"National and Religious Minorities"

A side event at United Nations Human Rights Council (21st session)

24 September 2012 sponsored by UNPO


Speech by Dr. Charles Graves on "Human Rights of Minorities in Iraq and Iran"


The Arab Spring was a phenomenal success in many countries last year: Families which had assumed the leadership in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen were under condemnation of their countrymen for corruption and favoritism - these have lost power and been replaced by popular governments.  In Egypt the military has been obliged to respect the popular movements and elections have been held.  On the other hand, where the "Arab Spring" has not been fulfilled is where the Al Kalifa government in Bahrain has been repressing popular Shi'a uprisings and some permanent members of the Security Council have upheld the time-worn dictatorship of the Al Assad family in Syria.


In Iraq certain Arab groups continue to deny the combined majority of Arab Shi'a and Kurdish peoples their right to peace. The terrorism of Al-Kaida strikes left and right continuously but the new Iraqi government and police face it rather courageously.


The Iranian government supported the "Arab Spring" in Egypt while at the same time distancing itself from any new popular revolution.  Khomeinism looks like the Arab Spring but it also looks like Assadism in Syria. The recent Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Teheran could not come to any common stand about the Arab Spring in Syria because of this contradiction.


But a new phenomenon has appeared on the scene namely the "Great Game" being played out in Baluchistan. A part of the Iranian population in its south eastern part are the Sunni Baluch and a part of the historical Baluch kingdom is under oppression by the Ahmedinadjad Shi'a government.


Although the question of the origin of the Baluch people still preoccupies scholars, it appears probable that the Baluch are not Arabs but closer to the Iranians and their original homeland appears to be in the south west corner of the Caspian Sea region next to present day Azerbaijan and Armenia.  In any case the historical migrations created a Baluch kingdom stretching from s.e.. Iran to Quetta in Pakistan and the king's family -the Khan of Kalat- still holds the respect of the Baluch people.


I have been asked to speak about some minorities in Iraq. I attended the 2nd International Conference on the Mass Graves in Iraq in 2008 upon invitation of Al-Hakim Foundation.  Whereas in Srebrenica in Bosnia at least 17,000 bodies have been identified and received burial due to the intense efforts of DNA analysis and Bosniac-European cooperation, ten times as many bodied were buried in mass graves in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era. The important Conference on Mass Graves in 2008 in Najaf (Iraq) involved victims from all the cultural and religious peoples of Iraq. Not only were the bodies to be found, identified and properly commemorated, but also the assassins should be arrested and judged.


In 2008 this was very difficult since Saddam supporters still held key posts in the new post -Saddam administration and they would certainly impede the finding of those responsible for the mass murders under Saddam.


But two large segments of the Iraqi population, once marginalized under Saddam (i.e. Kurds and Arab Shi'as) came together in Najaf for a common mission - to promote the identification of the over 100,000 victims which had been laid underground in mass graves since the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s and the uprisings against Saddam.  We should remember that unfortunately certain Western powers and the United States had been helping Saddam arm against the Khomeini regime and the Iranian people.


When the Arab Shi'a population finally received their rights in Iraq following 2003 a kind of "Arab Spring" took place in that country.  From this the Kurds in the north benefitted.


Among these beneficiaries were some of the "Faili Kurds" which had accepted the Shi'a version of Islam: I met some of these Faili Kurds at the Mass Graves Conference in 2008. I also met the Ayatollah Al-Hakim the 2nd most important Iraqi Ayatollah after Ayatollah Sistani. His extended Al-Hakim family had lost over 30 of its members during the Saddam era. It is a wonder that the Iraqi Shiite clergy did not all perish under torture and assassination.


One leading Turkmen opposition leader Mr. Al-Bayati is now the Iraqi ambassador at the United Nations in New York, but aside from that some Turkmen populations are struggling to obtain their rights in the north of Iraq vis à vis aggressive claims of Kurdish victims of Saddam.  The "Anfal" Minister among the Kurds should try to assure that all elements of multi-cultural Iraq receive equitable treatment and compensation for what they endured under the Baath regime. It is our responsibility as human rights activists to promote that equitability.


So, several unclear situations are on the table vis à vis the "Arab Spring" - in particular the future of Baluchistan. Elements in the United States Congress, associated with Dan Rohrbacher, Republican Party Representative, and a Baluch support group called American Friends of Baluchistan have been calling attention to the need for Pakistan and Iranian Baluch populations to receive their rights under Pakistan and Iran - two member states of the United Nations. The Baluch in general were not in favor of entering the newly-created Pakistan in 1947, and the future of oil and gas-rich Baluchistan is still in question.  Human Rights activists should inform themselves on the history and present situation of the Baluch people both in Iran and Pakistan as well as about the general question of all Iraqi minorities whose scars from victimization from the Saddam regime still exist.