territory includes protection against all forms of forced internal displacement It also precludes preventing the entry or stay of persons in a defined part of the territory."


Extract from: British Ahwazi Friendship Society