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Red Flag Alert for Genocide - Iran

Friday, October 7, 2022

Red Flag Alert for Genocide - Iran

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention strongly condemns Iran’s crackdown on the courageous women and men who have taken to the streets to protest the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini while in state custody for alleged infractions of the state’s hijab law. We remind Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran’s obligations under international law, particularly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is still a party. We stand in solidarity with Iranians from all walks of life who have been peacefully expressing their outrage in the face of growing state terror and repression. We further celebrate this women-led movement, its powerful use of symbolism, and its battle cry of “women, life and freedom” as a model for people power and feminist solidarity the world over.

On September 16, 2022, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa (Zhina) Amini died in the custody of Iran’s Guidance Patrol after being arrested for having a bit of hair showing from under her hijab. The hijab law, enforced by Iran’s much-hated ‘morality police,’ has been part of Iran’s legal code since 1979 and controls how women present themselves in public. The law has been invoked in thousands of cases of state violence against women, with Mahsa Amini becoming one of the country’s most high-profile victims of the law’s abusiveness in recent years. Other women who were in custody with Mahsa told her family that she was verbally insulted and severely beaten by the police officers in command. A doctor at the hospital where Amini was taken reportedly told Amini’s mother that she died of severe brain trauma from a blow to the head. The Iranian state has insisted that she instead died of heart failure.

Since its establishment as a theocratic republic under the Ayatollah in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in systematic state and religious violence against women, ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and political dissenters. The state regularly enforces silence using the mobilization of the military, internet shutdowns, brutal prison sentences, and executions. The current head of state was a leader of the death squad that implemented the state-led massacre of up to 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 on the order of the Supreme Leader of Iran, a high crime for which Raisi has never been held responsible. The current repression could easily surpass that mass murder in size and scope.
In addition to being an example of the Iranian police’s excessive brutality, Mahsa’s killing also brings into focus the intersection of her ethnicity with her gender. While Mahsa was initially targeted for arrest on the basis of her gender, her Kurdish identity may in part explain the level of violence she experienced while in custody of the morality police. Iran’s Kurdish minority has been harshly discriminated against both before and after the 1979 revolution, leading many Kurds to seek autonomy from the central state.

The unrest surrounding Mahsa’s death began in Iran’s Kurdish-majority northwest region, from where it quickly spread to cities across the nation, including the capital, Tehran, prompting the Iranian government to accuse the protesters of an ethnic uprising and Kurdish-led insurrection. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are attacking the semi autonomous Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq in search of “terrorist and anti-revolutionary groups,” by which they meant Kurdish opposition groups. Such language is a red flag for potential genocide.

Therefore, Mahsa’s death exposed not only the unpopularity of the regime among the general public, which has been protested on thousands of occasions since 1979, but also deep desire among the country’s Kurdish community to find a space in which it can exist unmolested.

Rolling blackouts of communications access began around September 21, with phone lines shutting down first and sporadic access to Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp following afterwards. These recent shutdowns bring to mind similar shutdowns during the last massive wave of protests, against rising oil prices, in late 2019, during which time more than 1,500 people were reportedly killed by state violence. Activists have also shared terrifying reports on social media of extrajudicial executions on university campuses and in dormitories.

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention is issuing a Red Flag Alert for Iran, in light of the violence against Mahsa Amini and the country’s long-standing violence against women and the Kurdish population as well as its demonstrated willingness to commit mass murder when threatened by growing internal disssent. With these protests focused so heavily on the people’s growing intolerance for the government’s poor human rights record, the state response is predicted to be excessively violent with a potential for genocide against the country’s 10 million Kurds.

In the light of state threats to the lives of the Iranian people, and particularly to the lives of the country’s Kurdish minority, the Lemkin Institute urges the international community to take a hard line against the country’s current regime and especially its current president, who stands accused of crimes against humanity and genocide. We further urge the international community to work in solidarity with the protesters who are risking their lives to challenge the abuses of a regime that has lost the support of its citizens. We caution, however, that Western calls for regime change or external military intervention do not help the Iranian protesters or the Iranian people, and instead serve to escalate the Iranian regime’s sense of threat and desperation. The punishing Western policy towards Iran over the past decades must bear some responsibility for Iran’s sense of isolation. All genocide prevention efforts must resist reproducing colonial models that are themselves genocidal. Instead, the international community must engage with Iran’s current leader and with the protest movement in the spirit of true interntionalist feminist solidarity.

Finally, we urge powerful states to place the protection of Kurdish life at the center of their foreign policy. Kurds face existential threats in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. As regional and global powers are drawn into an increasingly tense competition over access to resources in the Middle East, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia, stateless nations, like the Kurds, are particularly vulnerable to genocide.

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