Environmental degradation and forced displacement in the Ahwazi Arab homeland is as catastrophic as the Niger Delta, said the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) at a recent human rights conference at the European Parliament in Brussels.
UNPO spokesman Andrew Swan told the conference that "the appropriation of land, spillage of oil and harmful chemicals into soil and groundwater, and air borne pollutants from gas flaring all negate the quality of life in these areas and destroy agricultural communities."
He highlighted the lack of compensation for those affected by environmental damage, which, when awarded, "is no substitute for a regular means of income."
He added: "There are still families waiting for their homes to be rebuild in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War ... As a result the lack of respected familial role models and job opportunities for youth in the skilled and low volume hydrocarbon industry is fuelling disaffection and resentment."
The root problems, he explained, lay in the "longstanding policy of 'Persianisation', matched by likely falsification of census records" which have been used "to muddy ethnic identities and disenfranchise Iran's sizeable minorities. This has affected all of UNPO's members in the area, from the Ahwazi to the Azeris."
He added that Ahwazis had a right to self-determination, as set down in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the right to "freely dispose of their natural wealth."
In his concluding remarks, Mr Swan called for greater unity within the opposition to the Iranian regime: "Unifying with other actors within Iran, such as Persian groups calling for women's rights, press freedom, and such like, strengthens any campaign, discrediting state messages portraying those calling for greater regional rights as 'separatist' and demonstrate an outlook that is open and collegial. It carries risks for both sides undoubtedly, but it is important to raise the situation that liberal Persians face on a daily basis. This conference is examining the rights of all Iran's people, Persians included, and there are many common causes to be found.
"I also believe that UNPO has proven its worth in helping its members to look beyond their immediate region to those with similar experiences elsewhere ... This of course also provides an opportunity to inform Iranians of their own compatriots - if not changing positions then at least raising the standard of debate and exposing Tehran's intractability. Such approaches can bring the questions of tolerance, human rights, and democracy to a human level - avoiding the simplistic accusations of separatism and subversion which are the mainstay of Tehran's verbal attacks on its critics."