Sep 28, 2012

UNPO Hosts ‘Religious And National Minorities In The Middle East’ Event At The United Nations

UNPO and the NonViolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty (NRPTT) hosted an event on Tuesday, 25 September 2012 at the 21st Session of the UN Human Rights Council entitled “Religious and National Minorities in the Middle East: Uncovering the Human Rights Situation in Iran and Iraq.’’

With this year’s 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Minority Rights, it is more crucial than ever before to bring up the issue of the rights of minorities to enjoy their own cultures and identities, to profess and practice their own religions and use their own languages. Through this parallel event, UNPO aimed at focusing attention on the human rights situation of religious and national minorities in Iran and Iraq, with two specific case studies on West Balochistan and Iraqi Turkmen. The event also focused on the implications of the Arab Spring and democratic movements on minority rights, as well as on examples of successful multinational societies. The aim of the event was to reach diplomatic staff members, UN staff members and NGOs alike.

Iran’s population includes a large number of religious, ethnic, and linguistic minorities. These groups are highly diverse, but share common experiences of economic marginalization, political repression and denial of even the most basic of cultural rights. Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 and the new regime outlawed political organizations in 1981, began a major assault on political activists in the form of persecution, imprisonment, torture, execution and assassination. Baloch people in Iran are deprived of their cultural, social and economic rights leaving them feeling like third class citizens.  They face discrimination, particularly with regard to political participation and the job market. The punishment for dissemination of Baloch culture and language is a declared act of treason against the state and assimilation policies carried out by the Persian state mean that the Baloch are rapidly losing their identity. Baloch people face systematic intimidation, harassment arrests, and torture. 

Minorities in Iraq include various ethnic and religious groups. The Kurds, Assyrians (also known as Chaldo-Assyrians), and Iraqi Turkmen represent the three largest non-Arab minorities in the country. The position of the Iraqi Turkmens has changed from being administrative and business classes of the Ottoman Empire to an increasingly discriminated minority. Since the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Iraqi Turkmen have been victims of several massacres, such as the Kirkuk Massacre of 1959. Furthermore, under the Baath party, discrimination against the Iraqi Turkmens increased, with several leaders being executed in 1979 as well as the Iraqi Turkmen community being victims of Arabization policies by the State. Despite being recognized in the 1925 constitution as a constitutive entity, the Iraqi Turkmens were later denied this status, they have suffered from various degrees of suppression and assimilation that ranged from political persecution and exile to terror and ethnic cleansing.\

Antonio Stango (Member of the General Council, NRPTT) opened the event with a brief overview of the work of the Nonviolent Radical Party and pointed out the importance of raising awareness about the minority issues. Charles Graves (Secretary General, Interfaith International) discussed the general situation of minorities in Iran and Iraq. In his presentation, Christoph Wiedmer (Director, Society for Threatened Peoples) spoke about the Arab Spring and hopes and risks it represents to minorities in the Middle East region. Sundus Saqi (Representative, Iraqi Turkmen Front) drew attention to the situation of Iraqi Turkmen and the alarming situation of ongoing assassinations and ransom payments. Nasser Boladai (Spokesperson, Balochistan Peoples Party) explained the current human rights situation in West Balochistan and drew attention to examples of successful multinational societies, such as India, where the rights of national and religious minorities have been effectively accommodated. Baban Eliassi (Representative, Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran PDK) touched upon the situation of diverse minorities in Iran and pointed out that they are facing not only religious, but also political, economic and cultural discrimination. Participants of the panel discussion called upon states, NGOs and the international media not to ignore the minorities of Iran and Iraq, but to put forth efforts to investigate and report on their situation.