Massive sandstorms have recently become a standard characteristic of environmental conditions in the entire Ahwazi areas in the south and south west of Iran. This phenomenon coincides with increasing rates of hospital visits by Ahwazis due to a surge in respiratory diseases. This has raised many questions about the reason behind these phenomena which are interconnected, whether from the political or social standpoint.
Given the recent nature of these two phenomena, analysing their root causes seems vital, given that the Iranian regime’s policies which have destroyed the environment in Ahwaz in a deliberate and systematic way. This has been achieved both through deliberate negligence and deliberately, such as through the construction of massive dams on the region’s rivers, such as the Karoon, Karkheh, Dez and Jarahi rivers, most of whose waters are diverted to other regions of Iran.
These policies have wreaked environmental havoc, leading to widespread desertification and a massive reduction in the cultivable areas in Ahwaz, which has always been primarily an agricultural region whose residents depended on livestock farming, fishing and growing food crops.
These policies by Tehran have deliberately deprived Ahwaz of its vital agricultural advantages and strengths, turning the once-fertile and bountiful farmlands to arid wastelands and desert dotted with oil and gas refineries, with the lack of plant life increasing the intensity and regularity of sandstorms that now regularly blanket the region’s cities in choking, gritty, heavily polluted dust.
The devastation wrought by this phenomenon extends far beyond the farmlands, impacting the area’s renowned marshlands that once teemed with marine life, where generations of fishermen made their living, its waters also irrigating the palm tree plantations that were another of the characteristic hallmarks of the Ahwaz region’s distinctive Arab culture.
These marshlands were also home to the native buffalo, one of the key assets for the Ahwazi people and one of the most commonly owned livestock animals amongst Ahwazis.
Although Iran has countless cities that would be suitable for establishing massive industrial ventures, the regime in Tehran invariably chose to locate these in Ahwaz, working to change the very nature of the region from a community-centric society based on agriculture and fishing to one based on heavy industry and petrochemicals, using largely imported labour.
This helped the regime further impoverish the indigenous Ahwazi people, destroying an agrarian culture of close-knit communities with a strong appreciation of the natural environment that dates back millennia, and devastating the region’s ecosystem to a level that will take decades, if not centuries, to recover from, even if the effort to do so were to start immediately.
This has all been part and parcel of the regime’s policies to change the demographic composition of the region, with Tehran keen to resettle ethnically Persian citizens in the Ahwaz region as a means of establishing Iranian ownership; the primary concern of these policies is to secure total control over the mineral resources, with Ahwaz housing over 95 per cent of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran.
The environmental pollution caused by the oil and gas industry, the massive quantities of industrial waste pumped out by petrochemical refineries and other industries, along with the pollutants produced by the burning of sugarcane and the chemical runoff from the sugarcane refineries – another of the regime’s industrial ventures in Ahwaz – have turned much of a region that was once a pastoral idyll into a polluted wasteland.
Collectively, these factors threaten not only the immediate health and well-being of Ahwazis but also pose a severe danger to the environment and to the geographic and historical identity of Ahwaz. This is also all in flagrant disregard to international law on multiple levels, which bear further explanation.
First: Protecting the environment according to international law and the scope of accountability mechanisms: the genesis of international environmental legislation and the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment
In the post-industrial 20th century, issues related to environmental protection made the issue of the environment a top priority for global regulation and legislation. The rapidly moving developments within international law led in the 1960s and ‘70s to the creation of a new branch of international law, namely the international environment legislation.
This branch of international law focuses especially on environmental issues during peacetime. It is readily distinguished from international humanitarian law, which is concerned primarily with humanitarian principles and norms during armed conflicts, but it has little bearing on the mechanisms of international humanitarian law concerned with protecting the environment during armed conflicts, with the new type of legislation aiming to correct this omission. This was achieved through implementing new legislation specifically geared to protect the environment during armed conflicts.
Before turning to the newest branch of this international legal tree, we must turn to the concept of environmental protection during peacetime, which was largely addressed by the creation of International Environmental Law, which was first formulated at the Stockholm Conference in 1972.
A- The Stockholm conference in 1972 and the creation of International Environment Law: the legal rules for protecting environment and mechanisms of accountability
At the beginning of the 1970s, amid a steady rise in the global use of oil, and the expansion of the role of oil and energy, along with the subsequent exploitation of these resources, realisation grew regarding the potentially damaging consequences for the environment and for all life forms, including humans; this arose in conjunction with increasing global awareness of the correlative need to proactively defend the environment and to use natural resources in a responsible and sustainable manner.
These factors led the UN to hold what it called the Conference on the Human Environment, in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, in 1972.
This conference was a turning point for the world in the recognition of the importance of environmental issues, resulting in a declaration of 26 principles, all stemming from “the need for a common outlook and for common principles to inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment”.
The conference established the legal basis for the creation of an environmental programme approved by the UN, which reiterated the dangers of ignoring the consequences of environmental mismanagement due to ignorance or indifference, which could in turn cause irreparable damage to the Earth’s environment, whose well-being is the essential foundation for all planetary life, including that of humans (1).
Specifically, based on this conference, the UN General Assembly in December 1972 launched the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). This new body was designed specifically to create and implement work programmes in the field of environmental protection, operate the technological systems required for these, deal with environmental management and the control of harmful resources, and ensure the efficient use of resources.
More recently, in 1988, the UNEP cooperated with the World Meteorological Organisation, or WMO, on issues related to climate change, which was added to its ongoing work programmes. It was the WMO which had organised the first World Climate Conference in 1979 in Geneva.
The UNEP’s remit expanded following another United Nations conference on environment and development, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which was dubbed the Earth Summit.
This produced the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which outlined a future vision with a 21st century agenda, including basic concepts concerning sustainable development which have gone on to become among the UNEP’s most important developmental activities, such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (2), assisting those countries which suffer from severe drought, and working on an international level to protect against transnational desertification.
In 1992, the main international convention on this issue, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was approved. By 1997, this convention had been ratified by, and therefore become binding upon, 37 industrialised countries (3).
After the Stockholm conference in 1972, a number of conferences were held producing a range of agreements. These began by touching on rules and provisions linking international conventions with protecting basic human rights, especially the right to life itself, which was and is still routinely breached by parties involved in international conflicts.
Another right being routinely breached is the right to live in a clean and healthy environment.
From this premise, work began on formulating the system of jurisprudence required for defining the mechanisms of environmental protection internationally, via developing a system of accountability within the framework of the international community.
This took place in tandem with establishing norms through the creation of International Environmental Law (IEL), remaining cognizant of the fact that IEL would work in the context of peacetime. Therefore, individuals could file lawsuits before the national judiciary or express concerns about violations of this legislation to the organisations concerned with international conflicts.
This could happen via filing a lawsuit approved by two-thirds of the members of the UN General Assembly before the International Court of Justice or the UN Human Rights Council, which has the right, as an international organisation, to file lawsuits with the competent courts.
As long as environmental protection is considered a human right, it has priority status in terms of protection, including during armed conflicts indirectly via the range of principles and rules outlined in international law, such as the military necessity provided for in Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907, Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949, and United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 47/37 of 1996(4).
This is in addition to the proportionality principle reiterated by the International Court of Justice in its July 8, 1996 advisory opinion on nuclear testing(5), the principle of humanity provided for in Article 23 in the appendix of the Hague Convention of 1907, the principle of limiting the means and ways of combat among belligerents, Article 35 of the additional protocol of 1977, Article 54 of the same protocol, or Article 14 of the second additional protocol issued in the same year(6).
Also, direct legal rules have emerged in international humanitarian law to protect the environment during a period of armed conflict, such as the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or any other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD Convention) which was reached after marathon negotiations.
Still, we must agree with the UNEP’s 2009 report on Protecting the Environment During Armed Conflict that existing mechanisms are insufficient to affirmatively protect the environment in times of war, both due to imprecise language as to the necessary threshold, and because the relevant humanitarian norms derive from protection of human beings, with environmental concerns only addressed derivatively.
Second: Iran’s violation of the environment in Ahwaz placed in the framework of the international law and international accountability
In a recent report, the World Health Organisation declared, “Ahwaz is one of the most polluted cities in the world.”
The WHO indicated the serious violations of humanitarian law being enabled through the environmentally harmful policies imposed by the Iranian authorities in Ahwaz, with the Ahwazis’ health bearing the brunt of these as the region has become a hotbed of disease, including epidemics.
Ahwaz is known to constitute the most important water reservoir for the Iranian state, as it contains the most important rivers such as the Karoon, the Karkheh, the Dez, and the Jarahi. Despite these rivers’ critical importance, however, they are classified as being among the most polluted and least protected waterways in the world due to the policies of the Iranian authorities.
These policies are not limited to the construction of a massive network of dams and pipelines upriver on all these waterways which divert most of their waters to other regions of Iran and lead to massive desertification and the reduction of arable land in Ahwaz.
As well as starving the farmland downstream of water for much of the year, leading directly to desertification, the dams are also routinely opened up during the annual rainy season to relieve pressure on the diverted-to regions and other regime assets, leading to horrendous flooding downstream, leaving Ahwazis suffering from either drought or drowning, causing further displacement with no real chance of recovering formerly arable land, much less their ancestral properties.
This is not accidental, but part of a very deliberate policy aimed at forcing a change in the demographic makeup in Ahwaz. In both cases, the motivation of the regime in unleashing these devastating policies is to diminish the indigenous Arab character and people of Ahwaz, erasing all that is Arab, and denying these indigenous people the wherewithal or the ability to survive independently or decide their own fate.
The heavy flooding in Ahwaz during the last heavy rains in April 2019 was vastly exacerbated by the regime’s deliberate opening of dams upstream, which led to devastating floodwater raging across the region.
The flooding itself constitutes further proof of the devastating effects of climate change resulting largely from the widespread drought caused by the regime’s policies.
The fluctuating temperatures caused by a combination of drought, desertification, sandstorms (caused by the desertification) and irregular rainfall and weather patterns act in a cyclical fashion, exacerbating increasingly extreme weather events in an environmentally catastrophic pattern.
The aforementioned dams which are the primary cause of the drought and desertification have wreaked havoc to every aspect of life in Ahwaz. The Ahwazis consider these rivers to be the arteries, irrigation and freshwater sources and lifeblood of the entire region, as well as the natural channels feeding the renowned marshlands.
Another factor intensifying the environmental devastation in Ahwaz is the Iranian regime’s construction of massive road networks leading to oil rigs across Ahwazi marshlands, all carried out by Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters, the economic arm of the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (7) & (8). This company is widely seen as unofficially overseeing the deliberate destruction of the Ahwazi environment.
The Iranian Ministry of Petroleum (MoP), meanwhile, is working systematically to eliminate the marshlands which naturally link up to one another, and divide what remains into multiple water basins. This has been accomplished to a large degree, with the Iranian authorities succeeding in reducing half of the remaining, once-verdant marshlands to arid lifeless wastelands during the development of the Azadgan oilfield, which began its operations in 2005.
There are now an estimated 250 to 350 oilfields in Ahwaz, all operating with no environmental safeguards and pumping vast quantities of choking pollution into the atmosphere and the ground of the area.
During the April 2019 floods, while Ahwazi farmers lost thousands of hectares of crops and villages were submerged, the MoP announced that it would be protecting its oil facilities against the rising waters. To do this, Iranian authorities diverted the floodwaters, submerging all the basins of Howeizeh marshland area, which measures roughly 80 kilometres by 30 kilometres.
Meanwhile, according to reports by environment officials in Ahwaz, nearly 70 to 80 per cent of the once lush marshland of Falahiyeh marshland is now completely dried up, with the area of the marshlands shrinking to a fraction of its former area, dwindling from 155K hectares to 28K hectares due to drought.
After Ahwazi activists documented Iranian state oil firms using the crisis to seize huge swathes of land which the Iranian authorities saved from being submerged by the floodwaters, the Iranian Minister of Petroleum, Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, attempted to quell public anger by the regime’s usual strategy of denial. Specifically, Zangeneh rejected or simply ignored well-documented reports about the regime’s policy of systematic mismanagement of the area’s water supply and draining of marshlands (9), which further devastated the environmental balance in the rivers and ecosystem of Ahwaz, increasing phenomena like desertification and dust and sandstorms.
Other measures deliberately introduced by the Iranian regime authorities to make the waters in Ahwaz more polluted and undrinkable, even by livestock, include disposing of clinical waste from hospitals and medical centres by dumping it directly into Ahwazi rivers, particularly in the tributaries feeding these rivers.
Due to this and all the other toxic pollution of the rivers which are the only source of water for the region, Ahwazis suffer from record levels of dangerous and chronic diseases, with the untreated water also becoming a key vector of dangerous and lethal diseases, primarily cholera and Hepatitis A.
These problems were still further aggravated by the regime’s policies of burying its nuclear waste in Ahwazi areas, especially around Susa city, intensifying the already high local levels of toxic environmental pollution and leading to a steep increase in cancer rates in the Ahwazi regions.
B- Iranian regime violations in the context of nuclear waste and air pollution: spreading respiratory diseases and cancer
In October 2013, the World Health Organisation published a report in which it linked the chronic air pollution in Ahwaz with the high rates of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases among Ahwazis. After this report, Time Magazine published an article quoting the Quartz Foundation, stating that the city of Ahwaz, whose population then stood at three million, was at the top of the list of the ten most polluted cities globally in terms of airborne pollutants.
Whilst Iranian authorities try to conceal the figures related to Ahwazis infected with diseases due to this pollution, the 2013 report was not a first, since the WHO had already reported in 2011 that Ahwaz was the most polluted city in the world.
In 2018, Ahwazis witnessed a new form of environmental pollution, with massive clouds of smoke rising from the regime’s deliberate burning of the Horalazim marshlands, which led to various Ahwazi towns and cities being shrouded by a pall of smoke for several days. Hundreds of people were admitted to hospitals as a result (9).
This shows in a clear and unambiguous way that Iranian authorities are blatantly violating the right of the Ahwazi people to life and health, as well as its longstanding denial of their right to self-determination.
These brazen violations by the regime against the Ahwazi people are intolerable and illegal under all international law, being arbitrary and colonial practices, which directly contravene the international laws governing military occupation of occupied states.
This is in addition to the Iranian regime’s practices in the context of international human law related to protecting the environment during armed conflicts, and responsibility for the fate of natural environment during these conflicts.
This is due to the wanton use of excessive violence against the environment, which disregards the most fundamental respect for the mechanisms and norms of international human law related to protecting the environment and requires that states pay constant attention to developing and improving this protection.
This includes the necessity of implementing this legislation via developing the rules of environmental protection during wartime and peacetime, especially in the context of the liability of the state, whether for civil or criminal offences. This is in light of the lack of effective rules for protection and the lack of entities which work to supervise the implementation and development of these rules (10).
The Iranian regime’s burial of nuclear waste in the Ahwazi territories is a blatant crime evidently aimed at damaging the lives and livelihoods of the indigenous Ahwazi people of the region. Analysis conducted by Jondishapur Hospital affiliated with the university of Jondishapur in Ahwaz showed a 500% increase in cancer rates amongst Ahwazis since the regime first implemented this policy, along with a steep surge in respiratory and lung diseases (11) & (12).
The burial of nuclear waste, especially in Susa (Shush), has also led to higher than usual rates of deformities in babies, severe respiratory conditions and lung diseases, as well as skin diseases, along with the spread of a disease resulting in sterility known as Varicocele, which has become one of the most common diseases among the local Ahwazis.
According to Ahwazi medical sources on the ground, thousands of young Ahwazi people now suffer from Varicocele, further evidence of the regime’s systematic efforts to reduce the birth rate and kill off the Ahwazi population.
While Iran is not a party to the International Atomic Energy Commission’s Convention on Nuclear Safety or Joint Convention on the safety of spent fuel management and on the safety of radioactive waste management, the regime did sign onto the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency (13). However, Iran’s reservations to the treaty include a refusal to submit any disputes to the International Court of Justice or arbitration as per Article 13, section 2.
In short, the regime’s sheer indifference to international norms extends to all areas, including storage of nuclear waste from its otherwise proscribed nuclear weapons programme in such a manner that it spreads disease uniquely in its Arab region.
Despite the regime’s relentless tyranny and crimes against them, however, the Ahwazis continue to rise up in the face of this vast machinery of repression and systemic injustice practised against them to demand the freedom and human rights so cruelly withheld from them, even as their very environment is destroyed around them.
International reports and appeals from human rights bodies have had no effect on the Iranian regime, which has made no move to end its abusive policies and practices towards Ahwazis or to accept its binding legal responsibility according to international charters, conventions, or International Environment Law.
This destruction of Ahwazis’ natural wealth of farmlands, rivers, marshlands, forests and palm-tree orchards has, unsurprisingly, also had a devastating effect on Ahwazi society, its economic strength and infrastructure.
C- Iranian violations against sugar cane farms and palm tree plantations
Successive Iranian governments have worked to introduce multiple projects aimed at reducing the amount of land in Ahwaz owned by its indigenous Ahwazi population. This includes expanding the area dedicated to the regime’s sugar cane project in eastern Ahwaz to the western of the eponymously named capital, which has so far resulted in the razing of almost 250 Ahwazi villages on both sides of the Karoon river in an area stretching between the cities of Ahwaz, Abadan and Muhammarah (14).
The ruinous and loss-making sugarcane project, like other regime policies, is merely another way in which the remaining rivers in Ahwaz are poisoned, with the regime constructing massive sugar refineries on the river banks, using their waters in the refining process and dumping the untreated chemical waste from the refining process back into the same rivers.
This, along with the dumping of untreated petrochemical products from over 100 refineries, as well as raw sewage and clinical waste, inter alia, straight into the waterways makes the remaining river water unusable, foul, toxic and brackish, and is killing off the region’s once abundant marine life.
Unlike the unsafe but lucrative exploitation of oil and gas fields, the foremost objective of the Iranian government in these destructive policies lies in forcing residents of the villages adjacent to the rivers to flee their homes and abandon their agricultural lands. When this is achieved, the Iranian authorities seize control of the land and initiate a clean-up process, giving the land to ethnically Persian settlers encouraged to move to the area, and only thereafter providing clean water for irrigation and drinking, supplying amenities not available to the indigenous people.
Once the locals have been driven out, authorities also quickly stem the flow of the toxic polluted waters from the sugar cane refineries and ensure that the new, Persian, or regime-friendly farmers have sufficient fresh water, in complete opposition to the plight of the many Ahwazi farmers forced to abandon their land after the sugarcane projects deprived them of their right to get water for irrigation.
Otherwise, this untreated chemical-laden saline water already seeped into many agricultural lands at the riverside, making large areas barren and unusable, making the water that’s always served the main source of household water for the region undrinkable even as the land is left effectively salted and unusable without regime-funded reclamation projects that are only used for the benefit of those whom it brings in.
Even for the date farm plantations that for generations covered thousands of acres in Ahwaz, whose dates were renowned across the Middle East, the loss of water has been devastating, with countless trees now dying or dead.
Palm trees, in particular, have long been the primary source of income for many Ahwazis, and the region has long been a main producer and exporter of dates. However, over the past 40 years, the number of palm trees has decreased dramatically, with five million trees, out of an estimated six million, having been destroyed for various reasons. The remaining million trees are the subject of the regime’s current attack. While the palm tree is well known for its ability to thrive in harsh conditions, it remains vulnerable to salt water, which can cause rapid death.
Also, in recent years, Iranian authorities have systematically razed or burnt down palm tree orchards in the villages located within the boundaries of the regime’s project zones, staging dozens of fires which destroyed tens of thousands of palm trees, paying no heed to the palm trees’ deep symbolic meaning in Ahwazi culture and in the consciousness of the Ahwazis. When condemned over this devastation, the Iranian authorities invariably blame ‘climate change’ or any other reason as the culprit.
In reality, the villagers and the owners of the destroyed orchards always file complaints in which they reiterate that they have clearly seen the police patrol personnel and IRGC Basiji militias setting fire to the orchards or otherwise directly causing their destruction. Equally invariably, the Iranian authorities reject the testimonies of witnesses on pretexts that would not survive the barest scrutiny in any competent, legitimate court (15).
A brief demonstration of the suffering inflicted on Ahwazi farmers by the burning of thousands of their palm trees can be seen in the villages of al-Qassaba area south of Abadan, where three massive, deliberately lit, fires destroyed nearly 3,000 palm trees in a one-year period between 2005 and 2006, with the biggest of these being the third blaze on 21 February, 2006.
According to reports, local witnesses among the owners of the palm tree orchards said that the IRGC militias had openly started the fires, adding that the was the third time in less than a year that their orchards had been subjected to arson.
While investigations conducted by the municipal council, district director and the fire departments serving Abadan municipality and al-Qassaba district revealed that all the previous fires were indeed the result of arson, the Iranian authorities, predictably, failed to take any action.
Another such massive blaze broke out on 7 June, 2007, in three villages in the district of al-Qassaba, destroying almost 5,000 palm trees in orchards around the villages of al-Qasr river, al-Ballama river, and Ali Sheer river, with the villagers left destitute by the fires which forced them to flee for their lives (16).
In mid-August of the same year, fire destroyed two of the orchards around Torra Bakhakh village, destroying nearly 150 palm trees. Although the villagers caught and arrested the perpetrator, the Iranian authorities bizarrely alleged that he was a drug addict and declined to reveal his identity or charge him.
On 2 April, 2008, orchards around another of the villages of al-Qassaba district burned, destroying nearly 800 palm trees. According to the villagers, the fire broke out in the orchards after a group of Iranian tourists left the scene, having spent the Nowruz holiday in the scenic orchards around the village located on the Shatt Al-Arab waterway.
Amongst the best-known fires which destroyed palm trees in Ahwaz is the Great Blaze which took place on Tuesday, 19 June 2008 in Qasabat al-Nassar. It destroyed nearly 1,500 palm trees. This fire came only one week after the orchards of Fayyadiya and Eastern Sellij villages in Abadan city were burnt by unidentified arsonists suspected of being state agents, with hundreds of palm trees were burned down by these blazes, along with many other orchards in the two aforementioned villages.
It’s important to note that all the palm tree orchard fires took place during a certain period of time and occurred in a sequential series, demonstrating that these are no random terrible accidents but part of a carefully planned clandestine systematic strategy outlined in a phase that followed the same pattern as the other regime violations against the environment in Ahwaz, up to and including the dam building and river-diversion programme, the widespread pollution of the air and water, the draining and destruction of the marshlands and the desertification. All of these events form part of the Iranian policy whose first and foremost objective is to wipe out the identity of the Ahwazi people and undermine the cause of freedom and independence.
Yet, while the environment is essentially collateral damage to Iran’s depredations, it underscores the sweepingly criminal nature of Iran’s crimes against humanity and the environment alike.
E- International accountability for Iran over its crimes against the Ahwazi environment and its repercussions regarding the crime of genocide
Like most post-World War II international legal developments, most international human rights law and International Environment Law still lack any binding power. However, since the Iranian regime’s violations of the environment have caused multiple deaths among Ahwazis and continue to threaten their lives on a daily basis, international accountability for Iran’s regime must be determined in a binding form, with an executive capacity.
This is derived from The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, one of the formative and binding treaties applicable to virtually all countries of the world.
This legislation was approved and brought forth for signature and ratification by virtue of General Assembly Resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948. The implementation of this law began on 12 January, 1951, and Iran became a signatory on 14 August, 1956. The convention considers genocide, by virtue of international law, to contradict the spirit and objectives of the UN, and to be intolerable and condemned by the civilised world.
The first article of the convention stipulates that this crime causes massive losses to humanity and requires international cooperation in prosecuting those responsible, irrespective of whether the crime is committed during wartime or peacetime, being classified as a crime by virtue of international law. The UN pledges to prevent it and to punish those who commit it.
The second article sets forth the acts which constitute a genocide, which include: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group(17).
It is within the framework of this Convention that we make several recommendations.
– Criminal designation of the environment violations and the role of these violations in the death of groups of Ahwazi people
Chronic health problems due to staggering levels of environmental pollution are among the main causes of death among the Ahwazis. This is a form of criminality, which is included in one of the core provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The third article of the Convention stipulates that: “The following acts shall be punishable: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide; e) Complicity in genocide.”
Moreover, Article II of the Convention specifically defines the crime of genocide to include “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” and “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”. As we have demonstrated, the regime’s campaign of environmental devastation is demonstrably both deliberate and calculated to bring about the physical devastation of the Ahwazi people, while its storage of nuclear waste unnecessarily close to Susa and other Ahwazi areas likely qualifies as a second count of genocide pursuant to subsection (d) of the second article.
– Measures for holding Iran to account before local and international judiciary
It is difficult for Ahwazis to hold Iran accountable before the local judiciary, given that the crimes committed are orchestrated by the Iranian authorities, which control the judiciary. However, they are contracting parties which agreed to take the legislative measures necessary to ensure implementation of the Convention’s provisions, according to each state’s constitution. This includes the stipulation of deterrent criminal penalties for those who commit the crime of genocide, but without enforcement, these provisions are clearly dead letter law as far as internal legal action is concerned.
Just because it is not possible to prosecute the Iranian government collectively or individually on a domestic level does not mean that there is no capacity to sue the perpetrators of this genocide; it is possible to hold the relevant Iranian individuals and government officials accountable before the international judiciary should they travel abroad.
Whenever they do so, they should be arrested and face prosecution and civil suits against them in whichever country they are staying, whether temporarily or permanently. The seventh article of the Convention stipulates: “Genocide and the other acts enumerated in Article III shall not be considered as political crimes for the purpose of extradition. The Contracting Parties pledge themselves in such cases to grant extradition in accordance with their laws and treaties in force.” Therefore, each nation hosting any perpetrators bears its own obligation to take action against them.
On the international level, according to Article 9 of the Convention, disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.
The use of the term “shall” means that it is mandatory upon submission of an involved contracting party, and while the sovereignty-deprived Ahwazi people are necessarily unable to constitute a contracting party, other sovereign states such as the United States could in theory submit this ongoing genocide to the ICJ, as well as to other UN organs pursuant to Article VIII of the Convention.
Based on all the above, we conclude that the effects of the policies of the Iranian authorities, which clearly breach the International Environment Law are substantially similar to the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide so as to trigger the international obligations and mechanisms of the latter.
According to the terms of the Convention as set forth above, the practices being carried out by the Iranian regime’s authorities in Ahwaz fit this classification, constituting systematic killings and the infliction of harm to human groups on an extensive scale.
Recalling that the Convention specifically includes the crime of genocide to include “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” it must as a corollary also include – perhaps especially – destruction of environment in a deliberate and planned manner. These hostile acts and practices by the Iranian government therefore demonstrably constitute a flagrant and ongoing example of the crime of genocide.
The Iranian regime’s environmental policies in Ahwaz form a well-connected chain, each one of whose links is made up of an action and consequence, both deliberate and with what is domestically referred to as malice aforethought.
The consequence of draining rivers and the sharp decline in the level of waters in the rivers leads directly to rising rates of salinity, which in turn leads to creating salty river water unsuitable for drinking or irrigation, directly impacting the cultivable areas and wreaking havoc on a primary asset for the Ahwazi people which is agriculture. As farming is the backbone of the economy of Ahwaz and the main source of sustenance for the greatest part of the population. Therefore, the drying up of rivers leads directly to eliminating the waters necessary for irrigating the Ahwaz plain extending from Zagros Mountains to the shores of the Arabian Gulf overlooking Abadan port to easternmost Bab al-Salam.
This in turn exacerbates the phenomenon of desertification and soil erosion. The agricultural lands, as time passes, turn into an uncultivatable barren desert, leading to a long-term decline in agricultural production in Ahwaz. Meanwhile, the salinised soil becomes arid, fragile, and incapable of sustaining the vegetation that enables it to withstand winds, leading to sandstorms, the other phenomenon behind the increase in respiratory problems and diseases, along with the pollution caused by the unregulated industrialisation. All this comes as part of the Iranian regime’s systematic policies aiming to starve, dispossess and ultimately eradicate the indigenous people of Ahwaz.
By Rahim Hamid & Aaron Eitan Meyer
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
- See: Paragraph 6 of the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972. Link: A/CONF.48/14/Rev.1 – E – A/CONF.48/14/Rev.1 -Desktop (undocs.org)
- See: The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which was adopted in Paris on 17 June, 1994 and entered into force in December 1996.
- See: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its protocol, adopted in 1997
- See: Article 23 of The Hague Convention of 1907, Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949, and United Nations General Assembly Resolution No. 47/37 of 1996.
- See: Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, dated 8 July, 1996, regarding nuclear tests
- See: Article 22 of the 1907 Hague Convention, Article 35 of the First Additional Protocol of 1977, Article 54, and Article 14 of the Second Additional Protocol.
7: See: The Dur Untash Studies Centre (DUSC).( Monday April 29th, 2019). “Iran’s regime using flooding as cover for demographic change in Ahwaz region: reports”.. Link: https://www.dusc.org/en/articles/2840/
8: See: Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.( 20 April, 2019). “The Floods of Ahwaz, an environmental disaster and demographic engineering, a contradiction between Rouhani and the Revolutionary Guard’s reading of what happened, No. 14753,. Link: https://bit.ly/2IWYkbi
9: see: Tejaratnews.( 3 Sep, 2018,). the smoke of Horalazim marshlands fires go into the eyes of half of Ahwaz population.link: https://bit.ly/35Z1unt
10: See: Arrab Nassi, Mechanisms of International Humanitarian Law for the Protection of the Environment during Armed Conflicts, Thesis prepared for obtaining a Master’s Degree in law specialising in Environmental Law, Arab Nation University | Faculty of Law | Algeria 2012 p.33 et seq.
11: See: Al-Riyad newspaper. ( 23 February, 2015). Iran punishes Ahwaz by turning it into a “nuclear graveyard”, cancer cases up 500%, unearthing the crime, Issue 17045,. Cancer cases up 500%, unearthing the crime. Link: https://www.alriyadh.com/1024313
12: see Zamaneh Media. (26 February, 2015). Khuzestan cancer cases skyrocket over past 15 years.link: https://en.radiozamaneh.com/22438/
13: Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency. INFCIRC/336: The Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency was adopted by the General Conference at its special session, 24-26 September 1986, and was opened for signature at Vienna on 26 September 1986 and at New York on 6 October 1986. link: Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency | IAEA
14: See: Elaph Newspaper. (21 June 2008) Al-Ahwaz Palm and Safavid Blind Hatred. link: https://elaph.com/Web/AsdaElaph/2008/6/341661.html
17: See: Article 3 of the Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, promulgated – signature and ratification – by General Assembly Resolution 260 A (D-3) of 9 December, 1948, its entry into force on 12 January, 1951.