The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), a human rights and lobbying organisation working on behalf of the persecuted Ahwazi Arab population in southwest Iran, calls on Ms Arbour to visit the province of Khuzestan to examine human rights violations in the province and meet with members of the Ahwazi Arab community.
We call on Ms Arbour to examine the following issues closely:
Land confiscation and forced migration are in line with the "ethnic restructuring" programme targeted at the Ahwazi Arabs and designed to "Persianise" Khuzestan. This is having a detrimental impact on the livelihoods and wellbeing of the Arab population.
The UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur (SR) on Adequate Housing, Mr. Miloon Kothari, in his report following the mission to visit Iran from 19 to 31 July 2005, identified as a key concern that there is "disproportionably adverse housing and living conditions of ethnic and religious minorities (Kurds, Bahais, Arabs and Laks) and groups like the Nomads." At the end of his mission, Mr. Kothari spoke to IRIN in Tehran on 9 Aug 2005 about his preliminary findings: "When you visit Ahwaz there are thousands of people living with open sewers, no sanitation, no regular access to water, electricity and no gas connections." Mr. Kothari further stated: "[I]n Khuzestan [...] we visited the areas where large development projects are coming up, sugar cane plantations and other projects along the river, and the estimate we received is that between 200,000 - 250,000 Arab people are being displaced from their villages because of these projects." The SR also noted that in Khuzestan "large development projects, like petrochemical plants, are being built leading to the displacement of entire villages - with thousands of people not consulted on the projects, informed of the impending displacement, nor offered adequate resettlement and compensation," and added "[...] the compensation being offered to the Arab villagers who were being displaced is sometimes one fortieth of the market value - and there is nothing they can do about it. It's a fait accompli."
Despite Mr Kothari's concerns, land confiscation and forced displacement continues, particularly in the Arvand Free Zone surrounding the cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr.
We call on Ms Arbour to investigate the Iranian government's programme of population transfer and its effects on the local Arab population
We call on Ms Arbour to examine the cases of Ahwazi prisoner of conscience and the trial and execution of political dissidents, which have been condemned as unjust and illegal by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Iranian human rights activists, the Presidency of the European Council, Philip Alston (SR on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions), Leandro Despouy (SR on the independence of judges and lawyers) and Manfred Nowak (SR on torture).
In January 2007, the SRs issued a statement urging the government to "stop the imminent execution of seven men belonging to the Ahwazi Arab minority and grant them a fair and public hearing." In the statement, they claimed that lawyers were not allowed to see the defendants prior to their trial, and were given access to the prosecution case only hours before the start of the trial. The lawyers were also intimidated by charges of "threatening national security" being brought against them. The convictions were reportedly based on confessions extorted under torture. Despite these concerns, the executions went ahead as planned, bringing the total number of executions of Ahwazi political dissidents to at least 16 over the course of a year – the government has not released any official figures.
The Iranian government refused to answer letters from the SRs. The government systematically refuses to provide information and engage in a dialogue on these matters with the independent experts, violating its obligations under the procedures of the Human Rights Council. Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has a legal obligation to respect its provisions. While the Covenant allows it to retain the death penalty, it prescribes that capital punishment can only be imposed after a trial satisfying the strictest fair trial guarantees. These include the right to a fair and public hearing, the right not to be compelled to confess guilt, and the right to "adequate time and facilities for the preparation of ones defence" with the assistance of a lawyer of ones own choosing.
We call on Ms Arbour to investigate the circumstances surrounding the executions, as well as lengthy prison terms handed down to other Ahwazis during 2006 and 2007, notably the psychologist Dr Awdeh Afrawi and the journalist Mohammad Hassan Fallahiya, who have been the subject of a number of appeals by human rights organisations. Both men are said to be suffering ill health inside prison, following torture, abuse and the refusal of medication. We also call on Ms Arbour to visit the Lanat Abad (place of the damned) near Ahwaz City, where dozens of dead Ahwazi activists lie in mass unmarked graves.
For further information, download the Ahwazi Arab Human Rights Dossier