On Iran protests, non-intervention is not an option


"Human rights are not the gift of governments; they are the inalienable rights of the people themselves," U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said as the Security Council convened for an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the uprisings that have shaken Iran since the turn of the year. "The Iranian regime is now on notice: The world will be watching what you do."

President Trump’s open support for the people of Iran was a welcome break from the tradition set by his predecessor, who was more inclined toward endearing himself with the rulers of Iran rather than paying attention to the grievances of the people. However, the international community needs to do more collectively.

European states have yet to recognize in earnest the rights of the tens of thousands of Iranian people taking to the streets to protest against the regime’s corruption and suppression of their most basic rights.

In the Security Council meeting, French ambassador François Delattre downplayed the protests, claiming “they do not constitute, per se, a threat to international peace and security.” He further said that it is up to the Iranian people alone to “pursue the path of peaceful dialogue” based on “full respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Iranian people” with a regime that is neither capable of engaging in dialogue, nor has any appreciation for fundamental rights and freedoms. Meanwhile, the U.K. ambassador was more interested in preserving the flawed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program rather than voicing concern about the dozens who have been killed by Iran’s security forces and the fate of the thousands who have been arrested.

As protests raged across Iran, various voices are urging the U.S. and other states to “avoid intervening in the internal affairs” of Iran, a euphemism for doing nothing. Most prominent among them are known lobbies of the Iranian regime, former officials from the Obama administration, and states and organizations that have an economic or political stake in the continued rule of mullahs in Iran.

Under their subjective interpretation, supporting the protestors’ basic human rights counts as an intervention in internal affairs, but cutting trade deals with and filling the coffers of the regime that suppresses those protestors doesn’t.

Interestingly, most of these people criticized President Trump when he declared his administration’s policy toward Iran, arguing that a tough stance toward Tehran would prod the people of Iran to unite with their rulers against the West. To their dismay, the protests that have erupted in the past few weeks proved that any effort that would undermine the authority of the regime will empower the people of Iran, who have been fed up with their regime’s repression and corruption for decades.

In fact, the real problem isn’t that the international community is interfering in Iran’s internal affairs — it’s that it isn’t doing enough to help the people of Iran achieve their aspirations for freedom and democracy.

We’ve already seen what “doing nothing” yields. We saw it in 2009 in Iran, when the Obama administration decided to remain on the sidelines as the regime quelled protests in Iran. We saw it again in Syria, where non-intervention by the international community led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians, a prolonged war, a global crisis, and the rise of ISIS.

This time around, the international community must intervene before another regional and global crisis erupts. Both the U.S. and Europe should make it clear through targeted sanctions that they will not partake in any economic activity with any Iranian individual or entity engaged in human rights violations. They should also take measures to help Iranians circumvent the regime’s censorship of internet and messaging apps. This is where the tech community and tech companies can also play an active and productive role.

Finally, supporting the Iranian opposition, namely the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has been striving for a secular and democratic state for more than three decades, will be a vital step toward helping the Iranian people reclaim their rights.

As Ambassador Haley said, "In the end, the Iranian people will determine their own destiny." The international community has the responsibility to provide them with the tools and the support to fulfill that destiny.

Amir Basiri (@amir_bas) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an Iranian human rights activist.

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