Toronto Star: It’s long past time to hold Iran’s regime to account

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Toronto Star:

The anniversary of the downing of Flight 752 was a stark reminder of the odious regime leading Iran and its litany of crimes at home and abroad.

By Michael Levitt Contributing Columnist

Wed., Jan. 12, 2022

 

In 2022, will the world finally hold Iran to account for its malign actions? Don’t hold your breath. Last weekend, on the second anniversary of its shooting down of a civilian airliner — killing all 176 people aboard including many Canadians — the Iranian government proved true to form, yet again thumbing its nose at demands for justice and accountability.

The sombre anniversary was a stark reminder of the odious regime leading the Islamic Republic of Iran and its litany of crimes carried out at home and abroad. On Jan. 8, 2020, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 shortly after it took off from Tehran. Nearly 140 of those killed had ties to Canada, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.

On Saturday, as families and friends of the victims held solemn ceremonies in Canada, Ukraine and around the world commemorating their loved ones who perished, they expressed anger and frustration at Iran’s refusal to negotiate a settlement and its continued stonewalling on a full, independent investigation into the tragedy. Sadly, such intransigence is of little surprise given the Iranian regime’s nefarious nature, its past behaviour and the ideology driving it.

Yonah Diamond, a lawyer for the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, is representing families of PS752 victims. On Sunday, he told Canadian Press there’s “a significant body of evidence” in various reports, including by the UN, “which point toward criminal liability of Iranian officials at the highest levels for possible atrocity crimes.”

But let’s not pretend this applies only to Flight 752. It’s just the latest illustration of the need to continue to hold Iran to account in Canada by maintaining economic and diplomatic sanctions, upholding its listing as a state sponsor of terror and enforcing the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. It’s shocking there are still apologists for Iran in Canada who insist Ottawa should let bygones be bygones and resume relations with Iran, giving it the benefit of the doubt, as if there were any doubt about its actions.

The PS752 atrocity committed by the IRGC, the brutal enforcers of the regime’s dirty work, not just in Iran but globally, must not go without consequence.

With talks now resumed in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program, its egregious record should be a dark warning of caution to those attempting to negotiate with Iran.

As we’ve seen time and time again with the Iranian regime, it can’t be trusted and is always looking to fulfil its expansionist agenda as part of its pan-Islamic vision. This includes arming its regional terrorist proxies (including Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen), Holocaust denial, repeated calls for Israel’s destruction and its genocidal threats against the Jewish state, which will only become more emboldened if it develops nuclear weapons.

While in Parliament, as a member of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, I co-chaired Iran Accountability Week, a multi-partisan initiative to shine a light on the regime’s human rights abuses. Annually, we would hear incriminating testimony from advocates for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, political activists and others subjected to the regime’s cruelty and repression.

Iran has consistently shown itself an equal opportunity offender when it comes to human rights, as brazen in its actions at home as abroad. It continues to repress its own people, cracking down harshly on dissent.

Its prisons are full of human rights defenders and civil society activists, whose plight has been highlighted by Canada’s former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler who has served as international counsel and/or advocate for several of them, including most recently human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and journalist and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.

Iran’s leaders must not be trusted, starting with President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric, complicit in the mass execution of thousands of Iranian political prisoners in 1988. If there’s a new year resolution worth keeping in 2022, it’s ensuring Ottawa and the rest of the world have their eyes wide open and finally hold the rogue regime accountable for its crimes.

 

Michael Levitt, a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist for the Star, is the president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC). Follow him on Twitter: @LevittMichael

 

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