As Canada moves towards re-engaging Iran, human rights must be an important part of this relationship. This was a repeated theme at a public panel discussion held at the University of Ottawa on November 22. The panel was organized by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies, foreign policy website OpenCanada.org, and the Baha’i Community of Canada.
“If Canada is to re-engage Iran in an honest and clear-eyed way, human rights will have to be a central consideration,” according to Dr. Michael Petrou, an award-winning Canadian journalist on the Middle East and Iran. “Executions and other human rights violations have increased since the election of President Rouhani despite reform promises.”
Maryam Nayeb Yazdi, a Canadian-Iranian human rights activist, echoed Petrou’s observation about the intensification of human rights abuses in Iran over the past four years, noting the unacceptably high numbers of executions, around 1,000 last year, and continued persecution of minorities including the Baha’i community.
Prof. Thomas Juneau of the University of Ottawa explained how difficult it will be for Canada to re-establish formal diplomatic relations with Iran. He emphasized that re-engagement could include not only re-opening embassies, but also considering a range of foreign policies, including economic and trade policies.
About 70 people, including Liberal and Conservative Members of Parliament, current and former Canadian foreign service officers, and others foreign policy observers attended the public discussion titled “The Tehran Test: How human rights cases in Iran are putting Canada’s foreign policy approach to the test.” Eva Salinas, the Managing Editor of OpenCanada.org, an international affairs website, moderated the panel, summarizing views expressed by both the speakers and audience, by asking, “Can Canada put human rights conditions on re-engagement?”
Canada recently led the co-sponsorship of an annual resolution on human rights in Iran at the United Nations. Canada has led the passage of the resolution since 2002. This year it was co-sponsored by 41 other states and supported by 85 member states. Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion said that its passage shows that, “Canada and the international community remain deeply concerned with the lack of respect of human rights for all people in Iran. Canada calls on the Government of Iran to implement its human rights obligations.”.
By the end of the discussion with the audience, it become apparent that re-engagement with Iran is at an initial stage with substantial changes in the relationship a long way off. How Canada engages Iran with respect to human rights and the moderation of its treatment of so many of its citizens, including the Baha’is, remains a challenging question. .
Maryam Nayeb Yazdi concluded the panel by making a plea for continued public awareness of the deplorable human rights record of the Iranian government along with a firm, public commitment by Canada’s government that calls Iran to account for its unacceptable conduct towards its own people who deserve a government that promotes justice and the rule of law.