October 19, 2015 | The National Post

Cracking Down on Human-Rights Violators

Federal election campaigns are often characterized by negativity, but they are also a unique platform to present new policy ideas. Two recent Conservative pledges are worthy of consideration. Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson announced on Sept. 23 that his government, if re-elected, would strengthen the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) by adding gross violations of human rights to the list of eligible grounds for sanctions against foreign states, individuals and organizations. A day earlier, National Defence and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney pledged the establishment of a Financial Task Force to track Russian capital flows in global markets. Both are sound policies and should be instituted by whichever party forms the next government.

Currently, SEMA sanctions can be imposed by Canada for two purposes: to implement an international resolution to take economic action against a foreign state and to respond to a grave breach of international peace and security that has resulted, or is likely to result, in a serious international crisis. The government’s promise to include severe human rights abuses as new grounds for sanctions fills an important gap, enabling economic pressure on the most egregious of violators to complement diplomacy in the promotion of human rights. Such a measure is consistent with Canada’s cross-party historical legacy of standing up for human rights and could prove particularly useful in Ottawa’s ongoing efforts to hold countries like Iran and Russia accountable for their actions.

The violations of human rights in Iran are widespread and well documented. These abuses have not lessened under President Hassan Rouhani’s tenure. They include the stoning of women; the executing of minors and homosexuals; the imprisonment of journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders; the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities; and the criminalization of political dissent. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been a principal perpetrator of these and other offences.

The IRGC’s behaviuor stems directly from its constitutional mandate to “safeguard the revolution and its achievements,” which essentially authorizes this unconventional army to interpret any opposition to the regime as a counterrevolutionary act deserving of a violent response. The IRGC can violate the basic rights of every Iranian citizen on mere suspicion of misconduct, and operates outside the normative justice and military systems.

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