Obama’s new policy on Iran: Don’t mention the torture

For five years, the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, co-founded by McGill international law professor Payam Akhavan, has chronicled human rights abuses committed in Iran since 1979. The centre’s work is based on the conviction that an eventual transition to democracy will not be successful unless a culture of human rights and democratic governance is cultivated, and gross violators of human rights are held to account.

The centre has done exemplary work to this end, including a 125-page investigation into the torture and murder in Tehran of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

The centre has relied in the past on funding from the State Department, which the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has now cut off. It must be stressed that the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center does not send agents into Iran. It doesn’t smuggle weapons to militant opposition groups. There is nothing nefarious and much that is admirable about it.

Obama’s decision may be simply a crass attempt to jettison anything to do with his predecessor George W. Bush’s attempts to export democracy. Others involved with the centre fear his administration is willing to sacrifice human rights in Iran to get a deal on the nuclear issue.

Here is a report on the funding cutoff in the Boston Globe and commentary in the Wall Street Journal.

The centre’s budget is small. Their funding from the State Department, for example, amounted to $3 million. By way of comparison, the Canadian International Development Agency spent $2 million supposedly promoting democracy in Zimbabwe from 2003 to 2006. I have no idea what they did with that money because CIDA has ignored my access-to-information request about it for 30 months and counting.

(Amusingly, CIDA’s online explanation includes this gem: “Successful lobbying for amendments to the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”)

My point is that perhaps Canada’s own government could channel a few of the millions of dollars that flows into CIDA and from there into the ether to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. It would be money well spent.