On 16 September 2022 – five days before her 23rd birthday – Jina Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman from the Iranian province of Kurdistan, was arrested and murdered by the Iranian morality police (what irony!). The reason for her arrest was allegedly a violation of the Hijāb law. This state femicide triggered one of the largest waves of protest in Iran ever and one that continues until now. The broad protest movement is carried by Iranian women who no longer want to endure being cheated of their rights as women and human beings by an inhuman, ossified, patriarchal ruling clique. The feminist protest movement demands a democratic reform of the Iranian state and equal rights for all people: for women as well as men and for minorities.
The Western democracies, including the European Union (EU), which actually attach great importance to human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and democracy, are still extremely reserved towards this feminist protest movement, which stands up for precisely these values and whose activists risk their lives for these values every day.
For this reason, the Chair of the Iran Delegation of the European Parliament, Cornelia Ernst (The Left Party), has conducted a study on what the EU must do to strengthen this protest movement. The study is available in English and is entitled, “Half a year of feminist revolt in Iran – Civil society perspectives, the regional dimension and Required EU Action.” Ernst summarises the core of the study as follows:
“This study makes clear what the EU now has to do: First, the EU needs to continue to support the activists and human and women’s rights defenders in the country, both materially and symbolically. Secondly, the many human rights violations must be documented and dealt with, for example, within the framework of international jurisdiction. Finally, the Union must also continuously address the situation in Iran in multilateral bodies and make human rights demands on Iran, especially in association with states of the Global South.”
The 40-page study is worth a look. It was prepared by Cornelius Adebahr and Barbara Mittelhammer, both freelance political consultants. However, the study is only available in an English-language version. This is due to the fact that an English-language version reaches a much larger readership and that English serves as the general language of communication within EU institutions.
Cornelia Ernst formulates the goal of the study in her foreword: “We need the unbiased exchange of ideas, the critical and sober debate. This includes this study, which has been produced in exchange with many Iranians over the last few years. With it, we want to contribute to the debate on possible policy approaches for the European Union and its member states dealings with Iran. But we are also interested in promoting a culture of discussion on complicated international and social issues. The path to democracy, equality, and the rule of law begins with pluralism and respect for dissent, but first and foremost with listening.”
The study starts by describing the background of the protests. These are not the first protests against the theocratic and patriarchal Iranian government, but they are the largest so far. Moreover, the current protest movement is a feminist movement, i.e. essentially supported by women and oriented toward women’s rights. However, it also takes up the demands of the Iranian labour movement and those of other oppressed minorities in Iran. In this respect, the current protest movement differs from earlier ones. The authors of the study assess the current economic and social situation in Iran as ambivalent. On the one hand, the precarious economic situation makes it difficult to organise the protests, but at the same time, the government’s inability to resolve the crisis favours the protests.
The following section of the study describes the extremely brutal response of the Iranian government and security forces to the protests. According to the authors, it consists of three main elements: “The use of indiscriminate force, violent and arbitrary arrests, and the throttling of internet service across the country.” State leader Ali Khamenei, the authors say, has promised the security forces full backing for the implementation.
Based on this, the study formulates three categories of demands from the Iranian protest movement. First, there is the demand for measures to stop concrete human rights violations and to meet humanitarian needs, then the demand for concrete material support for the uprising in addition to the usual moral declarations of support, and finally the demand for prosecution for the crimes committed by the regime and for an end to the violent suppression of the protests.
Furthermore, the study suggests that international institutions, especially the United Nations, use their possibilities to support and protect the protest movement. In the authors’ view, this should primarily include the establishment of an independent UN Commission of Inquiry to investigate and document human rights violations in order to secure evidence for a later legal and political investigation.
Finally, the study points to Iran’s regional and international security role. Regionally, both Kurds and other minorities are systematically persecuted and oppressed by the Iranian system. Internationally, Iran is trying to establish itself as a middle nuclear power.
The study ends with a comprehensive list of concrete policy recommendations to the European Union to support the Iranian protest movement. This part of the study is documented at the end of this article.
In a press statement, Barbara Mittelhammer, one of the two co-authors of the study, said: “The ongoing revolt in Iran is feminist, not only because it is led by women, but because it demands equal rights for all: for women as well as for ethnic minorities, for people in the cities as well as in the countryside. They are all united by the motto ‘Woman, Life, Liberty’. The EU should therefore strengthen the effective implementation of women’s and human rights, in close exchange with Iranian civil society and with the aim of Iranians deciding for themselves on their form of government.”
Her author colleague Cornelius Adebahr added: “The revolutionary movement in Iran underlines that human security should be at the center of European action. This means that regional security issues, for example in Yemen, Syria, and Israel, and the nuclear deal are as crucial as the human rights situation in the country. An approach that excludes one or more of these aspects falls short.”
6. List of policy recommendations to the EU
Focusing on the immediate needs and demands of Iranians as outlined above, the EU should:
– Communicate clear human rights expectations to the Iranian authorities in particular with regards to executions of protesters, the use of lethal force to repress protests, the situation of detainees, their lack of access to fair trial and serious process violations.
– Closely monitor the situation of thousands of detained women and human rights defenders, journalist and peaceful protesters, sustain international attention, as well as prepare and support eventual accountability measures.
– Support global and local documentation and verification of rights violations and hold Iranian authorities accountable through targeted restrictive measures, as well as strengthening the effective implementation of those measures already in place.
– Strengthen international justice by working with the respective UN bodies (UN Human Rights Council/Fact-Finding Mission, Special Rapporteurs etc.) including financial support for their work.
– Consider and respond to the violence used against particularly vulnerable groups such as Kurdish, Baluchi, Bahai, youth, children, and other marginalized communities.
– Ensure protesters and human rights defenders at risk can leave the country to safe places. While visa and asylum issues are in the hands of EU member states, discussions at EU level provide a platform to focus on issuing humanitarian visa, facilitating multi-entry visa for women’s and human rights defenders, as well as a general ban on deportations to Iran.
– Support and protect women’s and human rights defenders – through means ranging from increased and flexible funding to facilitating unbureaucratic visa processes and the possibility to live and work in the EU.
– Protect women’s and human rights defenders in EU member states from threats and the targeting of the Iranian regime or security services and facilitate supportive measures that allow them to continue their work in Iran.
– Make urgently needed emergency funding accessible and ensure that resources are also available for civil society projects on civil liberties, women’s and human rights, and other aspects of priority to Iranians such as environmental protection and labour rights.
– Ensure continuous humanitarian funding and facilitate implementation of projects, for example by supporting UN organizations such as UNICEF.
– Monitor and minimise the impact of political and economic (restrictive) measures on the civilian population to ensure they are well in place and working. Conduct harm assessments on potential new sanctions including civil society representatives.
– Lead on creating a multilateral coalition of states that includes key global south countries to communicate clear and concrete human rights demands to Iran and press authorities to change their conduct.
– Explore ways to facilitate support for Iranian civil society – including through diaspora networks. This can include provision of funding via UN institutions and more creative channels such as south-south collaborative civil society initiatives.
Jürgen Klute was a Die Linke (The Left) MEP and spokesman for the Kurdish Friendship Group in the European Parliament from 2009 to 2014. Since December 2016, he has been editing the Europa.blog.