An overview of the situation of ethnic groups in the Islamic Republic of Iran
This report highlights the general situation of ethnic groups and civil society activists working on the promotion and protection of their rights in Iran.
Iran is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-confessional country with over 70 million inhabitants. This includes Arabs, Azeris, Baluchs, Kurds, Persians and Turkmens, all with different cultures, languages and religions.
The official language in Iran is Persian. According to reports, the exclusive use of Persian in official transactions is a difficulty that many elderly and women from minorities, who may not have a strong command of Persian, have to deal with. At least one Kurdish woman, Shirin Alam Hooli, executed on 9.5.2010, has claimed that she did not understand the language of interrogation. The lack of translators and/or state officials who speak languages other than Persian is crucial.
Discrimination about measures taken to promote the languages of various ethnic groups, and the permission granted to teach these languages and their literatures, civil society activists continue to report that insufficient action has taken place on the ground.
In December 2009, Hamid Reza Haji Babai, Minister of Education of the Islamic Republic of Iran, recognized that 70% of students in Iran were bilingual (mother tongue and Persian); at the same time he recognized that only 30% of the population communicate exclusively in Persian. On January 2012, Ali Akbar Salehi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, stated in Istanbul that 40% of the population of Iran, communicate in Turkish (Azeri). Despite this, the distribution of the education budget has and continues to be such that students of non-Persian ethnic origins cannot learn their mother tongues at school.
The Islamic Republic of Iran claims that there it has several projects running to generate employment, provide health services, education, and housing, and promote civil and political rights for different ethnic groups. It also claims that those provinces of the country with larger concentrations of ethnic communities receive a special budgetary allocation under the annual budget law to be spent on human development and the improvement of economic and social conditions. However the reality is not as attractive as it has been pictured in the UPR report of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The number of jobless youths in Sistan and Baluchestan province, for example, is much higher than what is reported officially1. According to parliamentary representative for Iranshahr, Mohammad Ghayoum Dehghani, about 50% of the rural population of this province doesn’t have access to clean and safe water2. Those provinces with highest concentrations of ethnic communities are also generally the poorest.
Civil society activists of ethnic group communities who go to work in border provinces risk the multiple dangers of repression, imprisonment, torture and execution. These high risks stem from the state's attitude towards any form of criticism. It treats criticism as a threat to its security. Furthermore, in the case of activists who work in border provinces, this fear is combined with another, namely the idea that anyone working in those areas on questions relating to the rights of non-Persian ethnic groups must necessarily be separatists and therefore represent a danger to the integrity of the territory as well.
The situation of women belonging to non-Persian ethnic groups, whether they are civil society activists or not, is worse still. Minority women in Iran experience multiple forms of discrimination. Over the past three decades, their situation has been strongly affected by the laws in force, supposedly based on "Sharia" Islamic law, and political discrimination by the Iranian government in all aspects of life. In addition the access of Baluch and Kurdish rural girls and women to education, hygiene and basic healthcare is very limited. The limited access to higher education for girls is due to socio-economic discrimination, the quota applied to limit university access for women, and the quota that stipulates only limited number of women may study at universities in regions other than where they reside at time of application.
Reports received from Iran indicate widespread arrests across the country including 50 Iranian Arabs in the southern cities of Shush and Hamidieh in Khuzistan. Two of the detainees are reported to have been murdered under torture. In Azarbaijan in the north-west, students and political activists have been detained en-masse. In the south east region of Baluchistan, Sunni religious leaders have been arrested under a reign of terror. The chief of a Sunni village in Turkmen area in the north (Turkmensahra) has been replaced by a Shiite cleric.
Racial discrimination of minorities in Iran is camouflaged under various guises and remains invisible and understated. The Islamic Republic has exasperated racial tensions and racial discrimination among various communities. Ethnic minorities in Iran; Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds and the Turkmens need the support of the international community in their struggles for democracy, equality and human rights.
Mindful of Ms. Rita Izsák's observation that “the protection and promotion of minority rights at an early stage helps to prevent tensions emerging between groups that may eventually lead to conflict”, we recommend the following:
• Full implementation of the Declaration on Minorities.
• Providing access to the justice system in various parts of the country where they have different mother tongues from Persian.
• Providing safe and clean water and basic healthcare for the population of deprived areas.
• Taking necessary steps toward teaching in the mother tongue at schools.
• Ending all racial, economical and political discriminations against ethnic groups.
• Releasing all civil society activists and prisoners of conscience.
• Ending all hatred propaganda at mass media.