Romeo Delaire is a highly respected Canadian who did everything he could to warn the world of the impending atrocities in Rwanda… but no one listened.
Dear friends and family,
I think you’ll find this recent (March 23) article from the Montreal Gazette alarming. Romeo Delaire sounded the alarm last year when he said in a press release that he saw disturbingly similar signs in Iran’s treatment of Baha’is that reminded him of the time leading up to the Rawanda genocide. It’s good to see such a strong statement in one of Canada’s top newspapers.
Persecution threatens the survival of Iran’s Baha’i community
By FRANK CHALK, AND KISHAN MANOCHA March 23, 2009
Humanity’s experience of genocide has left us with some understanding of its appalling nature, including an appreciation of a pattern of warning signs that foreshadow its onset. These include the “classification” of minority groups into categories of “us vs. them,” efforts to “dehumanize” them in the media and other venues, and “preparation” for extermination – a process that starts with the “identification” of individual members of the group, especially their leaders.
Those of us who study genocide see clearly signs all too familiar and disturbing to ignore in the case of the Baha’i community in Iran, that country’s largest religious minority.
Persecuted throughout its 165-year history, the Baha’is of Iran survived. But with the coming of the 1979 Islamic revolution, the eradication of the Baha’i Faith in the land of its birth became an ideological goal of the Iranian authorities and with it the execution, imprisonment, and torture of hundreds of Baha’is, and the violation of virtually all of the fundamental rights of the 300,000-strong community.
The international community has been quick to condemn Iran’s systematic ill treatment of a religious group whose members are designated as “unprotected infidels,” given their lack of recognition in the constitution of the Islamic Republic. The pressure brought to bear by the United Nations and its various human-rights bodies, but also from a number of governments and leading human-rights groups, succeeded in moderating the intensity of the attacks as the Baha’is struggled to keep their community viable through a generation when higher education was denied them and their religious institutions were banned. The wholesale genocide of the Baha’is of Iran was thereby averted.
Any slight moderation in the ferocity of the onslaught against the Baha’is, however, was upset when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power. He behaves, like many of those who have gained influence in Iran, like someone schooled in the ways of the Hojjatieh Society, founded in 1954 as a specifically anti- Baha’i organization.
Ominously, a number of recent events in Iran point to something far more sinister at work than a simple clampdown on the freedom of the Baha’is. Official efforts to identify and monitor Baha’is and their activities, last year’s imprisonment of national Baha’i leaders, an orchestrated campaign of hate propaganda in the state-run news media that demonizes Baha’is, and a general upsurge in violence against Baha’is and their property undoubtedly perpetrated by agents of the Iranian authorities – these trends, when considered in the context of a known government plan for the quiet elimination of the Baha’i community as a viable entity, cannot and must not go unheeded and unprotested if the international community is to adhere to the promise it raised of “Never Again” following the Holocaust.
This past week, the Baha’i International Community sent an open letter to Iran’s prosecutor-general, Ayatollah Dorri-Najafabadi, explaining clearly the innocence of the Baha’is in the face of accusations made by the government, and asking for fairness in any upcoming trial of seven Baha’i leaders. These individuals are members of the recently disbanded group that had been co-ordinating the affairs of the Baha’i community at the national level, and whose treatment is grimly similar to the episodes in the 1980s when scores of Baha’i leaders were rounded up and killed as part of the government’s strategy of decapitating the Baha’i faith in Iran.
The case against the Baha’i leaders in Iran has implications that extend well beyond the fate of just these seven individuals. It is, in a very real sense, a test of our capacity to halt a genocide in the making. To do nothing at this stage would be unconscionable.
The Canadian government has condemned the charges and the upcoming trial and demanded the release of the Baha’is. That, of course, is to be welcomed. But reading the warning signs for what they are, demands that we ask more from Iran.
The Baha’is in Iran must be granted their fundamental human rights without condition and accorded full protection under the constitution of the Islamic Republic, for that is the only safeguard against their possible extinction.
Frank Chalk is director and Kishan Manocha is a fellow of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette