- - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A little over a month ago, five Senate colleagues and I sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting information about the ongoing delay of the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. In recent days the State Department informed my office it has been unable to release the long-overdue annual report on Iran’s human rights abuses because of a scheduling conflict.

The State Department is required by law to release this report on February 25 of this year. On April 16, the department announced a further delay but gave no indication of when it might appear. Our letter requested the department release the report by May 15 or furnish a thorough explanation for the delay.

In a letter dated June 9, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield responded that Secretary Kerry’s rigorous travel schedule caused the delay: “The Secretary’s participation in the rollout, even if it must be delayed by his travel, elevates the report. The Secretary has needed to travel abroad for extended periods, often on short notice, during the past three months to address a variety of pressing foreign policy concerns”—thus implying that the report is complete but that scheduling conflicts with more pressing matters have prevented its release.

With all due respect to Assistant Secretary Frifield and Secretary Kerry, this is unacceptable. The single greatest threat to the national security of the United States is a nuclear-armed Iran. If allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, there is a dangerously high chance that the Iranians would use them, or share them with their terrorist proxies who are currently on a violent rampage through the Middle East, from Gaza to Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Yemen.

As my colleagues and I noted in our letter, the issue of Iran’s abysmal human rights record is inextricably intertwined with its nuclear ambitions. “The history of the twentieth century,” we wrote, “elucidates a dangerous axis between internal suppression of human rights and external aggression.” There is every reason to believe that the mullahs’ willingness to oppress their own people at home would extend to their perceived enemies around the globe, if they had the means to threaten them.



For this reason, Congress must have access to the most recent information our government has collected on Iran’s human rights violations. While many hoped that the election of the so-called moderate President Hasan Rouhani in 2013 would lead to an improvement in the regime’s behavior, the opposite has proven true.

For example, last year’s report documented:

 

  • “The government executed 624 persons during the year [2013], according to the NGO Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC), which reported that many trials did not adhere to basic principles of due process. The government officially announced 334 executions but did not release further information, such as the dates of executions, the names of those executed, or the crimes for which they were executed. According to an October 8 statement by the [International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran], authorities conducted more than 50 executions in public. Authorities also conducted group executions on several occasions.”
  • “Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced a dual-citizen Christian pastor [Saeed Abedini] to eight years in prison on January 27 on charges of undermining national security through house-church activities. Authorities had held the pastor since September 2012 in Evin Prison, where international civil rights groups reported that prison officials subjected him to physical and psychological abuse and deprived him of medical treatment. On November 3, authorities transferred the pastor to Rajaie Shahr Prison where, according to international civil rights groups, other inmates threatened him with violence and prison officials denied him medical treatment.”
  • “According to the UN special rapporteur’s October [2013] report, at least 40 journalists and 29 bloggers and online activists were serving prison sentences in the country, and 23 journalists had been arrested since the start of the year.”

 

This is hardly an encouraging record, and the media reports we have suggest that the 2014 report may be even grimmer. Extensive negotiating with their American counterparts does not appear to have improved the Iranians’ behavior. We know, for example, that Americans Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, currently unjustly held in Iranian prisons, are suffering increasing abuse, while American Robert Levinson remains unaccounted for—despite Assistant Secretary Frifield’s assurance that representatives from the State Department “raise these cases regularly with the Iranian government.” All evidence suggests summary executions are on the rise, with as many as 56 inmates from one prison alone dead since May 6 of this year. Also in May, some eighteen Christian converts were sentenced to jail terms for their beliefs. And this is just what we know from media reports.

Congress must have access to our State Department’s next official assessment before it can cast judgment on any deal the P5+1 might strike with Iran. If Iran’s already dismal human rights record has indeed continued to worsen over the last year, it would raise significant additional concerns about engaging in nuclear negotiations with this regime.

I appreciate Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for his job and the frequent overseas travel it entails, and hope for a quick recovery from the recent accident that has caused further strain on his calendar. But as the June 30th deadline looms, we cannot wait any longer. Anyone alarmed by Tehran’s brutal and aggressive conduct should take a keen interest in this report even if Secretary Kerry is unable to attend its release. 

If, as Assistant Secretary Frifield suggests in her letter, the report is complete, it should be released immediately. If it is not immediately released, a full and thorough explanation for the delay must be forthcoming. For this reason, I intend to file legislation that will fine the State Department five percent of its operating budget for every 30 days the report is delayed. As inconvenient as this may be for the State Department, it must respect the law and Congress owes it to the American people to gather all relevant information before it casts what may well be the most significant vote of this legislative session. 

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) serves on the Committee on Armed Services and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for president.

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