The United Nations’ Agnès Callamard has an illustrious CV. According to her Wikipedia page, as well as being the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the New York-based French ‘Human Rights expert’ is also the Director of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression project.
This should qualify her to use her platform to speak for the marginalised and oppressed, to condemn the abuses of the powerful against the powerless and to condemn totalitarianism, injustice and tyranny in all their forms. On Iran, she could use her power to be a global voice of human rights on behalf of the long-suffering Ahwazis and other persecuted ethnic minorities and dissidents, speaking out against decades of murderous systemic injustice and raising the subject of the regime’s well-documented regular executions, absolute oppression, ethnic cleansing and cold-blooded murders of Ahwazi dissidents and random citizens, even abroad, and on the absolute denial of Ahwazis’ fundamental rights. She could condemn the regime’s well-documented anti-Arab racism, which makes a mockery of its efforts to hijack the Black Lives Matter movement. She could expose the Iranian regime’s cynical exploitation of the Palestinian cause even whilst it builds ethnically homogenous apartheid-style settlements for Iranians from other areas of Iran who are encouraged by the regime to move to the region as a move to deny its indigenous Ahwazi people – who are forbidden from living in these settlements – their heritage or rights.
Instead, however, Ms Callamard remains consistently and conspicuously silent on Ahwaz, reserving her righteous outrage for the Trump administration over its killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the infamously brutal and sadistic head of the elite Quds Force, the overseas arm of the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
For Ms Callamard, General Soleimani, who helped direct Bashar al Assad’s genocide, leveraged the War on Terror as a useful tool to build a theocratic ‘Shiite crescent’ across the Middle East on behalf of the regime, and formed multiple murderous militias involved in the dispossession of millions, is the innocent victim of an “arbitrary execution”.
Indeed, Ms Callamard, who said precisely zero about any of the Iranian regime’s, Qassem Soleimani’s or Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against humanity, called the drone attack in which Soleimani was himself killed “a violation of the United Nations Charter, and an arbitrary assassination for which the United States is responsible under international law.”
In an interview on 12 July with Al-Mayadeen channel, the Iranian regime-funded media arm of the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, Ms Callamard voiced outrage at Soleimani’s death. “It is just a violation of every single principle not only governing international law but governing international relations.”
Whilst remaining silent, as always, on the thousands of arbitrary executions, including those of women and children, carried out by Soleimani’s forces and militias in Iran and across the region, she suggested that had an official “from a so-called ‘democratic’ Western country” been targeted in such a manner, that country would have considered the attack “as an act of aggression and as a declaration of war.”
Tellingly, like almost all the Western admirers of Hezbollah and Iran’s regime, Ms Callamard prefers to live in one of the “so-called” democratic countries she finds so odious – in her case the USA – rather than in Iran under the ‘resistance’ regime or in Assad’s Syria, Hezbollah’s Lebanon, or any of the Middle Eastern nations run by or in alliance with Soleimani’s militias which she so admires.
Neither Ms Callamard nor her fellow humanitarians made any statement to Al-Mayadeen or any other media about how Hezbollah and other regional militias under Soleimani’s control terrorised citizens in Ahwaz in April 2019 during heavy flooding in the region despite supposedly coming to help the people there, with hundreds of Ahwazis who attempted to reroute the floodwaters from their homes and lands or even to bring humanitarian aid to their compatriots being routinely arrested and imprisoned by regime forces with the militias’ help. According to the hardline Iranian daily Kayhan, linked to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the militias were invited at the request of the IRGC’s Quds Force, with Qassem Soleimani penning the invitations himself.
In December of 2019, Soleimani’s affiliated militias returned again to Ahwaz, helping to brutally crush protests against the regime’s oppression and injustice in the city of Ma’shour, in which dozens of unarmed demonstrators were hunted down and killed or maimed by being shot or, in some cases, burnt to death, while hundreds of others arrested and imprisoned. As it routinely does when carrying out massacres, the regime imposed a media blackout beforehand. Eyewitnesses reported that the IRGC deployed heavy military equipment in neighbourhoods of the city, with its forces searching the area with UAV drones and helicopter gunships, as well as bringing in other vehicles and weapons, including tanks. Terrified protesters who fled to the nearby marshlands seeking shelter were burnt alive when the regime troops and militias sprayed the rushes with petrol and set the area alight, with local people reporting that the screams of those dying went on for at least 24 hours while the stench of charred flesh remained for days.
Again, Ms Callamard and international humanitarian organisations remained silent. No media interviews were provided; no UN investigation was requested. There were no speeches of outrage, such as those which greeted the killing of Qassem Soleimani.
This is, of course, not unusual for Western humanitarians and human rights organisations. Whilst some conscientious figures do periodically speak out against the regime’s relentless persecution of Ahwazis and other ethnic minorities, many seem keener to serve as mouthpieces for the regime and to normalise and rationalise its totalitarian rule than to challenge it.
Of course, these doughty champions of some humans’ rights don’t dedicate all their time to defending war criminals like Qassem Soleimani. Ms Callamard is regularly outraged by all incidents of perceived injustice against Palestinians; a Google search for her name and ‘Palestine’ turning up 59,600 results. The same search with her name and ‘Ahwaz’ finds just over 1,800 results. And yet the Iranian regime that funnels millions of dollars to terrorist entities that care only for killing Jews, as well as their own people when they do not do exactly as it commands – get a free pass from her time and again.
Ahwazis continue to languish under Khamenei’s monstrous regime, treated by the world as expendable abstracts, on those rare occasions when any attention is paid to them.
And so they do as persecuted peoples have done throughout history. They continue trying to live their lives as normally as is possible under this totalitarian regime. Even that, however, is fraught with danger, with young Ahwazis killed routinely merely for going about their daily lives. Children like a 15-year-old Ahwazi boy named Omid Eidani was shot in the head by Iranian security forces on Monday 7 July. Omid was severely injured and later died in the hospital. He was shot while trying to avoid the confiscation of his motorcycle by regime forces. He had escaped into his parents’ home, and the regime forces chased him, breaking down the door. The forces then clashed with Omid’s parents and the local community members. His family reported that Omid, worrying his favourite possession, his motorbike would be confiscated, hurried to the roof of the house where he gathered small stones and whatever he could find, hurling them at the police below. The forces then shot him and left him bleeding. His family and friends then brought him down with difficultly and took him to the hospital where he died shortly thereafter.
Another recent episode that has escaped the rapporteur’s attention occurred on Sunday, 28 June, when another Ahwazi young man was gunned down in the street by Iranian police near Kianabad district in Ahwaz city. Young Reza Torfi was on his way home. He was not paying attention and missed several checkpoints installed on the road. For that ‘crime,’ he was chased, and shot in in his lung, kidney and heart. The regime forces said that they suspected Reza of carrying alcoholic beverages, but they could not find any traces of alcohol or other contraband. They left him bleeding to death in the street.
Reza Torfi’s family has filed a lawsuit against law enforcement officers, who pressured Reza’s family not to talk to media and human rights organisations.
There is no shortage of these state-sanctioned murders, which are extrajudicial in every sense of the term. For example, 30-year-old Mohammed Sawari, a married father-of-two from the town of Rofyea on the Iran-Iraq border, died on Friday, 26 June, shot at close range whilst driving sheep to sell them. His wife and two young children are now left widowed and orphaned because a trigger-happy Iranian soldier knew he would face no censure or punishment for killing one more Ahwazis. As in other areas of Ahwaz, the area around Royfea is dotted with oil and gas facilities and criss-crossed by vast pipelines feeding the regime’s oil and gas lifeblood across the country.
As with the rest of Ahwaz, the only share of this vast wealth seen by the indigenous Ahwazis is choking pollution, with locals denied jobs at the refineries and other facilities.
Sawari follows in the footsteps of his father Kazem, an Ahwazi human rights activist who was murdered 24 years earlier in 1996 when Mohammed was a little boy, executed on charges of “enmity to God”, a vague charge used against Ahwazi activists and other dissidents who dare to speak out for freedom or basic human rights.
Two weeks before Mohammed Sawari’s murder, on Wednesday, 10 June, another young Ahwazi man, 25-year-old Majed Alboghobeish from the city of Ma’shour, died instantly when police shot him at close range without any warning from a passing car whilst he was driving along the road between Ma’shour and the nearby town of Khor Mousa. As usual, no reason was given for Alboghobeish’s killing, with witnesses reporting that he was unarmed, driving at normal speed and going about his daily business. Local sources reported that as usual in Ahwaz, his family have no hope of any justice or any punishment for those responsible for his summary execution, with any effort to seek justice for these regular killings at the hands of police likely to result in the victims’ family members being punished, arrested and possibly imprisoned.
The horrific list can go on endlessly. Young Hassan Mohammad from Alsaluyeh was shot at point-blank range whilst passing through a checkpoint while on his way to visit his fiancée. According to witnesses, the Iranian officers manning the checkpoint, who had not even instructed Hassan to stop, opened fire without warning when he walked through, killing him immediately. As with the two other cases above, he was unarmed, and no reason was given for this killing.
17-year-old Ali Rashedi, 28-year-old Bassem Albighobeish, 20-something Mohammad Sari, and a young man identified as Hamza Saaduni were all shot down while riding their motorcycles in Ahwaz City, Falahiyeh, and Ahwaz City, respectively, in 2019. 19-year-old Abbas Amiri and his cousin were travelling from the Ahwazi capital, Ahwaz city, to Toster city on 11 August 2019, when their car was fired on by Basij forces, who later claimed that the vehicle had been speeding, a claim witnesses denied. Abbas died as a result of severe bleeding from the gunshot wound, whilst his cousin was severely injured. Again, both were unarmed and simply going about their daily lives.
Of course, under current international law, the UN Security Council could theoretically refer these brazen murders to the International Criminal Court. However, since UN human rights experts are more interested in defending the regime, and since the regime remains protected by China and Russia, there is virtually no chance of judicial accountability from any existing international tribunal. Any attempt would be vetoed by China or Russia without a second thought, and since Iran is not a state party to the ICC, it does not have alternative jurisdiction.
It cannot be stressed enough that these are not unusual cases, but a mere handful of examples showing the regime’s casual attitude to killing Ahwazi people, in which it is helped greatly by the indifference of the international community, more especially by those in it whose job is to defend human rights. Ahwazis are rightly sceptical of the claims to the humanitarianism of UN human rights envoys and other human rights groups whose care for human rights apparently only extends to well-known causes or to the officials of regimes built on denying fundamental human rights.
These few examples and every other of the thousands of Ahwazis killed by the regime’s police or Basiji, executed or tortured to death in its prisons, or prematurely dead of preventable diseases caused by pollution, deprivation, grinding poverty had hopes, dreams, ambitions just like every other person on earth. Each saw those dreams crushed in life solely for their ethnicity and finally snuffed out by the casual brutality of a regime which treats the indigenous people of Ahwaz as livestock, denying their most fundamental rights, even while its leaders make grandiose speeches about standing for the oppressed. Each is mourned by bereaved family and friends who can’t even raise their voice for justice, knowing that any effort to so will see them or other family members targeted by the same regime. Each deserves the justice supposedly guaranteed to every human being.
It seems Ahwazis are targeted whether when they try to live their life even as regular civilians. When they are targeted unjustly or when they speak out against oppression and imprisonment, they get killed in many ways.
Ahwazi prisoner Saeed Heideri, 37, died on the morning of 15 July 2020, in Sepidar prison in the city of Ahwaz. He contracted coronavirus amid negligence by the prison officials who refused to provide him with treatment at the hospital. His family reported that Saeed was also denied medicine such as insulin for his type 2 diabetes. He called his family and told them that instead of getting him to a hospital or on a ventilator, regime prison personnel beat him and accused him of simulating COVID-19, leaving him to die there. He lost his vision in the left eye, his kidney was damaged, and finally, he was infected with coronavirus, and the only response to all these medical issues was to be accused of faking the deadly illness in order to receive treatment outside the prison.
It’s worth noting that Iran’s coronavirus outbreak has left the government struggling to respond, to the point that the regime has announced the release of 85,000 prisoners to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread in overcrowded prisons. However, this amnesty policy has excluded a significant majority of Iran’s prison population, no less likely to experience the terrifying combination of inhumane prison conditions and their ability to quickly spread disease—including coronavirus.
Among them are tens of thousands of male and female Ahwazi political prisoners detained in the massively overcrowded jails. After the amnesty announcement raised the hope of these prisoners’ families, hopes were quickly dashed upon discovery that no Ahwazis were included in the amnesty. The resulting tensions have now boiled over, with lethal results.
Ahwazi prisoners attempted a prison escape, resulting in dozens of fatalities, which has further highlighted the dangerous conditions of Iran’s prisons. Moreover, their attempted flight is one example of the on-the-ground realities of Iran’s struggle with coronavirus, countering the current regime narrative that the epidemic is now under control.
On 30 and 31 March 2020, the Iranian regime security personnel reportedly killed and wounded dozens of Ahwazi prisoners attempting to flee dangerous conditions in two prisons in the southern region of Ahwaz city. With many more detainees injured and tortured. So far, fifteen prisoners from Sepidar prison and twenty in Sheyban have been reported killed.
Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council and its rapporteurs like Ms Callamard act as rubber stamps for inhumanity and save their outrage and humanitarian compassion for the oppressors, rather than for the oppressed.
These are ongoing human wrongs that demand recognition, condemnation, and above all, action. Human rights are meant to be universal, and violators are supposed to be judged by the world and forced to change. These are the principles that supposedly form the pillars of the United Nations and the hopes of the world following the horrors of the Holocaust. But as Ahwazi blood is shed, in the streets, in regime prisons, and in hidden execution chambers, these rights – and the hope for a free and just world – are nothing more than a passing breeze on a scorching summer day, a cruel taste of how the world should be.
By Rahim Hamid & Aaron Eitan
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.
Aaron Eitan Meyer is an attorney admitted to practice in New York State and before the United State Supreme Court, and a researcher and analyst. He has written extensively on lawfare, international humanitarian, and human rights law. He tweets under @Aaronemeyer
Editing by Ruth Riegler based in Scotland. She tweets under @NippySweetyLass
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.