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Biden negotiations should include human rights regarding the Kurds and minorities

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“There is a clear relationship between the nuclear deal on one side and the increase in executions, human rights violations, and imprisonment of the Kurdish people on the other side” states Dr. Shamal Sofi Mirza, a Kurdish dissident in Ireland.

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Before President Joe Biden came to power, he repeatedly announced his desire to rejoin the JCPOA if he was elected. Now his team is at the table with Iran for nuclear deal negotiations. But what would be the consequences of these talks for the Iranian people and human rights inside Iran? As we learned from the past, their plight not only will not get better, it will be worse.

Dr. Shamal Sofi Mirza, a Kurdish dissident in Ireland, noted how these negotiations will affect the Iranian people: “No one can negate the severe impact the Iranian nuclear ambition had on the Iranian people’s social, political and economic life since its inception decades ago. Indeed, this has had a double and drastic effect on the economically marginalized people, as the crippling burden of the nuclear program has been mainly on the shoulders of workers, teachers, civil servants, etc., while the government’s inner circles were getting more prosperous than ever before.”

He then added, ”Among the most exposed people who suffered more due to the program were the ethnic minorities in Iran, more specifically the Kurds who had already been sidelined economically, politically, and socially by the state and that with the advance of the Iranian nuclear program, their life got worse in many respects.” 

While the nuclear program had a devastating impact on the life of the Kurds, he explained: ”The nuclear deal known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” held in In July 2015 between Iran and the world-powers (5+1) did not provide respite from the suffering for the Kurds; instead, as the international pressure reduced on the Iranian regime, suppression, execution, and imprisonment against the Iranian Kurdish dissidents increased dramatically. The issue of human rights violations which had been already in place for decades, reached its highest peak during the time in question.”

Dr. Shamal believes that after JCPOA, the human rights abuses among minorities increased, especially among the Kurds: “Since Rouhani took power in 2013, and more precisely after the nuclear agreement, the number of Kurdish political activists executed have increased by 45% compared with the previous hardliner governments record of execution.  In 2014, only a year after Rouhani’s inauguration, 200 people were executed, from which 65% were Kurds, according to human rights activists. This number increased in the subsequent years as the United Nations’ top human rights official Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called the hanging of up to 20 Kurds by Iran within a single week in 2016 a “grave injustice”.”

“During the same period, according to the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur about Human Rights in Iran, more than 700 political prisoners have been recorded in the Iranian prisons, with at least 966 executions in 2015, the year that the nuclear agreement has been signed,” he noted. “The number of people dragged into cross-border work (Kulbery) doubled, and more cross-border workers were killed than in the second term of the previous government. During Rouhani’s term, the Iranian government has attacked the Kurdish opposition groups based inside the Iraqi territory with high-range missiles and killed dozens.”

Dr. Shamal believes that by rejoining the JCPOA, the human rights condition inside Iran will get worse because the world powers are seeking an agreement without any care about human rights issues, stating “there is a clear relationship between the nuclear deal on one side and the increase in executions, human rights violations, and imprisonment of the Kurdish people on the other side”.

Hamid Bahrami, a Kurdish dissident in Canada and the founder of a human rights organization named HANA which focuses on human rights abuses in Iranian Kurdistan, believes that rejoining JCPOA has no benefits to the Iranian people but brings more money in the hands of the regimes pockets: ”Let’s know what is the purpose of returning to the negotiating table. Will the outcome of these negotiations with Iran mean a return to the Iran nuclear deal that was reached under President Barack Obama – meaning that the sanctions on Iran were removed, a large amount of cash money was granted to Iran, in the meantime frozen assets were released and Iran was involved in the international market.”

He recounts the bad outcomes of such a deal for the Kurdish people. ”If this is the result of these negotiations, as we have seen before, there is nothing for us as a Kurdish nation except more repression, the expansion of Iranian power, more economic destruction and more human rights violations in Kurdistan.” 

According to Bahrami, the regime of the Islamic Republic has never wanted to take on any economic projects in Kurdistan in the last four decades to progress, improve the living conditions of people in this sector and develop economic infrastructure.

“The Iranian government has always viewed the Kurdish region as a security threat therefore it has not launched any service, reconstruction and economic infrastructure projects in Kurdistan,” he emphasized. “On the contrary, the regime has increased the violation of human rights in all its forms in the most severe way, it has suppressed all the demands of the people of Kurdistan.”

He believes that a new deal is nothing but more instability inside and outside by more oil sales money.

“By removing the sanctions and going back to Iran’s nuclear deal and the ability to sell oil means Iran has access to money and banks which allows them to buy more weapons, tanks, and suppression machines to repress the protests inside Iran, especially in Kurdistan,” he noted. “At the same time, it will create more insecurity and instability in the region through its proxies to impose its influence on the region”. He noted that removing the sanctions and going back to Iran’s nuclear deal and the ability to sell oil will have harmful results on the human rights situation in Kurdistan. “Human rights activists do not see any prospect for anything positive in these negotiations, as our previous experience proved to us.” 

He knows that regime change in Iran is the only way to establish a democratic system in Iran and concluded: ”Gaining stability and reconciliation in the region as a whole and for the Kurdish nation in Iran is only possible through fundamental change in Iran’s political system and a free election.”

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Sirwan Mansouri, a Kurdish journalist based in the Middle East, believes that human rights are not important for the western states in the negotiation process since they are just trying to reach an agreement.

“The human rights issue gets worse,” Mansouri said, “If the western countries sign another agreement with Iran or rejoin JCPOA, Iran will feel more capable to put pressure on people especially minorities and among them Kurds, since the Biden administration is seeking just an agreement and do not care more about human rights.  In order to persuade Iran to be committed to the deal, the human rights issue will be marginalized”.

According to Mansouri, the regime does not view the Kurds to be citizens but rather enemies, thus they will not use the money to help lift Kurds out of poverty. He believes if the Iranian regime earns more money as the result of sanction lifting, the condition in Kurdish regions will be worse, since the regime spends money to help its proxy groups in the region rather to decrease the discriminations: “We learned from the past when they signed the JCPOA, the human rights abuses increased during Rouhani`s first term of his presidency, and if this time they rejoin the nuclear deal, it repeats again. The more the government earns money, the less they care about Kurdish people, the government tortures them, arrests and imprisons, even executes them under national security justification and the US won’t intervene.”

Mansouri emphasized that Biden should include human rights matters in the negotiations especially regarding the minorities and very specifically regarding the Kurds, since according to human rights reports, the human rights violations in Kurdistan are amongst the highest: “If the West wants to guarantee minority rights in the deal, they should put more pressure on Iran to stop Kurdish rights violations, end the torturing and executing of them, as well as other minorities, and this should be mentioned as a paragraph in the declaration”.

He then predicted that human rights situation in Iranian Kurdistan will be worse and concluded: “After a probable deal, Iran will be relieved by the West and try to pretend to keep the deal so the west would be satisfied too, so it will be easier for the regime to suppress any objection or protest inside Iran especially in the border regions of Kurdistan, the number of arrests and executions will be increased, people will become poorer and all these will happen in the name of preventing national security threats, while in reality the threat will only get worse.”

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”  

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