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Senior UN Official Lambasts Iran's Land Confiscation

The UN's Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari, has condemned the Iranian government's confiscation of land owned by Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Bahais and Qashqai nomads following his visit to Iran last week.

Kothari visited Ahwaz City where he was able to meet Ahwazi lawyers and human rights activists, who showed him the devastation of Tehran's "ethnic restructuring" programme on the Ahwazi Arab population of Khuzestan. The regime has been forcibly transferring Ahwazi-owned land and property to other ethnic groups brought into Khuzestan or the oil and sugar industries. Homes have also been demolished by the regime in an attempt to force them out of the province and "Persianise" Khuzestan. Ahwazis have been made homeless and destitute by the government, while their land is being used to enrich a military-religious elite.

The Iranian government had tried to prevent Kothari from visiting Khuzestan, but after two weeks of lobbying by the Special Rapporteur's office, he was allowed to spend just one day in Ahwaz City. A preliminary report by Kothari states that: "Land confiscation and 'confiscation style' purchase of lands by the government seem to disproportionately impact on the land and property of some religious and ethnic minorities." Kothari said the Arabs in Khuzestan were particularly aggrieved to live in squalor when their province sat on most of Iran's gigantic oil fields.

Kothari also stated that "Regions historically occupied by Kurds ... seem to suffer disproportionate inadequacy of services such as water and electricity and unsatisfactory reconstruction efforts." Like the Ahwazi Arab-dominated province of Khuzestan, Iranian Kurdistan has witnessed an upsurge in ethnic discontent. Kurds rioted in the western town of Mahabad this month and Kurdish guerrillas killed a number of policemen in an ambush. Kothari also pointed to the confiscation of land belonging to the Bahai religious minority, which is regarded as heretical by the Islamic Republic. Nomads, such as the southern Qashqai tribe, are also facing discrimination, with traditional pasture land being sold to the private sector, the report said.

The Iranian media, which is heavily supervised by the state, failed to report any of Kothari's findings and the government has not made any official response. Kothari will submit a report on his findings to the sixty-second session of the Commission on Human Rights in 2006.

Housing and land ownership is a major political issue for ethnic minorities, such as the Ahwazi Arabs. Land confiscation and ethnic restructuring has led to a series of demonstrations by Ahwazi Arabs, including an uprising in April which led to the slaughter of more than 150 unarmed Ahwazi men, women and children. The April uprising following the leaking of a letter from President Khatami's office to the international media that outlined plans to reduce the Arab population to around one-third of the province's total population through forced migration and eliminating all traces of Arab culture and language, including names of streets and towns. The letter, signed by former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi and written in 1999, suggests a time-frame of 10 years to accomplish the ethnic restructuring programme.