Iran's "Crimes Against Humanity"
BY Advocate Contributors
April 15 2011 5:35 PM ET
COMMENTARY: Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues his campaign to violently repress sexual minorities.
“They asked me [at Columbia University in 2007] why you crack down on homosexuals in Iran?” said Ahmadinejad, according to a report by the Islamic Republic’s state-controlled ILNA news agency in January. “I answered, we don’t have so many homosexuals in Iran because we believe this act is against the human spirit and humanity.”
In other words, Ahmadinejad was saying, “We don’t have so many homosexuals in Iran because we execute them.”
According to an Amnesty International report, Iran led the Middle East in “credible reports” of executions, with more than 300 in 2010. The U.S. State Department said Iran imposed the death penalty on 312 people last year. Iran is a world champion in applying the death penalty to adolescents and sexual offenders, including those who commit adultery and homosexual acts.
In 2005, Iran hanged two teenagers, Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari, for what was likely consensual same-sex intercourse. As Human Rights Watch noted in its late 2010 report, “'We Are a Buried Generation’: Discrimination and Violence Against Sexual Minorities in Iran,” trials based on “moral charges in Iran are usually held in camera." Consequently, it is a Herculean task to assess if the defendants were killed because of homosexuality. The in camera trials are largely star-chamber proceedings that lack public transparency.
Iran’s Sharia system codifies the death penalty for same-sex activities and prescribes medieval penalties for Iranians who engage in them. Tehran punishes male same-sex intercourse with death, and lesbian sex with 100 lashes for the first three offenses and execution thereafter.
The Iranian regime's drive to eradicate its LGBT community could be construed as a form of modern genocide. When I asked the human rights legal expert Belinda Cooper, a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute who also teaches human rights at New York University's Global Affairs program, she said, “The Genocide Convention [of the United Nations] only covers religious, ethnic, national and racial minorities. So LGBT is not a category covered under the convention. What is happening to them could be interpreted as crimes against humanity, and it certainly violates other international human rights norms, but it's not genocide in the legal definition of the term.”
But there are legislative remedies, for instance — congressional human rights sanctions penalizing Iran — that could fill the gap of missing protections for sexual minorities in the Genocide Convention. There is strong bipartisan support for human rights to become a cornerstone of a more robust U.S. foreign policy toward Iran's dangerous regime. We likely soon will see comprehensive Iran human rights sanctions and democracy promotion measures introduced in Congress.
If the Obama administration is serious about advancing democracy and human rights in Iran and the greater Middle East, the president should support these congressional initiatives and embrace comprehensive Iran human rights sanctions targeting officials involved in human rights abuses, including those engaged in lethal homophobia.
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