Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 25 September 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Situation of Baha'i Faith in Iran: Discussion
We will now get down to the business of today's meeting, which concerns the situation of members of the Baha'i faith in Iran. I want to welcome Mr. Brendan McNamara, who is chairman of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Ireland. I also wish to welcome his colleagues, Ms Alison Wortley and Ms Patricia Rainford.
Most members of the committee are aware of some of the problems faced by the Baha'i faith. It is important to have the assembly's representatives here today to give a presentation on the current situation in Iran. There have been major changes in Iran recently as a result of the election of a new President. These are changing and challenging times in Iran. At the UN General Assembly we have seen the overtures being made to the new Iranian President concerning that country's nuclear capacity. That matter has to be examined and with the President and Administration in place in Iran we will hopefully see some changes there in future, particularly for minorities such as the Baha'i faith.
I will now ask Mr. McNamara to make his presentation.
Mr. Brendan McNamara:
I thank the Chairman and other members of the committee for inviting us here today. I will read the presentation and if there are questions afterwards my colleagues and I will be delighted to contribute to the discussion.
We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to address the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and for its members' genuine concern for the fate of the Baha'i community in Iran. The expressions of support and assistance that have been forthcoming from our Government and Members of the Oireachtas, as well as from this esteemed committee and its members, are a great source of encouragement and pride for us as Irish Baha'is.
We are gravely concerned about the situation faced by Baha'is in Iran and, indeed, for the many ordinary Iranians who are suffering discrimination or imprisonment on account of their religion or beliefs. We would like to make the following observations which we hope will be of interest and assistance to the committee.
As members of the committee will be aware, on 24 August 2013, Mr. Ataollah Rezvani, a 54-year old father of two, was murdered in his home town of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. I would like to tell you a little about Mr. Rezvani before proceeding. He was born and grew up in Iran. Shortly after the Islamic revolution of 1979, he began his studies for a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Tehran. However, during his second semester he was expelled because he was a Baha'i. It was a struggle for Mr. Rezvani to make a career without qualifications. Nevertheless, he managed to become an expert in water purification. In 1985, he moved to Bandar Abbas to install water treatment systems for the cities of Bandar Abbas and Minab.
Mr. Rezvani settled into a happy life with his family and was one of the city's small group of Baha'is who attended to the needs and problems of the community after the dissolution of the city's Baha'i administration in the 1980s. He was respected and well-liked by colleagues, friends and neighbours, Baha'i and non-Baha'i, and had a reputation for kindness, integrity and service to his community.
The Iranian authorities, who have exerted every effort to block the progress of Baha'is since 1979, reacted to Mr. Rezvani's success and popularity by issuing continuous threats against him. Over the years, Mr. Rezvani and members of his family were harassed by agents of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence who tried to force them to leave the city. In addition, these were also years of hateful propaganda against Baha'is from the pulpit of local clerics in Bandar Abbas. In recent times, due to pressure from the Ministry, Mr. Rezvani lost his job. In parallel with this turn of events he also began to receive anonymous, menacing phone calls from persons unknown.
On Saturday, 24 August, Ataollah Rezvani left his house in the evening but did not return home. On the morning of Sunday, 25 August, exactly one month ago today, his car was found by a lorry driver in an isolated location on the outskirts of the city. He had been shot in the back of the head. All reports about this incident point to the fact that Ataollah Rezvani's abduction and murder was religiously motivated. In spite of this, and in spite of the ongoing requests of his family and friends, there has been no official inquiry into his murder.
All states have a duty under international law to investigate, prosecute and punish criminal behaviour. In a context where there has been a history of discrimination, and particularly if the state authorities have had a role in this, such responsibilities are all the more pertinent. Unfortunately, rather than investigate the crimes against their Baha'i citizens, the Iranian establishment has spearheaded the persecution and constantly sought to incite the masses against Baha'is.
Speaking in Geneva last March, Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, described this as "one of the broadest and most obvious cases of state-sponsored religious persecution in the world". As he put it, Iranian Baha'is experience persecution "from the cradle to the grave, and beyond".
Baha'is are not the only Iranians deprived of their rights. There are many people from all walks of life in prison for their beliefs. Though President Rouhani's election last June brought a promise of change, the evidence suggests otherwise. For example, human rights organisations like Church in Chains are very concerned for a number of Iranian Christians now in prison, in particular four persons who are serving long prison sentences. In July and August, they have reported that more than 20 Christians were arrested and detained.
We understand from its Dublin Iran group,that Amnesty International is gravely concerned for the well-being of four Sunni Muslim men from Iran's Kurdish minority, who are in imminent danger of being executed, perhaps within days. In addition to this, Sufi activists continue to be imprisoned. In late July, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, released a series of fatwas or religious rulings, one of which stated that Baha'is were "deviant and misguided" and should be shunned. Shortly after these fatwas were published, Mr. Rezvani was murdered.
Last week, 11 prisoners of conscience were released from prison in Iran and in the last few days - as the Chairman mentioned - there have been announcements of further releases. This is, indeed, good news and the Baha'i community warmly welcomes this turn of events. One of those released was the Sakharov prize-winning human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh. Interestingly, shortly before her release, Ms Sotoudeh wrote a letter to President Rouhani about the murder of Ataollah Rezvani. The text of her letter describes accurately both the current situation vis-à-vis Mr. Rezvani's murder and the current danger for the 300,000 Baha'is living in Iran.
With your permission, Chairman, I would like to quote part of Ms Sotoudeh's letter:
Esteemed President, Mr. Rouhani,The Iranian constitution, and the international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, provide for the just and transparent treatment of every citizen. All that is required is for Iran to observe its own laws and fulfil undertakings already freely made. Implementation of existing laws would mean a hate crime, like the religiously motivated murder of Ataollah Rezvani, would be investigated and those responsible brought to justice.
The kidnapping and murder of a Baha'i fellow citizen during your tenure is reminiscent of previous murders of dissidents. We expect you to root out these types of barbaric behaviours before they spiral out of control. Many of us were familiar with the late Ataollah Rezvani and his esteemed relatives. His sister was my fellow inmate in prison and I had the honour of acting as the lawyer for some of his relatives. They are a family who had no desire other than service to the community; yet many members of that family have endured lengthy imprisonment or are still in prison.
I hereby request you to put an end to the suppression of Baha'is and to condemn the statements that are used as permission for such violent actions against them. I also request you to take necessary measures to vindicate the rights of the religious minorities and our Baha'i citizens in accordance with article 14 of the Islamic Republic's constitution, which binds the government and Muslims to treat non-Muslims humanely ... No peace loving Iranian would wish to cause discord or provoke public anger. However, through legal means and change of the political discourse, the recognition of the rights of religious minorities is what the public demand.
(signed) Nasrin Sotoudeh
We understand that there are many delicate diplomatic situations currently in train in the international political sphere. However, as Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi points out, the international community must be careful not to allow Iran to sidestep human rights obligations in favour of making progress on other diplomatic fronts. Iran must not be encouraged to interpret the possibility of agreement on some issues with the international community as permission to continue long-standing domestic abuses.
It is not only in the interest of the citizens of Iran, it is in the interests of everyone, everywhere, including Ireland, to encourage Iran to afford its own citizens all the rights to which they are entitled. As Dwight Bashir, deputy director of policy and research at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted recently:
Governments that limit the freedoms of their own people have shown no historical inclination to act peacefully toward other people. On the other hand, democracies that respect the rights of their people rarely go to war with each other.Iran must be continually reminded that the international community is watching and that, ultimately, those who perpetrate abuses against Iranian citizens will be held accountable.
The persecution of Baha'is is one of the issues repeatedly denounced internationally when the UN, intergovernmental bodies and civil society comment on Iranian violations of international human rights standards. For over 20 years, the UN General Assembly has adopted resolutions referring to violations against minorities in Iran including the Baha'is. Since 2005, eight UN special procedures have reported on the abuses detailed above and they have also been presented in the reports on human rights in Iran by the UN Secretary General for the past four years. These expert reports have emphasised that as religion and belief have the same status in the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, Iran must allow Baha'is to manifest their beliefs individually and in community with others, in public and in private.
How Iran's largest religious minority community is faring is arguably the best gauge of Iran's treatment of all its citizens. It should be noted the Iranian Baha'is love their country deeply, despite the suffering they have endured. They are heartened by growing support among the general population in defence of their rights and look forward to playing their part in the progress of that wonderful country.
We believe that the new Iranian President should be judged on his deeds rather than his words. We ask the committee to join with us in calling on the Iranian President, Mr. Rouhani, to ensure freedom of religion and belief is respected and protected in Iran and that all the citizens of that country are treated with justice. Since 2005, at least nine Baha'is have been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances. We are not aware of a single instance of someone being prosecuted for these crimes, much less being convicted or imprisoned. A full investigation into the murder of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani is, we believe, a requirement if we are to hope that talk of change is a prelude to actual improvement in the human rights situation in Iran.
I thank Mr. McNamara for his presentation. Since the election of Mr. Rouhani, he has emphasised the importance of human rights and promising to improve them, particularly in the status of minorities there. Does Mr. McNamara see hope in this presidency? Already, 80 political prisoners have been released. Is this the start of a new beginning?
Mr. Brendan McNamara:
We welcome these events and are delighted for those people and their families. We would like to hope this is the prelude to some change. Unfortunately, what we have seen since the election of Mr. Rouhani is no real change for the Baha'is. In my opening statement I pointed to the murder of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani in Bandar Abbas. There has not even been an investigation into the details surrounding his abduction and murder. The fatwa released by the Iranian Supreme Leader which called for the shunning and marginalisation of Baha'is came at about the same time.
It remains to be seen but we would hope there will be change. However, the 112 Baha'is in prison in Iran have not yet been released. The seven former leaders of the Baha'i community are five years into a 20-year sentence, the longest that any prisoner of conscience has received there. In education, Baha'i students have again this year been denied access to university. We do not see many changes yet. It will take some time to see if this is actually a sea change. Mr. Rouhani and his regime should be judged over a period.
When Mohammad Khatami, a supposed moderate, was President of Iran from 1997 to 2005, there were many expressions for change just like we have heard over the past several months but nothing really did change. We would advise a little caution.
I welcome Mr. McNamara and his colleagues. When I have engaged with the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Ireland, I have found its members to be fair and reasonable. What Mr. McNamara has outlined to us is very disturbing. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has assured us in replies to parliamentary questions and briefings that it takes the opportunity to raise the assembly’s concerns at every relevant forum at official and political level. Through our membership of the UN Human Rights Council, we have another opportunity to raise these concerns.
Do the assembly’s European counterparts engage with their own parliamentary committees? Has there been engagement with the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament? It is important to have other European national parliaments and assemblies support the Baha'i position and outline the disturbing position of Baha'i members in Iran. It has been pointed out that there have been more difficulties for the Baha'i community there in the past ten years than in the previous ten years.
I extend a warm welcome to the delegates. It is important that the committee writes to the Iranian ambassador to Ireland expressing our concern that there has been no official investigation into the death of Mr. Ataollah Rezvani in Bandar Abbas. It is disturbing to all of us that there has been no official investigation.
Historically, how are relations between the Baha'i community and Iran’s other religious communities? I understand the repression of the Baha'i community intensified after the Islamic revolution in 1979. Why was it singled out over other religious communities?
With the election of Mr. Rouhani we have heard positive messages that came out of the UN General Assembly meeting recently.
His actions, rather than his words, will change people's minds. I note the delegates' argument that the Iranian constitution and the international covenants to which Iran has signed up provide for just and transparent treatment of citizens. Unfortunately, however, that is not happening. Has the Bahá'í community faced repression outside Iran and has the Iranian Government tried to influence other countries in how they treat members of the community? Is the fact that the Bahá'í community was historically based in Palestine but is now in Israel a factor in how it is treated? I understand the issue has been raised with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but what else can the Department and this committee do? We can raise the issue regularly with the authorities, but is there any other way we can express our concerns?
There has been talk of sending a delegation comprising members of the committee to Iran to discuss the positive resumption of agriculture and beef trade. Would it be helpful for such a delegation to raise the issue of prisoners' rights, as well as human rights? Is there anything in particular the delegates would like us to raise should we visit Iran later this year or early next year?
Mr. Brendan McNamara:
I thank the Deputy for his questions and ask him to forgive me if I forget some of them.
We are greatly heartened by the support we have always been shown by the Department through successive Governments. The support it has offered at the United Nations in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly has been tremendous. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is well versed in the situation and has been very supportive.
The opportunity to meet the committee is useful in that it shows the Iranian Government and the Bahá'í community in Ireland and Iran that this Parliament is concerned about minority rights and those who are suffering persecution in Iran. That is a positive and important statement for our Parliamentarians to make.
The Deputy asked whether the Bahá'í faith's connection with Israel was a factor. The founder of the Bahá'í faith was exiled from his native Iran to what was then Palestine under the Ottomans in the middle 1800s. Consequently, the world centre for the Bahá'í faith has grown around his resting place. That is the connection the Bahá'í community developed since before the foundation of the state of Israel. However, Iran is the land where the faith was born. Bahá'ú'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í faith, was Iranian and the majority of the Bahá'í community were located there at a particular time, but the faith has since spread to every part of the world. In the early 1990s the Iranian Government made efforts to extend its persecution of the Bahá'í community by influencing other countries with which it was doing business to bring repressive measures to bear on their native populations. A document that came to light at the human rights commission which was the precursor for the Human Rights Council outlined in detail a blueprint for repression against the Bahá'í community. One of the proposals involved the blocking of the Bahá'í community internationally. In other words, Iran would use its influence in the way I have described. However, I do not think its efforts in this regard have been particularly successful. The Bahá'í community faces certain difficulties in other countries but not to the same extent as in Iran. That has traditionally been the case in Muslim countries partly because the Bahá'í faith dates from after Islam, which may help to answer the question of why it is singled out. There is a teaching in Islam that nothing after it can happen. Most Muslims take the same view as we do of live and let live when it comes to people with different beliefs, but, unfortunately, a small core of extreme Muslims who are now in control in places such as Iran believe they should do everything in their power to exterminate religious communities that have appeared since the birth of Islam.
Ms Patricia Rainsford:
The Deputy's question on the trade delegation is difficult to answer. It is similar to the nuclear issue in that several factors must be considered. Sherin Ebadi has said on several occasions that we should be careful when we negotiate with Iran not to trade away human rights. That is true on many issues. In that sense, it would be useful to flag the issue because the best protection the Bahá'í community can receive is international attention. Mr. Rezvani is now dead, but the fact that another 12 people currently in prison are alive, albeit badly treated, is due in no small part to international attention. From our point of view, flagging the issue errs on the side of safety.
In regard to Israel, the Iranian film maker Reza Allamehzadeh who is not Bahá'í made a documentary called "Iranian Taboo" which set out the perspective of a non-Bahá'í Iranian on the allegations against the faith. He travelled to Israel to examine the subject and made a moving point on Bahá'í children in Iran who were accused of being Israeli spies. One rural old lady featured in the documentary was accused of being a spy, even though she did not even know what Israel was. The connection is a big deal, but, as Mr. McNamara noted, the world centre for the faith is in Israel owing to the exile of its founder.
I apologise for being late, but bilocation is not one of my achievements.
I welcome the delegation for this timely discussion. I strongly agree with the points raised. Iran has an opportunity to come out of darkness and into the light. That is important both for the people of Iran and its administration. I agree that there should be no trade-off on human rights. In assessing a country's merits we should also consider how it deals with minorities. I support the notion of writing a letter to the authorities, but an international element is also needed in that the United Nations and the EU High Commissioner should have access to prisons to see how prisoners are treated. The people of Iran are very nice. It has been many years since I visited the country, but it has a great heritage and tradition of hospitality. It is a big country with a sizeable population. It could play a beneficial role in international affairs, but that has not yet happened, to the detriment of the people of Iran, more than anybody else.
I welcome the points the delegates made and it is important we support what they said. We cannot have a little regard for human rights; either we have regard for them or we do not.
That is the opportunity the new regime has.
I noticed that the President made a presentation at the United Nations recently. I agree fully with the sentiments he expressed. Having Iran in isolation is not good for peace in that region; therefore, we should be looking at encouraging it and its administration to come forward with proposals to address the issues of concern to the global community. Without this, there will be no evolution. The point made on the previous moderate regime was well made. In ten or 20 years time we could find ourselves talking about the same issues such as prisoners who have been imprisoned for little or no reason and prisoners of conscience. I emphasise the need to write to the United Nations and the European authorities in order to mobilise public opinion in this regard. I also stress the importance from an Iranian perspective and the benefits for the Iranian people of ensuring they recognise and observe international norms on human rights. One cannot have it both ways. We cannot have prisoners of conscience where people who protest peacefully on the streets suddenly become prisoners for the rest of their lives for no reason. I strongly support the points raised by the delegation. If there is anything further we can do at this level, we should do it.
I apologise as I was also in the Dáil to take questions.
I have attended other events, as the delegation is aware. It strikes me that its situation is very similar to that of the Falun Gong delegation from which we heard some time ago - they were mild-mannered, tolerant, peaceful and peace-loving people. We also know that Christian groups are among the most persecuted in the world at this stage. What mentality leads to this persecution? Apart from the date issue mentioned by the delegation and the very tenuous connection with Israel, what has the Baha'i community in Iran done to cause the persecution of such a peaceful and tolerant people? It is just incredible.
I met the Iranian ambassador after one of the events and discussed the matter with him. Unfortunately, I am still waiting on a reply, but if a letter is sent by this committee, it might add to my earlier request.
It seems the UN resolution is very ineffective and even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are not making any progress on this issue. Ireland as a member of the UN Human Rights Council can play a role. Perhaps I am being naïve, but there could be some feelings of positivity when one sees the change of government and the change in some of the issues between the United States and Iran.
I welcome the delegation and think we have discussed this matter before. It is more important for us to discuss it now in the light of the international movement and changes that seem to be occurring. On behalf of the Government, one could say the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will never compromise on the issue of human rights which are one of the fundamental stools on which our foreign policy and relations are based. Even as we develop trade links, a human rights element is always to the fore.
I am happy to hold out the hand of friendship to the Iranians, but I am very cautious. My understanding of the current President is that he is a religious person and that in Iran one can only stand for the presidency when one obtains the sanction of the religious authorities. It is a strange structure. It is not like a liberal democracy such as Ireland. The supreme leader did not have the President as his chosen candidate, which begs the question as to how much freedom the President has. It is very impressive for me to see that when the President went to the United States, he took a Jewish Member of Parliament along as his adviser. Iran, Jews and Judaism do not seem to mix in the public's perception. A very sophisticated seduction could be taking place, which is probably partly due to the effect of the sanctions which we understand are hurting. I understand the delegation's fears that the nuclear issue will be the predominant one and that everybody will sit back and say they have achieved progress. It is a little like the situation in Syria. We do not hear much about President Assad at present, except that a deal is being done between the Americans and the Russians on weapons of mass destruction. However, the other weapons of destruction are probably blasting away. We fought for and lobbied ambassadors and foreign dignitaries extensively to gain our position on the UN Human Rights Council and are assured that the religious rights and freedoms of the Baha'is will be more adequately represented by our representative. Is it the perception that Iran has a very sophisticated public relations exercise, given the political and religious structure in place and the ratification one must have even to stand for the presidency? Hundreds of potential candidates were not even allowed to stand it. The situation is evolving and the words coming out are very reassuring. If we as a committee can further encourage them to move in a progressive direction, we will do so, even with the fear that it may be a con job.
I join in welcoming the delegation which has made a very fair and balanced presentation. From what it is telling us about the life and career of Mr. Rezvani, it appears that he did nothing but good for his country and community and helped to bring badly needed services to his area. The persecution, Mr. Rezvani's murder and the imprisonment of many others are very disturbing. However, there appears to be a window of opportunity and we need to grasp this opportunity. The new President is making all the right noises, but as the delegation stated, he will be judged on his deeds. As parliamentarians, we must take every opportunity to drive home the strength of our feeling about human rights abuses in Iran.
Is there any real significance in the fact that the renowned human rights lawyer was released following her writing to the President? She may play a very significant role in helping to get other prisoners released. The committee should in the strongest possible way call for a full inquiry into the murder of Mr. Rezvani to have that issue resolved because there can be no confidence in the justice system if such an atrocious murder remains investigated and unpunished. I know the committee will be very supportive of the case the delegation has made.
I saw in the document the delegation sent to us that the President had promised a new civil rights charter and to ensure equality for all Iranian citizens. That commitment was met with widespread public approval throughout Iran. Therefore, with the international community, we must keep the pressure on to ensure he delivers on his commitment to introduce a new civil rights charter.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with the witnesses to improve the civil rights and human rights situation in Iran.
Ms Alison Wortley:
We agree that a time of change is a time of opportunity. As the Senator outlined, public opinion on the ground in Iran has changed considerably. The majority of Iranians citizens are very supportive of the Baha'is and the difficulties come from the regime authorities. Many Iranian citizens are neighbours of Baha'is and see them as they are, namely, people who want to contribute to their country rather than destroy it, as the authorities would have it. Public opinion has become more positive so it is time to put on considerable pressure. The fact that the special rapporteur has not yet been allowed into Iran is another difficulty. If that were allowed to happen it would be another signal of change. We very much appreciate the role this committee and our Government along with the other European governments have played. Baha'i communities throughout the world have gone to their governments as committee members will have seen through the UN Human Rights Council resolutions which have been put forward although, as Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said, they seemed to have little effect on Iran. I thank the committee members.
Mr. Brendan McNamara:
I thank the committee members for their very interesting questions, insightful comments and the very warm welcome we have received. The question was asked as to what the Baha'is have ever done. It dates back to the foundation of the Baha'i faith and is based on those religious grounds I mentioned. Over the years it became very convenient to have a bogeyman, a minority community, an other, whenever things were going wrong. In a country where the media was very tightly controlled, Government propaganda against Baha'is went unanswered because there was no access. Even ordinary people thought that perhaps there must be something strange, but that has changed, thankfully, because much more information is available. People know the people with whom they live, they know the people around them and there is a considerable number of Baha'is in Iran.
Iran is a terrific country with a marvellous culture and one would want to see it play its full part in the community of nations. Baha'is absolutely adore their country. They are proud of their culture and we are in no way against Iran or Islam. This is trying to see, on the human rights principle, how we can find, not necessarily a favoured position for the Baha'i community, but just an equal setting so that Baha'is, like everybody else in Iran, can play their part in the progress of the country and, therefore, in the progress of the international community.
The question as to whether this is a real change or not is very interesting, because we hope it is and that these releases will be followed by a charter and more real change. The Baha'i community could provide a litmus test to gauge whether those changes are real. Earlier I mentioned I was reading how the rapporteur, Professor Bielefeldt, said the Baha'is are persecuted from the cradle to the grave and beyond. People might not understand that but it is a reference to the fact that Baha'i cemeteries have been destroyed and confiscated, so as a Baha'i one is not necessarily that safe even after one is dead.
If we see things really happening with respect to the Baha'i community, people allowed to have their own resting places unimpeded, be educated, go to university and hold jobs, that will be a signal that President Rouhani's words are coming to fruition. We hope for that. We hope for a day when the Baha'i community is emancipated, as well as the other minorities. Deputy Maureen Sullivan mentioned that Christians are suffering. We are very conscious that all kinds of minorities and groups such as journalists, activists, labour leaders and students are all in a difficult situation and we look forward to all that changing.
Mr. Brendan McNamara:
Dialogue is always useful and good. With President Khatami the international community suspended all the resolutions and pressure on the basis that we would have dialogue. The dialogue went ahead and, unfortunately, it went on and on without producing any real fruit. We should have dialogue, but we should also keep these measures in place until we see some real movement, such as the resolutions that will, hopefully, take place at the UN General Assembly. Iran cares about those, because it goes all-out to try to stop those resolutions being passed. They make a difference to Iran. We would not presume to advise our Government on its trade policy with Iran because that is a matter for our Government. However, if, as Ms Rainford said, in the process of doing it there is an opportunity to raise human rights issues that would be wonderful.
It should be made clear to the Iranian authorities, in the nicest way possible, that there must be some progress on this recognition of human rights. We cannot ignore it indefinitely, in their own interests. When I visited Tehran all I could see was high cranes rusting because of the international sanctions, and that still continues. It is appalling to see such a very large population whose destiny is in their own hands if they had the will to respond. The international community does not want to usurp their authority and we must fully recognise their entitlement to run their own affairs, but they must also in some way adhere to international norms in respect of human rights.
Members have proposed a number of ways we can raise this issue. I suggest that we contact the Tánaiste's office. He is at the General Assembly in New York this week, and he could raise this issue. We could also ask the Tánaiste to raise this at EU level. It is important. Deputy Crowe raised the case of Mr. Rezvani. What does he suggest we do?
There is a long-standing request by the Iranians for a parliamentary delegation to go to Iran. If we conveyed to the ambassador that we have had this meeting, want this case to be addressed, and are sympathetic to going as a parliamentary delegation, maybe he can resolve this, or we can put more pressure on him rather than just writing to him. We could enter a carrot-and-stick dialogue with him. We are not forgetting the case but we could massage it in such a way that we would be happy to visit.
The committee must not isolate that one case; it must use it with the other issues because they are interdependent. The route I propose is that we consider it and the rest of the human rights issues about which we in the international community have concerns.
We could mention that case and all human rights problems. It is important that we also acknowledge the fact that people have been released in recent times while expressing our hope more of this will happen. We will get the secretariat to draft a letter and discuss it during next week's private session. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I sincerely thank the delegates for coming before the committee to highlight and update us on the plight of those of the Baha'i faith. They made some key points in their presentation and we had an interesting and engaging discussion. I will keep them informed of what is happening.