Obama Can't Ignore Human Rights Abuses in Iran

Thursday, April 2, 2015 
By: Gregory T. Angelo and Matthew Brooks

Last week, President Obama hailed the Persian New Year (“Nowruz”) as an opportunity to solicit Iranian support for his nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. In a video message subtitled in Farsi, Obama urged the people of Iran to “speak up for the future we seek.”

This mention of free speech to an Iranian audience—a population that enjoys none—underlines the stunning degree of delusion underpinning this administration’s attempt to negotiate with Iran.

The Obama administration refuses to acknowledge our role in combating the horrendous human rights abuses committed especially against women, gays, religious minorities and journalists as a meaningful dimension of diplomacy with Iran. That’s why Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest coalition of gay Republicans and its allies, and the Republican Jewish Coalition are together insisting that human rights are a component of any nuclear deal with Iran.

New reports on Iran suggest that the abysmal state of domestic human rights is persisting, if not regressing, as the president continues to forcefully hurl our nation closer to a bilateral nuclear deal.

According to recent testimony from the U.S. special envoy on Iranian human rights, the country carried out at least 753 executions in 2014, the highest number of killings in more than a decade. This body count includes at least eight publicly executed individuals believed to have been younger than eighteen years of age at the time of their alleged crimes.

Minority groups are most vulnerable to this systematic brutality. More than two-thirds of Iranian women experience domestic abuse. For example, girls as young as nine years of age are allowed to legally marry with the permission of the court. Religious minorities continue to report arrest, prosecution and violence on the basis of their faith. 

And those merely suspected of being gay must confront the government’s “total rejection” of “homosexual behaviors”—a posture frequently used to legitimize execution.

Worse, political repression makes challenging these flagrant human rights abuses all but impossible. Human rights advocates, lawyers and journalists continue to be arrested, detained and imprisoned for their political activism at a rapidly accelerating paceOnce incarcerated, these political prisoners are subjected to a litany of likely acts of physical, sexual and physiological torture.

Yet according to Obama, the people of Iran need only “speak up” to catalyze a peaceful future. As if to affirm the naïveté of these remarks, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei publicly called for “Death to America” the very next day.

The rallying cry to obliterate the United States came less than twenty-four hours after its president assured a worldwide audience that “our countries should be able to resolve this issue peacefully,” and then praised Khamenei for his so-called “fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons.” 

Speaking to the shape of the emerging nuclear deal, Khamenei explained: “Negotiations with America are solely on the nuclear issue and nothing else. Everyone has to know that.”

He’s right. 

The United States under the Obama administration has demonstrated a willingness to overlook humanitarian crimes to preserve the nuclear negotiations with Iran. 

Despite President Hassan Rouhani’s pre-election pledge in 2013 that, “All ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice...” state-sanctioned violence has persisted. This alone should invalidate Rouhani and his regime as credible players in foreign diplomacy.

Outspoken Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), continue to cite the ongoing human rights violations as a reason to distrust the Iranian government, while the Obama administration has ignored the brutality in Iran to realize its nuclear deal.

President Obama seems to forget that our deep, defensible distrust of Iran is precisely why these bilateral negotiations are necessary in the first place. The international community is rightly concerned by the prospect of a state sponsor of terror developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

But the bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Iran should be  about much more than nukes.

Ignoring these abuses abroad tells our enemies that the American values of freedom and liberty are only surface-deep. After all, the president of the United States is quite literally negotiating with—and making concessions to—a sponsor of terrorist groups who continue to threaten our country and its citizens.

Should Obama continue to ignore human rights in the course of negotiations with Iran, our adversaries will understand that carefully chosen words speak louder than actions to the Obama administration.

While the consequences of Obama’s shortsighted diplomacy are sweeping, the solution is simple: The United States simply cannot reward a nation guilty of sustained humanitarian crimes by lifting sanctions. It’s time for the administration to tell Iran that any nuclear negotiation that ignores human rights is a bad deal.

Angelo is national executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. Brooks is executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

This article was posted to The Hill web site on April 2, 2015.