U.S. imposes sanctions on Iran

June 2009 saw Iran explode into a hotbed of accusations, violence and injustice following the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second presidential term – a voting result which was suspected to have been fraudulent by many infuriated citizens.

Protestors took to the streets and chaos ensued as swarms of people with accusatory signs flooded the news. It became apparent that Iranian government officials were the perpetrators of such gross human rights violations as severe beatings, rapes, killings and unwarranted arrests which lead to people being held without charge or explanation.

On Sept. 29, the Obama administration announced orders of sanctions against eight high-ranking Iranian officials for these human rights abuses.

This is an unprecedented action by the American government, who have supported the United Nations sanctions on Iran’s controversial nuclear program, but have typically treaded lightly in the delicate area of rights issues.

Laurier professor of political science Alistair Edgar said that this change in policy is reflective of U.S. President Barack Obama and that “it may be a shift to the recognition of the importance of human rights,” something which has been addressed to a lesser degree by previous administrations.

However, he also noted that this action could represent Obama’s intent to react to calls from American right-wing politicians for military action against Iran for their disregard for the rules and standards regarding such issues as nuclear production.

“There are still plenty of people on the hard right of the U.S. who would love to see military action,” commented Edgar. “Barack [Obama] could be trying to take some of the voice out from underneath them.”

The Iranian officials under sanctions will be unable to travel to the United States and will have any U.S. assets frozen, along with an order that they may not do business with any American companies.

It is a powerful first step by the United States which will hopefully influence other businesses and nations to follow suit. Edgar said that this “public naming and shaming” has long been advocated for by activist human rights organizations, which is considered by some to be a better way of coping with such digressions than through economic or trade sanctions.

Consequences are often felt most by powerless citizens, which further punishes the innocent in the short-term.

It is questionable whether the sanctions will prove more than symbolically significant, considering the animosity felt by Iranian leadership toward American interference.

While Edgar believes that action did need to be taken to deter such future occurrences, he feels that alone, these consequences will not see a diminishment in the level of Iranian violence. He added, “[The sanctions] may make some of the operations of various individuals more difficult… but the logic and the dynamic of internal repression … is much wider and bigger than those individuals, and their priorities are going to be driven by their internal calculations.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirmed that belief at a press conference last week when she said, “This is the first time the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran based on human rights abuses. We would like to be able to tell you that it might be the last, but we fear not.”