Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism

By Reza Afshari | Go to book overview

Chapter 11
Change of Tactics After
Ayatollah Khomeini’s Death

Ayatollah Khomeini died midway through two decades of clerical dominance. The acute period of human rights crisis lasted from 1980 until 1988. Then began the chronic period, during which the regime denied the rights of the mostly intimidated citizens without many cases of active violations being reported. Violations produced relatively fewer visible victims. The relative quiescence in the arena of political executions signified not an improved situation but a dormant state for human rights of many Iranians. During the first phase of acute human rights crises, numerous violations were reported because many Iranians, especially the politically mobilized young people, exercised their rights openly or claimed them assertively. After the suppression, resistance became passive, the language returned to its familiar allegorical and symbolic constructs, and secular women could only discreetly defy and ridicule the imposed dress code. From 1989 to the late 1990s, rights were disregarded, mainly because human rights could not be openly asserted.

As indicated before, a sharp increase in the number of executions for common crimes, especially narcotics trafficking, matched a drastic reduction in the number of executions for political offenses. Meanwhile, the relative abatement of the most egregious human rights violations opened the possibility in mid-1990s for monitoring and reporting of other significant rights violations, such as freedom of conscience and expression and rights of women. These were rights that hitherto did not receive proper attention, perhaps because of the extreme urgency of political executions and torture and/or because of the international community’s deference to the “cultural sensitivities” of the Islamist rulers.

At the same time, the Special Representative and the international human rights organizations no longer faced an undifferentiated aggregate of names of executed prisoners, for whom little or no biographical information was available. The mass executions of the regime’s opponents had

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