Minorities In Iran: Has There Been Any Progress During Hassan Rouhani’s Presidency? The Case Of Balochistan By Nasser Boladai

Rouhani’s rhetoric – like the one of former president Khatami – is dangerous hypocrisy. The Rouhani administration has in fact increased the use of human rights abuses, such as arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings. This is clear evidence that Rouhani’s administration is more intent to use force in Balochistan and suppress dissenting voices, than implementing any of its election promises.


Minorities in Iran: Has there been any progress during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency?


The Case of Balochistan

By Nasser Boladai


President Rouhani coming to power in Iran did not bring about any positive changes on the ground for the people of Balochistan. Instead, it led to an increase in extra-judicial killings, executions, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances. In recent years in particular, security forces have started kidnapping innocent people, some of whose mutilated bodies are then later found showing signs of severe torture. Sadly, this alarming increase in human rights violations does not come as much of a surprise given that Mr. Rouhani’s administration is dominated by people who are part of Iran’s security forces and intelligence circles.

While Iran is facing an economic crisis and suffering from international sanctions, each year, President Rouhani has increased the budget for the Revolutionary Guards, the intelligence services, the army and the security forces. This led to an increased militarization of the Balochistan region.

During the electoral campaign, Rouhani had vowed to implement some of articles in Iran’s Constitution which would benefit national minorities. He had also promised to strengthen ethnic and religious minority rights and stated that he would include representatives of national and ethnic minorities in his cabinet.

Based on these election promises and the programme Rouhani had put forward, people in regions like Balochistan and Kurdistan in particular voted for Rouhani. In what can be seen as a landslide victory, and overwhelming majority of 73 percent of the people of Balochistan voted for him – 20 percent more than the national average, according to the numbers on the election result published by the regime.

After Rouhani’s victory, there were some expectations that – for the first time in the Islamic Republic’s 35-year old history – there would be a minister from a national or religious minority group. But soon after Rouhani’s cabinet had been completed, it became clear that – as usual – national groups and religious minorities would have no representation at all. In addition to that, Rouhani had promised that he would give more power to national and religious minorities in their respective provinces. However, in Balochistan even local posts, such as the position of governor, were not given to people hailing from these regions, but to functionaries from other provinces. The provincial governor of Balochistan, for instance, is a man who was completely unknown in the province prior to his appointment, and most people heard of him for the first time when Rouhani announced him as his pick for this position.

After the election, Rouhani’s administration had announced that it would hire hundreds of new employees. The local population hoped that – even if he had not given the position of provincial governor or other security posts to the Baloch – he would at least make these new positions in the administration available to young Balochs. But the people of Balochistan had their hopes dashed once again. Close to 98 percent of these new positions went to non-Baloch Iranians. The Baloch youth in particular came to realize that Rouhani has many faces, but none of them committed to justice or to keeping his promises.

Even though they are estimated to make up around 20 percent of Iran’s population, there has never been a Sunni minister in Iran. Additionally, there has not been any Baloch ministers since Western Balochistan was incorporated into the newly-established centralized Iranian state in 1928 by Reza Pahlavi.

Since Rouhani has become president, the administration has also intensified its security operations in the Baloch region. His government continued the construction of a border wall, physically separating the three parts of Balochistan, areas in today’s Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On Friday, 3 March 2017, Zahidan’s religious leader Mr. Mulavi Abdual Hamid expressed his and the Baloch people’s opposition to the regime tightening border controls and monopolizing cross-border trade. In effect, border trade has been completely taken over by the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps.

As the current atmosphere and the international stance towards Iran is rather favorable due to the nuclear deal struck in the Obama era, the Rouhani administration has more or less free rein in suppressing national minorities. The regime understands that the international community will not hold it accountable for committing human rights violations against national minorities, especially as regards gross human right violation perpetrated against the people of Balochistan. Tragically, throughout history, Iranian governments have been given a free hand by the international community to suppress and violate Baloch people’s human rights without having to fear any criticism or sanctions.

The policy to suppress the national groups is consistent with Rouhani´s security thinking, which he laid out in one of his first statements. When he publicly declared his candidacy for the presidency he stated (in regards to the standard of a president), that:

“The individual must have the ability to manage special situations…a crisis manager…the next president should be a strong hand and powerful man¬ager who has the power to negotiate with the world”

Comparing his words with his deeds, it becomes quite obvious that Mr. Rouhani’s pursues a dishonest approach: he says something or agrees to something, but then does something completely different. Representing Iran in the nuclear negotiations between 2003 and 2005, he signed a temporary agreement with the international community. During the negotiations, the international community trusted him, while, in reality, the government Rouhani was representing was continuing its nuclear programme more vigorously under the cover of this agreement. To some of his critics, he defended his legacy as nuclear negotiator like this:

“While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan, and much work remained to complete the project. In fact, by creating a relaxed atmosphere we were able to complete the work in Isfahan. All praises be to God (alhamdulillah), today Isfahan is com¬pleted, and we can convert yellowcake into UF4 and UF6 [uranium hexa¬fluoride], and this is a very important matter”

As president, Rouhani has also shown that he condemns other countries’ actions, while conveniently failing to acknowledge that his own regime is pursuing the very same horrible policies. On example would be the construction of the wall which seeks to physically separate the historical land of the Baloch. The Baloch people’s historical motherland – spread across Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan – was divided by the British Empire. The borders, which divide Balochistan, are named after British officers; the Goldsmit line divides Balochistan between Iran and Pakistan and the Durand line divides Balochistan between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Baloch people have never accepted this division and consider it unnatural and a betrayal of their human rights and self-determination – a right that is enshrined in the United National Universal Declaration for Human Rights.

After the election of Donald Trump as president of the United State of America, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized Trump’s plan of building a border wall along the US-Mexican border, saying that now was “not the time to build walls between nations”. He added that, “they have forgotten that the Berlin Wall collapsed many years ago. Even if there are walls between nations, they must be removed”

At the same time, the Rouhani regime is building a wall between one people, the Baloch. Rouhani has never criticized this wall which physically separates the Baloch people. As a member and the head of the Iran National Security Council and now as president he has been instrumental in financing and supporting the construction of the wall dividing the Baloch people. If he wants to be true to his words, Rouhani should stop the construction and instruct those responsible to tear down already existing parts of the wall.

What is interesting in this regard is that Rouhani’s criticism of Trump was widely broadcasted and covered by national and international news outlets, all of which used Rouhani’s statements as an opportunity to add to the widespread public criticism of the Trumps administration. However, they all failed to mention that, at the same time, the Rouhani’s regime is building its very own wall which divides the Baloch people.

The Iranian government’s harsh suppression of any kind of civil society and civil liberties – in particularly of secular and democratic forms of organization – has created an environment in which peaceful struggle is impossible. When there is a promise of some kind of alleviating the situation in regions inhabited by national minority region and then these promises are broken, the situation is likely to get even worse, with the potential of the peaceful struggle turning into armed resistance and violence. This has already happened in the past: former president Khatamis promised to give more democratic space to oppressed communities and groups, but, in reality, used harsh methods to suppress the Baloch people. The consequence was that a peaceful struggle for human rights turned into an armed resistance, which saw increased clashes between Baloch armed groups and Iranian military forces.

Rouhani’s rhetoric – like the one of former president Khatami – is dangerous hypocrisy. While raising hopes of alleviating the situation in Balochistan and lessening the pressure on the Baloch people, the Rouhani administration has in fact increased the use of human rights abuses, such as arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial killings. This is clear evidence that Rouhani’s administration is more intent to use force in Balochistan and suppress dissenting voices, than implementing any of its election promises.

The discrepancy between Rouhanis rhetoric and the regime’s actual policies – just like during the Khatami era – creates the circumstances for turning a peaceful struggle for human rights into an armed struggle in Balochistan. This time around, an armed struggle in Balochistan could become even more violent than previous ones given the new political environment in Balochistan, Iran and in the region writ large.

Notes of presentation to Swiss parliament on on 8 march on the subject of “Minorities in Iran: Has there been any progress during Hassan Rouhani’s presidency?”

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