How should the West respond to the Iranian protests that erupted after the Iranian regime admitted to unintentionally downing the Ukrainian jetliner? Pictured: Students gather for an anti-regime demonstration at Tehran University on January 14, 2020. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)
How should the West respond to the Iranian protests that erupted after the Iranian regime admitted to unintentionally downing the Ukrainian jetliner? US President Donald J. Trump publicly supported the protesters:
"To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!"
By contrast, on January 14, Democrats blocked a House resolution that supported the anti-regime protesters in Iran. On January 28, however, House Resolution 752, was passed, "Supporting the rights of the people of Iran to free expression, condemning the Iranian regime for its crackdown on legitimate protests, and for other purposes". The resolution had already been introduced in December 2019 as a response to the protests in Iran in November.
The House Resolution further "urges the Administration to work to convene emergency sessions of the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations Human Rights Council to condemn the ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian regime and establish a mechanism by which the Security Council can monitor such violations".
Several academics recently warned against backing the protesters claiming that Trump's support could "make things worse". "The regime will consider it is an international plot, that the United States are intervening in the local affairs of Iran, so I don't think it's a very good thing," Cedomir Nestorovic, professor of geopolitics at the French ESSEC Business School in Singapore, told CNBC.
"When the Iranian people are upset with their government for blatantly lying about shooting down a plane, he should have taken the high road and send his condolences to the families," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at Center for Strategic and International Studies. "By seeming to make it about him, he de-legitimizes the protesters and allows the government to portray the protests as a U.S. plot."
According to Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
"The reality is when Obama offered only tepid support to Iranian protesters in 2009, the regime still called them American agents and crushed them. If the Trump administration offers more enthusiastic support, the regime will call them American agents and attempt to crush them."
"The best thing any U.S. administration can do is inhibit the regime's ability to shut down the internet and repress people in darkness."
Iranian protesters appeared to disagree. "Right now people are mad, not just because of their own government," Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad told Anthony Furey from the Toronto Sun on January 13.
"People are furious about the Western reaction, with the silence of the world. When they see that people are getting killed, but still the Western governments do not dare to openly support human rights and ask the United Nations to make an open investigation into the killings and about the 7,000 people in prison."
US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell recently asked "our European friends to speak out very clearly on the Iranian regime's actions, too".
Unfortunately, however, the plight of 80 million Iranians has never really managed to capture the attention of a world that has mainly brushed off the 41 years of oppression that Iranians have had to endure at the hands of its theocratic regime.
Now that there is an opportunity to support the people of Iran, who have taken to the streets to shout "Death to the dictator" and "They are lying that our enemy is America; our enemy is right here" -- while refusing to walk on American and Israeli flags -- all that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could bring his spokesperson to say about the protests was: "reports of violence against those protesting the downing of a civilian airliner were 'worrying'".
"We're obviously following very closely the demonstrations that have been taking place today and over the weekend in Iran and the Secretary-General recalls the rights to freedom of expression and association in peaceful assembly of people," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The EU has released no statements regarding the most recent protests. The last time the EU spoke out was on December 8, 2019, when the High Representative noted:
"A growing body of evidence indicates that despite repeated calls for restraint, the Iranian security forces' disproportionate response to recent demonstrations has led to high numbers of deaths and injuries. For the European Union and its Member States, the widespread and disproportionate use of force against nonviolent protestors is unacceptable".
It also noted that "The European Union addresses all issues of concern in its bilateral exchanges with Iran, including human rights, and will continue doing so".
The last time France 'spoke out' was during the November 2019 protests. At the time, France's foreign ministry spokesperson Agnes von der Muhll, in a daily online briefing, told reporters, "France calls on Iran to respect its international human rights obligations." That comment, however, made no sense: the Iranian regime has never respected any of its human rights obligations in the 41 years of its existence.
On January 30, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party brought two Iranians living in exile in Germany to the Bundestag. One of them, speaking under the pseudonym "Amir Firus" for security reasons, had the following to say:
"In November 2019, the mullah regime released fire on the demonstrators. In the course of three days, 1,500 people were shot by security forces with submachine guns and shotguns. Seven thousand arrested have disappeared. To this day, nobody knows where they are... In the case of Saudi-Turkish lobbyist Kashoggi, Merkel made a statement, but she is still silent about the 1,500 deaths."
In 2019, German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier offered "congratulations" on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, "also in the name of my compatriots".
The neglect of the Iranian protests only highlights the insincerity of many in the West who proclaim their dedication to human rights.
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.