Future of Iran: Oppression or Democracy - Meeting on Iran at the European Parliament
On the invitation of The Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup, the European Parliament was host on Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, to Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, (NCRI) a coalition of Iranian democratic opposition groups.
Some 150 members of the European Parliament and their assistants from all parliamentary groups, including several members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Parliament’s vice presidents and parliamentary group leaders, attended the meeting, to hear Mrs. Rajavi’s views on the challenging issue of EU policy on Iran.
In her speech, very positively received by MEPs, Mrs. Rajavi offered a practical approach to deal with the challenge the EU is facing in shaping its policy towards Iran. She rejected both the current EU policy of appeasing the clerical regime “with the aim of containing it or inducing gradual change” and also the call to “overthrow the clerical regime by way of an external war, similar to what occurred in Iraq”.
Instead, she offered a third option: “Change brought about by the Iranian people and the Iranian Resistance.”
This is an option that we in the European Parliament must endorse. Iran’s defiance in the face of the international community’s demand to halt permanently their uranium enrichment programme and their continuing efforts to export Islamic fundamentalism, particularly to Iraq, make EU attempts at conciliation the slippery slope towards military conflict. To avoid that, we must lend our support to the Iranian people in their endeavors to bring about change in Iran.
EU’s efforts to encourage Tehran to change its behaviour have failed. Concessions such as accepting Tehran’s demand to include Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), and a member of the NCRI in the EU’s terror list, has proven to be counter-productive. Mrs. Rajavi rightly emphasized that this “label has no real basis or legal credibility”. Distinguished experts on European Community law and International Law have questioned the legality of the PMOI’s designation and declared that it was without merit. (International Conference of Jurists, Paris, 10 November, 2004) This view was confirmed by Lord Slynn of Hadley, the former judge at the European Court of Justice, and a world authority on European law, who explained to us in the meeting in Strasbourg that the PMOI is a legitimate political resistance movement. The recent commitment by the UK, France and Germany to the Iranian regime, that if the mullahs would accept a temporary limit to their nuclear program, the EU would keep the PMOI on the terrorist list, confirms the invalidity of the listing.
In this context, as members of the European Parliament, we have a duty to contribute to the formulation of a correct policy on one of the most important issues that the EU is facing in its foreign and security policy. We are also duty bound to make sure the Community’s laws are respected by our own governments and not violated for ulterior political considerations. Finally, we have a moral duty to make sure fairness and justice prevail. Accordingly, support for the Iranian Resistance, which represents the aspirations of the Iranian people for change is the proper course of action.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roco - First Vice President of the European Parliament
Friends of a Free Iran - The Meeting
Struan Stevenson, MEP (UK) opened the meeting by welcoming Mrs. Rajavi to the European Parliament. He then invited Mr. Paulo Casaca, MEP (Portugal) to make his openning remarks
Paulo Casaca: It is a great honour for me to welcome Maryam Rajavi in the house of European Democracy. It is a great honour; we know it was not easy to make this meeting. We know that the Iranian government and more specifically Mr. Kharrazi in Brussels during the last two days he has been trying be all means to prevent this to happen. They have written slander letters to nearly everyone. They tried everything they could to stop this event from happening, but they did not succeed. I think that they should have understood that when one and a half years ago they managed to convince the French authorities to launch the biggest military operation in French soil from the Second World War, just to persecute, to arrest absolutely harmless (people), they should have understood that this does not work, because just a fortnight after this she was released because the European justice in France was working. And whenever there I a political establishment that is taking a wrong position we in a democratic world, we know that there are institutions that we can rely on. So they should have understood that their lies, their slander are not playing anymore. They have been doing this in every domain. They promised and through the European institutions we have been promised over two years ago that there would be no more stoning of women in Iran. We just got the news yesterday that in two weeks time the Iranian regime intends to stone another woman on ‘moral grounds’. They have been telling us time and time again that the Iranian regime was giving up on its nuclear ambitions and time and time again they proved that they were not giving up their intentions. They have been lying time after time. And after all these years I’ve been accompanying the work of the Iranian resistance, that I had the opportunity of visiting Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and stayed there for some days, I can assure all of you that what has been said by the Iranian regime and their agents is simply slander; its not true. We are facing a truly democratic movement that is actually the most advanced I know in all of the world that is ruled by dictatorship. This is a truly committed movement to democracy, freedom, and tolerance. And therefore it is for us a fantastic opportunity to have Madam Rajavi at our side, and I will not waste none (any) of your time anymore because all of us we want to hear what Mrs. Rajavi has to tell us. Thank you, thank you very much for coming. Thank you for joining us in this parliament of ours.
Mr. Stevenson followed Mr. Casaca by saying: Yesterday we learnt that this week in Iran, a girl suffering from mental handicap has been sentenced to flogging and then public execution by hanging for ‘offences against chastity’. This is a girl of 19 with a mental age of eight. In August you will recall that a 16-year-old girl was publicly hanged … a 16-year-olg girl was publicly hanged in August in Iran by the mullahs’ regime. This is after 120,000 executions since the mullahs came to public prominence. In fighting this regime, Mrs. Rajavi as the President-elect is both a brave and resolute lady; a woman who wishes to bring a secular democracy to Iran. I think all of us should pay great respect to her bravery and her fortitude; and we welcome you here today, Mrs. Rajavi, and I now give you the floor. Thank you.
Messrs Alejo Vidal-Quadras-Roca, Paulo Casaca and Straun Stevenson,
Distinguished Members of the European Parliament,
The Rt. Hon. Lord Slynn of Hadley,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be among you, elected representatives of the people of Europe. Your courageous stance in defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms is heartwarming to all those who seek freedom, particularly in my homeland Iran.
I have come here at a time when the theocracy ruling Iran has set new records in violating human rights. Through its increasing meddling in Iraq and pursuit of nuclear weapons, this regime poses the greatest challenge to the international community.
In the face of this challenge, two options have been raised: The make-a-deal approach to the clerical regime with the aim of containing it or inducing gradual change. For the past two decades, Western countries have subscribed to this approach.
The other option is to overthrow the clerical regime by way of an external war, similar to what occurred in Iraq. No one would want to see this repeated in Iran.
But I have come here today to say that there is a third option: Change brought about by the Iranian people and the Iranian Resistance.
No concession is going to dissuade the mullahs from continuing their ominous objectives. Let us recall the day after the 1938 Munich Pact, when Sir Winston Churchill said in the House of Commons, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”
History proved him right. But let us not allow a repetition of the Munich experience by nuclear-armed mullahs.
Since two decades ago, the Iranian Resistance emphasized that a viper would never give birth to dove. Seven years ago, we warned that Khatami had neither the power nor the desire to bring about change. Appeasing the mullahs continued, however, with disastrous consequences. EU’s trade with Tehran increased to 16 billion Euros. But even the bogus moderates did not remain in power as the most extremist factions have dominated the levers of power.
We can also see the consequences of appeasement in the regime’s domestic and foreign policy:
Domestically, gallows are busy at work in cities and mass public hangings are on the rise. There were 12 public hangings in the first week of December alone.
In foreign policy, the export of fundamentalism and the effort to devour Iraq is continuing relentlessly. Last week, the King of Jordan and the Iraqi President said that Iran’s meddling was threatening the elections in Iraq. The two leaders underscored that Iran’s rulers seek to install another Islamic Republic in Iraq, emphasizing such an outcome would upset the geopolitical balance in the region and in Islamic countries.
To guarantee their survival, the mullahs are trying to build nuclear weapons. European appeasement provided ample opportunity to the mullahs to inch closer to the nuclear bomb.
Tehran´s WMD-capable missiles have Eastern and Southern Europe within range and could reach Western Europe if not stopped.
The Iranian Resistance has systematically exposed Iran’s nuclear programs. The EU troika, however, prevented the referral of the mullahs’ nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council during the recent meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Ten days ago, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the regime’s number two, added, “Tehran is set to be a member of the nuclear club soon and will resume enrichment after a maximum of six months.”
In a nutshell, the regime ruling Iran is a medieval theocracy that lacks the capacity to reform. The principle of the velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical rule) is the pillar of the Iranian regime’s constitution and cannot be changed even through a referendum. It forms the basis for its laws and practices and accords little value to the people’s vote. Election charades are only the means to solidify the Supreme Leader’s control. Misogyny is inherent to the regime and a means to keep Iranian society in check.
The ruling religious dictatorship needs the export of fundamentalism in order to survive. Today’s efforts to build nuclear weapons and dominate Iraq arise out of this need. Last month, former Foreign Minister and the Supreme Leader’s senior advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, said, “If we take one step back, we will go down the slop of being overthrown.”
Let there be no doubt: European policies such as critical dialogue, constructive engagement and human rights dialogue will not change anything as far as the regime is concerned. Appeasement is not the way to contain or change the regime. Nor is it the path to avoid another war.
Appeasement only emboldens the mullahs. The answer to fundamentalism is democracy.
As I said at the outset, we do not have to choose between appeasement and surrender. The equation of “either a military invasion or appeasement” is an exercise in political deception. A third option is within reach. The Iranian people and their organized resistance have the capacity and ability to bring about change.
Iran has an ancient civilization and a rich culture. It is the cradle of Islamic civilization. It has been home to three major revolutions in the twentieth century. Iranians would never submit to the medieval regime ruling them. Government surveys show that ninety-four percent of Iranians want an end to this theocracy. Last week, thousands of students staged a demonstration against Khatami’s presence at Tehran University on December 6, which marked the Students´ Day. They were shouting, Khatami, you are the enemy of the people, enough of lies and where is freedom? Despite brutal crackdown, uprisings have continued to erupt across the nation.
The persistence of protests in society reflects the Iranian people yearning for regime change. The presence of an organized resistance with 120,000 martyrs and more than half-a-million prisoners in the past quarter century is indicative of the depth and the intensity of society’s rejection of the regime.
By forming a pluralistic alternative, a widespread social network and a liberation army, the resistance has sufficient power and potential to bring about change in Iran. It has led the Iranian people’s movement for democracy in the most difficult domestic and regional circumstances.
Politically speaking, such barbaric repression reflects only the mullahs’ fear of being overthrown by the Iranian people and resistance. Why in all their international interactions, the mullahs demand the exertion of pressure on the resistance movement? Why during discussions on the nuclear issue and in return for binding international commitments, they set the condition that Europe blacklist the resistance? Why did they openly call for guarantees that would prevent the regime’s overthrow? Are all of these not indicative of the mullahs’ paranoia over the third option?
The resistance movement has deeps roots in society. As the core of this resistance, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) has been fighting for freedom against the dictatorships of the Shah and Khomeini for 40 years. The PMOI’s extensive network across Iran organizes and gives direction to social protests, provides the movement with financial assistance and intelligence and reveals Tehran’s most clandestine nuclear, missile and terrorist projects.
With a democratic and tolerant vision of Islam, the PMOI is the antithesis to fundamentalism. It has exposed and isolated the violent and backward interpretation of Islam by the fundamentalists. The PMOI message is that Iran’s mullahs do not represent Islam. They are Islam’s enemy.
The PMOI is the most serious buffer against the mullahs’ fundamentalism and terrorism. It is a major barrier against Tehran’s strategy to devour Iraq. Recognizing this reality, half-a-million Iraqis issued a statement earlier this year, demanding the continued presence of the PMOI in Iraq. Recently, more than 200,000 Iraqi singed a declaration, condemning the EU-troika’s deal with Tehran against the PMOI as countering the interests of the people of Iran and Iraq.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the resistance’s parliament, is a coalition of democratic forces that seek a republic based on the separation of Church and State. Half its members are women. With the membership of religious and ethnic minorities as well as different political tendencies, the NCRI represents a majority of the Iranian nation and is the guarantee for Iran’s unity after the toppling of the mullahs and the peaceful transfer of power.
We have called for free elections under the United Nations auspices repeatedly. The mullahs, however, would never accept that. For us, democracy is not merely a political program, but an ideal for which 120,000 members of the resistance, including six members of my family have sacrificed their lives. The NCRI has committed itself to organize free elections for a constituent assembly within six months of regime change and handover the affairs to the people’s elected representatives so that society’s deep wounds that were caused by eighty years of dictatorship are healed.
By adhering to international covenants, interest in peace and coexistence, we want a peaceful Iran, free from all weapons of mass destruction. We want to rebuild Iran, which the mullahs have ruined, through the people’s participation, the return of our experts and friendship with the rest of the world.
The biggest obstacle to this change is the policy pursued by Western governments. The West is compromising with Tehran at the expense of the Iranian people and Resistance. The most important, illegitimate and damaging action was accepting the mullahs’ demand to put the terrorist tag on the Iranian Resistance. This label has no real basis or legal credibility. It has been used by the United States and Europe to engage in deals with the mullahs. After Khatami took office, US officials said that the terror tag was a goodwill gesture to the mullahs’ new president. A senior State Department official said the designation was in response to the demand by the Iranian regime and part of the policy of rapprochement with the Iranian regime.
Another shameful acknowledgement was the official document signed by the EU troika. First published by Agence France Presse, the document promised that if the mullahs would accept to limit their nuclear program, the EU would keep the PMOI in the terrorist list. According to the agreement, the EU-troika committed themselves to fight against PMOI activities and provide security assistance to the regime. The scandalous raid by 1,300 French policemen on the office of the NCRI in France represents a dark page in post-war Europe. In other countries, offices of the Iranian Resistance have been attacked in return for trade concessions from Tehran. In all cases, judicial authorities declared that there was no basis to the allegations linking the PMOI to terrorism or any criminal activity. The judiciaries in Germany, Italy and Britain closed the files on this issue. A French court, which overturned the order to expel political refugees affiliated to the PMOI, wrote that the PMOI does not pose a threat to France.
A month ago, 500 distinguished jurists from across the world presented nine legal briefs at a conference in Paris, underscoring that the terror label on the PMOI violated the European Convention on Human Rights, the fundamental right to defense and the principle of presumption of innocence. They emphasized that any judicial proceeding emanating from the terrorist tag is illegal. A large number of MEPs, majorities in the parliaments of Italy, Britain, Belgium and Luxembourg as well as more than 1,000 parliamentarians elsewhere in Europe and a majority in the U.S. Congress stated repeatedly that the PMOI is a legitimate resistance movement and should be removed from the terrorist list.
The coalition forces, including 10 EU members, acknowledged after a 16-month investigation that the PMOI personnel were under Fourth Geneva Convention protections and there was no basis to charge any of its members. If not even a single member of the PMOI is terrorist, what is the justification for the continuation of this tag?
The terror tag against the Iranian Resistance is tantamount to ignoring the right of a nation to bring about change in Iran. This label ignores that third option.
The Munich Pact turned a blind eye to Hitler’s aggression against Eastern Europe. Today, a nation’s right to freedom is being denied.
We seek neither the West’s money nor weapons. We want them to remain neutral between the Iranian people and resistance on one hand and the ruling regime on the other.
The terror tag is a decree that sanctions the suppression of a nation in the hands of a regime, which fifty-one United Nations resolutions have condemned for human rights abuse.
The removal of the unjust terror tag on the PMOI is a legitimate demand of the Iranian people. Based on my experience with the people of France, I am convinced that a solid majority in Europe also support this demand.
Let me address in summary form what I have already said to the distinguished members here and to the EU summit that will convene in Brussels tomorrow:
1. The existence of the clerical regime is entwined with suppression and the export of terrorism and fundamentalism. It cannot retreat from any of them.
2. By installing a puppet Islamic regime in Iraq, the mullahs seek to play the role of the hegemon in the Islamic world.
3. The mullahs are secretly continuing their nuclear weapons project in breach of their commitments.
4. The third option, namely bringing an end to this tyranny by the Iranian people and resistance is within reach. The policy of appeasement emboldens the clerical regime to continue its policies, and would ultimately impose a war on Western countries.
5. The terror label against the PMOI lacks legal credibility and was part of a deal with the mullahs. It is a political obstacle to change in Iran by the Iranian people and resistance. Removing this unjust label is necessary for change and the creation of democratic Iran.
6. The clerical regime is an impediment to the realization of peace and tranquility in the region and especially in Iraq. A regime change in Iran and the establishment of freedom and popular sovereignty in that country is key to peace, stability and coexistence in the Middle East region and the end to violence and vengeance in the birth place of Moses, Jesus and Mohammad.
We think of the future. This regime is devoid of a future. Iran and Europe are neighbors. We have enormous interest is friendship and cooperation with Europe. I hope that by correcting its policy, Europe would pave the way for this cooperation with tomorrow’s Iran and guarantee the interests of the European people in their confrontation with fundamentalism.
In expressing my gratitude for your courageous positions in defense of democracy in Iran, I ask that you employ all means available to you for a proper European policy toward Iran and the removal of the terrorist label against the Iranian people’s legitimate resistance. The Iranian people would never forget your efforts in defense of human rights and democracy.
Mr. Stevenson then introduced Rt. Hon. The Lord Slynn of Hadley as one of the leading experts in international law and a former judge in the European Court of Justice. The following is the excerpt of his speech.
Rt. Hon. The Lord Slynn of Hadley, QC:
I was asked with Prof. Jean-Yves de Cara, a very eminent international lawyer from Paris, to advise on one question. A question of major importance to the people at Ashraf (the camp belonging to the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran in Iraq). And that question is the legal status of the members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran in Iraq.
This question is in two parts. In the first place, what is the status of the individuals. And that involves looking at the various Geneva conventions that you as politicians know only too well. The first suggestion was that perhaps the members of the Mojahedin in Ashraf were combatants who had been involved in the conflict in Iraq. We came to the very firm view that they were not combatants with rights and duties under the appropriate Geneva Conventions. They did not belong to an armed force on either side. They did not belong to an irregular force attached to either side. So, they were not combatants. And, therefore, if they were detained in their camp, they were not to be treated and did not have to be treated as prisoners of war. It was quite plain to Prof. de Cara and to me that on the other hand equally that the people in Ashraf had rights to be protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, with one or two limited exceptions, which I will deal with. They were protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention and we advised to that effect.
The second question, which was pretty obvious. What was the position of the coalition once it occupied Iraq. Did that affect the rights as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention? We find it important to stress that the sovereignty of Iraq continued despite occupation. So, the laws of Iraq continued. And obligations of Iraq continued, both under the Geneva Convention and under the Hague Regulation. So, the members of the Mojahedin and their colleagues were entitled to continue their rights under the Geneva Convention during the occupation: rights as individuals, rights to property, rights not to be deported from Iraq by virtue of 49/78 of Convention.
Moreover, it was clear since Iraq had recognized their status in Iraq, at Camp Ashraf and the other camps, as refugees, not as refugees under the 1951 refugee convention, but under Iraq’s domestic legislation. So under this too, as political refugees they had a right under international law not to be sent back to their own territories. And these were rights, which had to be respected. But even more important perhaps as a matter of day-to-day practical reality, it was quite clear that people in the Camp, member of the People’s Mojahedin, had been recognized as a resistance movement of a political nature. And as such, they had rights under the international law. Perhaps, they had rights also as insurgents fighting against the government of another state. So, it was very important that these rights as members of a political resistance movement should be protected when the coalition took over. It was quite plain that for a number of years they had been recognized as having rights. They had camps on sites, which were recognized belonging to them and their political independence was respected.
So, one would say categorically, without the possibility of counter argument that for them to be sent back to Iran either by either the coalition or by Iraqi government would be a violation of customary international law and a grave breach of international human rights law. And I must say that our arguments put to the coalition on this were listened to very carefully and with understanding.
We have to balance the right to wage resistance in the interest of democracy. Protecting the liberty and dignity of the people of a particular country have to be taken care of. Although terrorism is obviously not to be tolerated, we have to ensure that rights to achieve democracy, to assist in the achievement of democracy are not frustrated.
A final question, to which Mrs. Rajavi has herself referred is a question of this new agreement that as long as there is no further nuclear activity, the Mojahedin will remain on the proscribed list. This is a matter for you as parliamentarians, as politicians, to decide whether morally, legally and in international law this is the right course to take. It might be said that you are either a terrorist or you are not a terrorist. You don’t become a terrorist only if something else is done or not done. You don’t cease to be terrorist only if something else is done or not done. It is a matter, as Mrs. Rajavi has stressed, of considerable importance aid for you as parliamentarians.
In his closing remarks Mr. Stevenson said: We recently had Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran who came to see the Foreign Affairs Committee in this house and he ludicrously told us that the new missile system being developed with the act of help of North Korea and with the ability to deliver a pay load at a total of 2,500 km. from its firing range, was simply a weapon for defensive necessities against Iran’s immediate neighbours.
I think anyone will understand that the threat now being posed by Iran which is almost certainly continuing with its nuclear enrichment program, despite their promises. The fact that they are now developing a third generation missile delivery system that can travel even further than 2,500 km.
The threat not only to the complete destabilization of that region, the threat is now to us, to the rest of the world. That is why it is so vitally important that we support the incredible and courageous work of Mrs. Rajavi and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. It is only through them that this threat can be removed and it is only through them that the greatly civilized and gentle people of Iran can have a return to a democratic and secular government with respect for women and respect for human rights. And it is through the leadership of Mrs. Rajavi that we can achieve this objective.
So for that reason, Mrs. Rajavi, I am really, on behalf of all of our colleagues very grateful for you coming today for addressing this meeting in the European Parliament.
I hope we may welcoming you back here as the president of Iran in a very near future indeed. Thank you.