Nov 01, 2014 | INTERNATIONAL | PERSIAN CATNIP

Iran & Human Rights: My Prerogative

How annoying it must be to constantly have to adamantly refute accusations of repression and general disregard for human rights, as beleaguered Iran has to. On the latest occasion, Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights (which presumably is an euphemism of some kind, more of that below) must have really had enough because he lost his composure and angrily retorted that it is not right for the West to be imposing its "lifestyle under the banner of human rights".

 

As we all know, lifestyle choices may differ from person to person and even more so from culture to culture. Some people may like regular physical activity, gardening and long walks in the park, others may care less for nature and more for torture and extrajudicial punishment. Some chose to have casual sexual intercourse outside of wedlock, others prefer not to and will throw in jail anybody who does. There are those that find it appealing to regularly dance in public and then there are those that consider it a great abomination and will arrest anyone who foolishly attempts to. Some like to keep pets, others to execute people (and in their free time crack down on pet owners). It's that simple apparently.

 

Of course the issue here is that in authoritarian countries like Iran, Human Rights, no matter how loosely or precisely they are defined, however broad or narrow their roster is, they are always subordinate to the prevailing dogma & societal norms, religious or cultural, and/or the authorities' grip of power. Most of the time, the former are used as a smokescreen for the later. There is no easier way to exert absolute control over people than by telling them that you are only acting on their behalf so they won't stray from God's path or besmirch their national and cultural identity. In the end it all comes down to the individual versus the collective, be that religion, tradition or the national interest. In order to respect the concept of human rights one has to take as axiomatic that the individual should never be trampled over by the "good" of collective. Especially since the "collective good" can be conveniently interpreted as one sees fit.

 

As far as Iran's High Council for Human Rights is concerned, it will come as no surprise that it kind of is (unintentionally) euphemistically named. It could not stop for example the recent hanging of a woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari, for murdering a man she accused of trying to rape her, despite global appeals (or partly because of them, Iran is not keen on being told what to do). In fact the Council's secretary general advised his counterparts in a UN meeting to "look into" Iran's "unique particularities" regarding capital punishment. Yet on the other hand, he also considers Saudi Arabia's plan to execute a Shiite cleric “unacceptable in term of the international and human rights standards.” Now, if that is not an "à la carte" approach to human rights, I don't know what is.