International bodies and human rights organisations have a professional, humanitarian and moral duty to expose human rights violations by all parties, more especially by states, globally. Unfortunately, many of these organisations follow a selective policy directed more by the fashion and geopolitical trends of the moment, with rights violations in some countries being exaggerated, while grotesque and systemic violations in others are met with silence.
Thousands of Ahwazis, indigenous peoples from the south and southwest of Iran, are subjected to systemic racism, and routinely detained in overcrowded prisons in conditions unfit for animals, subjected to often-lethal torture and often held for long periods in solitary confinement, simply for their ethnicity and for any expression of support for freedom and fundamental human rights.
Ahwazi activists regularly submit detailed reports and testimonies, substantiated with photos and video footage, to international human rights organisations detailing the injustices and brutality inflicted on the people there both in everyday life and in the regime prisons (though the whole region could arguably be called an open-air prison given the relentless repression).
This evidence is just as regularly ignored by the same organisations, with only very rare and isolated expressions of condemnation. Whilst the Iranian regime forbids any external media from coming to the area or filming without regime presence, it barely needs to do so since few or no media show any inclination to cover events there, no matter how horrendous, which include regular summary executions, mass dispossessions, and the razing of whole villages.
In contrast, far milder and, by comparison, relatively minor violations of human rights in other countries in the region get endless media coverage and almost daily severe condemnations from the same humanitarian organisations and media that so assiduously ignore the Iranian regime’s systemic crimes against humanity inflicted on the Ahwazi people.
The work of those involved in the fields of humanitarianism and human rights should be similar to that of a doctor or other medical worker, based on a solid foundation of impartial and objective humanity, conscience and dedication to helping all those in need of assistance.
Unfortunately, however, this is far from the reality, which is heavily subjective and based on the prejudices and selective morality of the organisations’ management and powerful vested interests. For an example of this selective morality, we can contrast the UN’s detailed reports and regular condemnations of any actions by Israel compared to the UN’s silence and indifference on the same crimes perpetrated by Iran’s regime. For instance, a report issued on 30 August 2020, by the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) detailed and condemned Israeli forces’ demolition of 25 Palestinian structures in Palestinian territories, which displacing 32 Palestinians in two weeks. In the same period, the Iranian regime’s Bonyadeh Mostazafan’ Foundation (‘Foundation for the Oppressed’) demolished several residents’ homes in the village of Abolnekhilat (AlboFazl in Farsi) near the regional capital, Ahwaz, leaving the residents – mostly women, children and elderly people – destitute in the searing summer heat.
The regime forces also terrorised, beat and arrested many villagers who protested at the razing of their homes. Despite extensive and detailed human rights reports by Ahwazi activists on these latest demolitions by the regime – which it should be emphasised, are not isolated events, but a regular occurrence – the UN and all other organisations remained silent.
The devastating story of this Ahwazi village of Abolnekhilat began on Wednesday, 26 August 2020, when the Iranian regime deployed heavily armed security forces on behalf of the ‘charity’ organisation to raze a number of homes in the village near the Ahwaz capital, with the 25-hectare area where the village is located being seized for ‘redevelopment’. Almost all the villagers are poor, living hand-to-mouth from growing their own food and keeping livestock. The heavily armed regime security forces used tear gas and live gunfire to drive away the desperate residents attempting to protect their small homes where they’ve lived for decades, before using bulldozers to destroy the houses with all their meagre possessions still inside them, reducing them to rubble. Many of the villagers, including children, elderly people and youths, were wounded as they attempted to confront the regime’s military might with only their words and stones. Ultimately, they were left destitute at the hands of a state ‘charity’ supposedly established for the poor and vulnerable, that seized the land for redevelopment.
Although the residents of Abolnekhilat possess official documents proving that the land is legally theirs, and had established an agricultural irrigation program allowing them to grow their own wheat, barley, vegetables, and summer crops through the ‘Salman’ project, they have no right to restitution. Even if they could afford to take legal action, any attempt to do so against a state entity is more likely to see the complainant being prosecuted on false charges than the regime body being penalised.
It is worth noting that the ‘charitable’ Mostazafan Foundation, established by the founder of Iran’s regime Ayatollah Khomeini, which is responsible for confiscating the land in Abolnekhilat and other villages and dispossessing their residents, and which claims, implausibly to help vulnerable and needy people across Iran, has become one of the country’s wealthiest institutions whose wealth is estimated at billions of dollars.
The Iranian regime has intensified residential land confiscations like this in recent years, having confiscated most of the region’s agricultural land from its indigenous people under various pretexts, including the creation of industrial zones, the loss-making sugarcane project, the ‘Supreme Leader’s project’ (which seized 550,000 hectares), the creation of ‘irrigation channels’, amongst others. The latter is a particularly bitter irony from a regime responsible for constructing massive dams on the three massive rivers in Ahwaz that cut off much of the water supply to the once-verdant region, rerouting their waters elsewhere.
The crimes of the Iranian regime come within the context of a demographic transfer project intended to change the demographic character and ethnic make-up of the region as a means to tighten control over its mineral resources since the Ahwaz region houses over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran, with Tehran escalating these efforts in recent years. The regime, which deliberately withholds employment opportunities from the indigenous Ahwazi people, offers incentives to ethnically Persian Iranians to move to the area, offering them well-paid jobs in the oil and gas fields and refineries and constructing ethnically homogenous settlements for them where Ahwazis are forbidden from living, and which are provided with amenities denied to the indigenous people.
Most Ahwazis, meanwhile, live in absolute poverty, denied the most basic human rights, and without drinking water or sanitation networks. This unofficial but systemic racial discrimination affects every aspect of life, from healthcare to education, employment, housing, culture and every facet of everyday living. This is no accident but a strategy that has been systematically planned and implemented by the Iranian regime’s security and military bodies for decades.
The continuing silence of the world’s humanitarian organisations and international human rights bodies, which would condemn such naked racism and crimes of this nature in other regional nations, has given the regime confidence in its impunity, enabling it to demolish whole villages and city neighbourhoods, leaving their residents destitute, safe in the knowledge that there will be no international outcry or complaint, no matter how much evidence Ahwazis present of what is going on.
By Rahim Hamid
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. He tweets under @Samireza42.
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Dur Untash Studies Centre.