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Mandela’s Legacy Lives on in Iranian Resistance | Commentary

A few weeks ago the international community recognized International Human Rights Day and reaffirmed the fundamental truths enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

World leaders also gathered in Johannesburg to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

With the unforgiving spotlight on human rights issues and the moral courage of those who speak truth to power, it was a difficult week for despots the world over.

No more so was this the case than in Tehran where the clerical elite promotes the modern equivalent of South Africa’s Apartheid era violence and exclusionist policies.

Since the interim nuclear accord reached in Geneva last month, the regime’s merry apologists and paid hands in Washington have been busily spinning tales of moderation and reform that belie the available evidence.

Consider the following: The Iranian people are consistently ranked among the least free in the world in indexes of civil and political liberties. Composite scoring of corruption data places the country’s public sector in the bottom tier in terms of transparency. And indexes of economic freedom note that Iran is among the least economically free countries in the world.

A 34-year history of violence also places the regime’s leaders — including President Hassan Rouhani — among a select group of modern tyrants and state sponsors of terrorism.

Is it any wonder then that U.S. appeasement on the nuclear issue is viewed through the prism of the agreement at Munich?

Policymakers concerned that U.S. officials have fallen victim to the illusion of reform and strengthened the hand of the ayatollahs through a naive Faustian bargain can do what the regime’s propagandists fear most and increase their scrutiny of Iran’s domestic policies and, in particular, their treatment of the primary Iranian opposition — the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

The NCRI is a coalition of democratic opposition groups, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), who have been instrumental in providing intelligence related to Iran’s nuclear activities. Their revelations are largely responsible for triggering the last round of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and building global momentum for sanctions.

But today some 3,000 Iranian dissidents with allegiance to the NCRI are under detention at a refugee camp near Baghdad ironically called Camp Liberty.

Iraqi security forces, acting as Tehran’s proxies, have been involved in systematic efforts to break the back of the regime’s most worrisome opposition.

A September 1 massacre resulted in 52 execution style murders and the taking of seven hostages, including six women. None have been returned nor have their whereabouts even been confirmed. Amnesty International reports that the individuals are being held hostage in Iraq and remain under threat of extradition to Iran.

The White House – despite congressional pressure – chose to ignore the matter during a recent visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even though the aggression was a clear violation of the agreement signed by the Iraqi government and ratified by the U.S. and the United Nations on Aug. 17, 2012. That the dissidents had signed agreements providing for their protection under the 4th Geneva Convention also seemed not to matter.

Since the attack, hundreds of Iranian dissidents have been on hunger strike for more than three months in an effort to keep the world from forgetting their plight. Although this tactic is largely unfamiliar to Americans, Mandela, Gandhi and King used hunger strikes to great effect to build awareness of injustice and promote social change.

By honoring those in the Iranian resistance – whose principled opposition, peaceful protest, and commitment to democratic ideals stands in stark contrast to the regime’s autocratic rule – U.S. officials will position themselves on the right side of history.

Recently, 17 members of the U.S. House of Representatives took an important step in this regard by filing H.R. 3707 “To ensure the emergency protection of Iranian dissidents living in Camp Liberty.”

The legislation calls on the U.S. to take “all necessary and appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the residents of Camp Liberty” in accordance with international agreements, and to assist the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the timely resettlement of “Liberty” residents to safe locations outside of Iraq, including in the United States.

Passing the legislation would be a clear signal to Tehran that the U.S. is committed to living up to its prior agreements, enforcing human rights, and protecting those in harms way. But Congress should also push the White House to address the apartheid-like conditions in Iran and explain why the U.S. should compromise human rights to strike a deal with Tehran on uranium enrichment.

Ivan Sascha Sheehan, who has a doctorate from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, is director of the graduate programs in negotiation and conflict management, and global affairs and human security in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore.

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