Cotler invites government to adopt anti-genocide Iran Accountability Act

Par Beryl Wajsman le 2 septembre 2009

In a press conference held in his riding of Mount Royal, MP Irwin Cotler made two significant announcements related to his Iran Accountability Act (IAA). The first was an invitation to the government to adopt the Act as its own legislation thereby assuring passage of the already broadly supported measure. The second was a plan for a comprehensive international community strategy.

The IAA calls for the use of diplomatic, political and economic leverage to hold Iran to account. Canada would divest from Iranian investments; refuse to contract with those who do business with Iran in certain industries; and would use its bilateral and multilateral relationships to bring increasing pressure on Iran to cease its human rights violations. The Act seeks to focus Canadian — and international — attention not only on Iran’s nuclear program, but also on its domestic repression and genocidal incitement.

The foundational principle of the legislation is that the enduring lesson of the Holocaust, and that of the genocides that followed, is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of state-sanctioned incitement to hatred. International tribunals and indeed Canada’s own Supreme Court have recognized that the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers; it began with words, Cotler reminded the journalists.

Cotler drove home the point that in Iran the state incites against Israelis and the Jewish people as “filthy bacteria,” “a cancerous tumour” and “blood-thirsty barbarians” who established their country “in order to swallow up the entire region.” The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, proclaims that “There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Jewish state.” And former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani declared that “even one atomic bomb inside Israel will wipe it off the face of the Earth.”

Incitement to genocide is a crime under international law, he said. The prohibition against genocidal incitement dates back over 60 years and is an international obligation. The former Justice Minister stated that as a signatory to the Genocide Convention, Canada has the responsibility both to prevent genocide and to punish incitement to genocide.

U.S. President Barack Obama has himself expressed his support for measures such as the IAA and has encouraged their development in the international community. There currently exist two bills — one in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate — that would implement such a strategy in the United States. These American initiatives enjoy broad bipartisan support.

It is that bipartisan — multipartisan in Canada — foreign policy approach toward Iran that Cotler hopes to encourage through his invitation to the government. Cotler said, “Canada has the moral standing in the international community to take a leadership role in advancing these principled policies. We can and should be sending a message from Ottawa similar to the one emerging from Washington: that inaction in the face of Iran’s crimes is acquiescence. The Iran Accountability Act is the right place to start.”

At the press briefing, Cotler expanded on a parallel comprehensive international community strategy that would complement the IAA. Among other aspects it would directly target refined petroleum imports. Iran imports approximately 40 percent of its domestic gasoline consumption and this is a particular area of vulnerability. Cotler said measures should not only be implemented directly against those who export petroleum to Iran, but also those who facilitate such export — i.e., the shipping and insurance industries.

The 10-point plan also includes provisions to curb energy investment in Iran, prohibit foreign companies from investing in Iran’s energy infrastructure, and incentivize them not to do so. On this point as well, related industries — such as shipping, insurance, and even construction companies — should be included, Cotler said.

Additionally he would like to see a concentration on the Iranian banking industry — including the Central Bank of Iran. While measures have already been applied to other banks, the central bank has so far absorbed the impact. Cotler noted that targeting the central bank in particular could go so far as to bring finances to a standstill in Iran.

The Mount Royal MP also stated that international financial institutions need to be extremely vigilant so as not to support — even unintentionally — money laundering operations, or indeed any illicit activity involving Iran. He reminded us that the Financial Action Task Force warned earlier this year, banks should be using “enhanced due diligence” when dealing with Iran. 

Cotler’s proposals would also sanction companies that enable Iranian domestic repression; target the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and those who do business with them; deny landing permission to the Iranian transportation industry; use international law to call Iran to account; use domestic law to target individual Iranians; and strengthen enforcement of existing embargoes of technology and arms transfers.


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