Senator highlights "warning signs" in Iran's treatment of Baha'is

2 December 2011

— Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire, the former UN peacekeeping force commander who tried to stop the 1990s genocide in Rwanda, has said that Iran's current actions against Baha'is remind him of what he witnessed in Africa.

"The similarities with what I saw in Rwanda are absolutely unquestionable, equal...and in fact applied with seemingly the same verve," said Senator Dallaire.

"We are witnessing a slow-motion rehearsal for genocide," he warned.

Senator Dallaire's remarks came as part of a Senate inquiry into the persecution of Iranian Baha'is. The imprisonment of Baha'is for no reason other than their belief, he told the Senate, is comparable with the Rwandan situation.

Read Senator Dallaire's speech here.

"[T]he prisons of Rwanda were filled with Tutsi people for almost the same reasons, except their crime was based on their ethnicity, rather than their religion," he said.

Another parallel can be found in the persecution of Baha'i educators who try to teach young community members in the face of government efforts to ban them from university.

"Any Iranian who identifies as Baha'i is barred from higher education, from holding a position in the government, or from partaking in the political process," he said.

"These attacks against the Baha'i leaders and teachers are troubling enough as human rights violations. However, they are even more disturbing because they took place in the context of the Iranian state's severe repression of the entire Baha'i community. A similar scenario played out in Rwanda where the Tutsi ethnic minority was not allowed access to higher education in their country. They had to leave the country in order to access higher education."

In 1994, Senator Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda that was ultimately unsuccessful in preventing the mass slaying of an estimated 800,000 Rwandans. He has since become honored and respected around the world for his humanitarian work and his courageous defense of people under threat. He has also been a member of the UN Secretary General's Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention.

When the facts and trends of the persecution of Iranian Baha'is are put together, he said, it amounts at a minimum to something he called "ideological genocide."

"An essential element of ideological genocide is the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Baha'i community as a separate religious entity. It is this intent...that requires our urgent and deliberate attention."

Beyond that, he said, there remains the possibility of mass atrocities if Iran's repression of Baha'is is not checked.

"The alarming increase in incarceration among the Baha'is and, most particularly, among their leadership, the disproportionate sentences and unreasonable bail and the vile propaganda that paints Baha'is as cultish and part of a Zionist conspiracy to undermine the Islamic state of Iran is all...false. It is all an instrument to excuse the deliberate actions by that government to destroy that religion within their boundaries."

"Make no mistake, these are not only indices of past and present persecution; they are warning signs of mass atrocities, of genocide. Let us not witness another one, fully conscious of what the consequences are," he said.

The Canadian Senate inquiry into the issue of Iran's persecution of Baha'is was initiated by Senator Mobina Jaffer. In remarks made on 21 June, Senator Jaffer called for "new steps" by Canada to "call Iran to account for its unacceptable treatment of the Baha'is."

In October, Senator Hugh Segal also addressed the inquiry describing the suffering heaped on Baha'is as "systematic and brutal," especially when they are known as a "peaceful faith that embraces the sanctity of all religions."

Baha'i World News Service coverage of the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran

The Baha'i World News Service has published a Special Section which includes further articles and background information about Iran's campaign to deny higher education to Baha'is. It contains news of latest developments, a summary of the situation, profiles of imprisoned Baha'i educators, feature articles, case studies and testimonials from students, resources and links.

Another Special Report offers articles and background information about the seven Iranian Baha'i leaders – their lives, their imprisonment, trial and sentencing – and the allegations made against them. It also offers further resources about the persecution of Iran's Baha'i community.

The International Reaction page of the Baha'i World News service is regularly updated with responses from governments, nongovernmental organizations, and prominent individuals, to actions taken against the Baha'is of Iran.

The Media Reports page presents a digest of media coverage from around the world.

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