10 September 2015, Gateway House
Human rights in Iran after the deal
While the lifting of economic sanctions after Iran’s recent nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries may improve socio-economic conditions, will it also positively impact human rights in the country? 
BY Nargess Tavassolian

More than a month after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and the P5+1 countries (China, Russia, France, UK, U.S., and Germany) was concluded, Iranian human rights activists are still debating whether the deal will eventually improve human rights in Iran, or will rights deteriorate?

Some activists have opposed the deal, arguing that its eventual financial benefits will not be spent on the people of Iran. But a majority of Iranian activists support the deal, as do I, as a legal expert and human rights activist.

The conclusion of the nuclear deal will not automatically lead to the betterment of human rights in Iran; but this goal cannot be achieved without the active role of civil society in the country.
Economic sanctions have severely affected ordinary Iranians in different ways, and lifting the sanctions can ease Iranian society to a great extent. Most Iranians have suffered from the sanctions-induced lack or high cost of basic commodities such as medicine. The sanctions have also resulted in corruption at various levels.
Human rights are not only about civil and political issues (such as the right to freedom of thought and expression); they also include economic and social rights (such as the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to be free from hunger). These were not possible with crippling economic sanctions.

The deal can also help improve political and civil rights in Iran. The Iranian government has on occasion used the charge of “collaborating with the enemy government” against activists and journalists. Though the term “enemy” state/government only implies countries at war with Iran, and does not include states that don’t have friendly relations with Iran, it has been used quite loosely in the country. With the nuclear deal, the Iranian government’s ambit of such states is likely to narrow, and it is thereafter less likely to use the “collaboration” charge against the country’s activists and journalists.

While opponents of the deal have argued the deal will make the Iranian government stronger and more confident about suppressing human rights in the country, experience shows that whenever Iran had been in isolation, as it was in the 1980’s, the human rights record in fact became worse.

Various activists have stressed the role that the civil society can play in this regard.  In a joint statement, Iranian human rights organisations, while endorsing the deal, have stressed that “as Iran’s relationship with the international community evolves, human rights must be addressed as directly and with the same level of dedication as shown by the Iranian government and the international community in their recent dialogues.”

This of course also requires the support of human rights activists abroad, as well as of the civil society of other countriesto put pressure on their governments to consider human rights in negotiations with the Iranian government.

The Iranian government is concerned about its global public image. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to argue that an end to Iran’s isolation may contribute to the advancement of human rights in Iran.

Nargess Tavassolian received her PhD in law from School of Oriental and African Studies in London, UK. She has collaborated with various media outlets and think-tanks on Iran’s social, political and legal issues. She currently works as a legal affairs correspondent and legal researcher.

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