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Ahwaz Arab voice at the UN in Geneva

Iran's persecution of its Ahwazi Arab population was highlighted at a top level meeting at the UN's Palais des Nations in Geneva this week.

Karim Abdian, Director of the Ahwaz Education and Human Rights Foundation (AEHRF), gave an oral statement to the Working Group on Minorities at the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in which he brought attention to the regime's legacy of human rights violations against Ahwazis in Khuzestan province.

In his address to the Working Group on 31 May, Mr Abdian said: "The Islamic Republic government continues ethnic restructuring, confiscation of Arab and forced displacement of Ahwazi out of their land. We are being perceived as disloyal, suspicious and a security risk - who some day may re-claim the oil rich land of Khuzestan.

"The policy of the Islamic Republic, like its predecessor, is directed at the eradication of the national identity and forceful assimilation of Ahwazi Arabs, and to a lesser degree, other nationalities such as the Turks, Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmen.

"In the past fifteen years alone, over 250,000 hectares of Ahwazi farmers land in regions of Jufir, Shosh, Hoizeh and Hamidieh have been confiscated and given to Persian settlers. This is done in violation of the article 4.5 of the United Nations Declaration on Minorities.

"In violation of articles 2.2 and 2.3 of UNDM, as well as articles 15 and 19 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic-governor general of Khuzestan, all other province's political, military and security commanders, officers, mayors and all high and mid-level government officials of Khuzestan, have consistently been appointed from non-Arabs outside of the native Arab population.

"Ahwazis live in extreme poverty, lack basic services such as electricity, telephone, have no schools, hospitals or health clinics - while their ancestral land produces four million barrels of oil per day and funds 90% of Iran's economy - none of this wealth, is allocated to the Ahwazi people or their region. They do not share the riches of their land."

Mr Abdian also brought attention to the recent killings of peaceful demonstrators in Khuzestan, who were protesting against the diversion of their water resources, ethnic restructuring and poverty. The protests followed the publicisation of a letter leaked from President Khatami's office which outlined a programme of ethnic restructuring. This involved migrating people of non-Arabs ethnic descent into Khuzestan to reduce the province's Arab population from 70% to 30% and eradicating Arab place names. Among the hundreds arrested in a government crack-down on Ahwazi Arabs were tribal leaders and intellectuals, including journalist Youssef Azizi-Banitoruf, whose case has been raised by leading human rights organisations and journalists' groups.

The AEHRF put forward a number of recommendations:

1. That visit of Special Reporter on Summery and Arbitrary Executions to Iran be expedited and include in his agenda a visit to Khuzestan to investigate the killing of over 60 Ahwazi Arab demonstrators and the fate of the detainees and the missing.

2. To end the state of siege and redeploy military and security forces out of the province.

3. Investigate the authenticity of the government-directed ethnic cleansing policy against Ahwazi Arabs stipulated in the recently leaked internal top-secret document from President Khatemi's office.

4. That the Islamic Republic of Iran allocates a portion of the oil money to alleviate extreme poverty among the indigenous Ahwazi Arabs.

5. Free all Ahwazi detainees arrested during and after the April 15 peaceful demonstration including Mr Youssef Azizi-Banitoruf.

Mr Abdian reported a positive response from representatives of various government's attending the Working Group's session, despite verbal protests by an Iranian delegate at the meeting.

Click here to download the full text of the AEHRF's statement to the Working Group on Minorities.