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Ahwazis And Peter Tatchell At British Parliament In Appeal For Equality And Rights

Ahwazi Arab activists today met with Labour MP Neil Coyle in a bid to gain British parliamentary support for their campaign to prioritise ethnic rights in trade and investment.

The three activists were joined by leading British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to press for economic justice as sanctions on Iran are lifted and oil majors look to invest in the Ahwaz region's massive energy reserves.

They pressed the MP to support five key demands:

1. Environmental sustainability. Ahwaz is the most polluted place on Earth, according to the World Health Organisation. The effects of the environmental crisis are undermining the livelihoods and welfare of indigenous Ahwazi Arabs, threatening Iran's food security and helping to fuel climate change. As well as the oil and petrochemicals industries that have no adequate environmental controls, there are ongoing problems with the drying of the marshes that straddle the Iran-Iraq border and the damming of the Karoon and Karkeh rivers. The UK and the EU should work to halt all oil prospecting in the marshlands, seek to stop the river diversion programmes and support the imposition of environmental regulations

2. Economic justice. Along with ethnic Balochis, Ahwazi Arabs suffer the highest rates of unemployment and malnutrition in Iran (on a par with Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Somalia). Khuzestan province MPs have repeatedly called for 1.5% of oil revenues generated by the province's resources to be reinvested into poverty alleviation, including adequate housing, education (including Article 5 of the Iranian constitution that states that non-Persian languages should have the same protection and promotion as Persian) and employment generation. We regard this as an absolute minimum that should be built into all oil contracts and overseen by genuinely independent non-governmental organisations run by non-partisan local people. The UK and the EU should, via trade and investment, push Iran to implement tangible policies that work towards the alleviation of poverty among Ahwazi Arabs.

3. Worker’s rights. Ahwazi Arabs suffer discrimination in employment - a fact that many MPs and Friday prayer leaders, as well as presidential candidates, have acknowledged. They are not represented in growth industries and in some sectors, due to the ban on unionisation, they often work without pay with the sugar industry a notable example. Instead of using and training local workers, state-owned industries entice people from other parts of Iran and many Ahwazis are forced into the informal sector, such as street hawking where their meagre stock is often seized by police and they are hassled by the authorities. The UK and the EU should encourage investors to uphold ILO standards, including the right to join free trade unions and collectively bargain. A local worker quota - as suggested by local MPs - should be implemented by British and European investors.

4. Political, cultural and gender rights. Ahwazi Arabs should have the means to argue for their rights, including the establishment of non-governmental organisations and political parties. They also have the right to campaign for changes in the political system, including the ability to discuss self-determination without being accused of threatening national security or terrorism. The Iranian government must drop criteria for elections so that Ahwazis can mobilise politically, as they did 15 years ago when they established the Lejnat al-Wefaq which won control of Ahwaz city council and a seat in parliament - a group that was banned and whose members were imprisoned, some of whom were executed. Repression has retarded Ahwazis ability to progress in a number of areas - not just in peacefully demanding their rights, but for Ahwazi women to be empowered against honour killings, forced marriage and inequality.

5. Lord Lamont is not the right person to be a UK trade envoy to Iran. Prior to his appointment, Lord Lamont was head of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce and a member of the board of the Iran Heritage Foundation, both of which are recognised as pro-regime lobbies. The IHF is chaired by Vahid Alaghband, the head of Balli Group, which broke sanctions against Iran by leasing a jet to Iran's Mahan Air; he is also a Tory party donor. Lamont is a former adviser to Alaghband. Aside from Lamont's conflict of interests, there are also questions over the need to have a trade envoy. With sanctions now lifted on Iran, a new administration in the UK and Brexit requiring more intensive bilateral dialogue over trade, it is imperative that professional diplomats mindful of human rights, environmental and security considerations - and not a freelancing politician - take the lead.