It's my pleasure. Thank you very much.
Honourable members of this subcommittee, I am privileged to appear before you today to discuss the role of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, in a vast system of domestic repression, and to encourage the government of Iran to end these human rights atrocities and the Government of Canada to designate the IRGC, in its entirety, under the Special Economic Measures Act, for its human rights abuses, and to add the IRGC, in its entirety, to Canada's Criminal Code for its terrorist activities.
While democracies fear external enemies, undemocratic regimes fear their own people. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the enmity between state and society reached new heights in the aftermath of the fraudulent June 12, 2009, presidential election. As the Iranian public took to the streets chanting the slogan “where is my vote?” paranoid Islamic Republic authorities were looking for and finding—or so they thought—internal enemies, foreign agents, saboteurs, and so-called velvet revolutionaries.
In 2009, the Islamic Republic law enforcement forces were the visible first line of defence of the regime, but the IRGC and its Basij resistance force were the real agents of suppression of Iran’s pro-democracy green movement. There is little indication that the IRGC and the Basij are playing a less sinister role in this year’s presidential election. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that this presidential election will be as fraudulent as the last.
In the weeks prior to the coming June election, we've already heard from IRGC officials. Revolutionary Guard officers have openly declared they intend to manipulate the course of the election. As only one example, Mr. Hojjat al-Eslam Ali Saidi, representative of the supreme leader to the IRGC, infamously declared “engineering elections is the natural duty of the guards”. The Basij has intensified its much publicized war games not only to prepare for suppressing dissidents, but also to terrorize the dissidents into inaction and passivity.
The regime’s brutality comes in many forms. The United States government, the U.S. Treasury Department, has recently designated the IRGC for human rights abuses because of its cyber-repression. As we know, Individuals arrested by the IRGC have been subjected to severe mental and physical abuse in a ward of the notorious Evin prison controlled by the IRGC. As Canadians well know, Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was detained, tortured, and raped in Evin prison. She later died.
To better understand the role of the IRGC in this domestic repression, I turn to a brief analysis of how the IRGC has been transformed in recent years. Since the revolution of 1979, the IRGC has been the main pillar of defence for the regime, though it is not Iran’s conventional army; that's an important distinction. The IRGC is constitutionally mandated to “safeguard the revolution and its achievements”. The statute of the guards authorizes the IRGC to confront “counter-revolutionary” forces of all types with armed resistance, pursuit, and arrest.
The IRGC was originally conceived to counter both internal and external threats. It was forced to focus on external defence during the eight-year war with Iraq from 1980-1988. The external focus continued for almost two decades after that, but supreme leader Ali Khamenei in September 2007, appointed a man named Major-General Mohammad Ali Jafari as the seventh commander-in-chief in the history of the IRGC. This is a man who earned his stripes during the Iran-Iraq War; he served as commander of IRGC ground forces, but most importantly he was the founding father of the IRGC's strategic studies centre in 2005. Under Jafari's supervision, the centre, which really functions as the IRGC’s think tank, began to conduct research into velvet revolutions and alleged U.S. soft regime change policies.
Jafari argued that the IRGC should focus on future internal threats to the Islamic Republic’s stability rather than external threats. He has reorganized the IRGC in a way that is very important to understand. He's merged the Basij, the paramilitary force, into the IRGC, and he's restructured the IRGC to become less centralized, more focused on the provinces, and with enhanced capabilities as an anti-riot force.
We all saw Jafari's handiwork in the brutal suppression of the 2009 protests. All of you are very familiar with what happened; I won't go into the details. It's very important to understand there were human faces to the Iranians who were brutalized, murdered, raped, and tortured. One of those was a woman named Taraneh Mousavi. Last week, in fact, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. Congress told the story of what happened to Taraneh. If I may, allow me to quickly recount what happened to this young woman.
She was described by her friends as a beautiful woman, very kind, with a warm voice. She played the piano with skill. She disappeared during the protest, arrested by security forces. Weeks later, her mother received an anonymous call from a government agent saying that her daughter had been hospitalized, listing injuries that could only have come about as a result of a brutal rape.
When her family went to the hospital, she was no longer there. According to one account, the family was told not to tell people when she had disappeared or any information about the kind of injuries she suffered. Her charred body was discovered a month after her arrest. Her family was told not to hold a funeral for her, and not to tell anyone the way she was killed.
The report of Taraneh's rape and murder is far from the only example of the torture and abuse we've seen in Iran's prisons. All of this has been evidenced by the UN special rapporteur's report and the State Department's Iran human rights report of 2012. All of this confirms the evidence we've seen of prisoners being held from weeks to months without charge or access to legal counsel, being subject to severe torture, beatings with batons, mock hangings, electrocution, rape, sleep deprivation, and denial of food or water.
So Jafari really had passed his test. He had killed over 70 unarmed protestors—opposition forces say the real number is several hundred. He had tortured and maimed and imprisoned many others, and he managed to persuade opposition leaders to urge their supporters to leave the streets. Unfortunately, but for Canada, the international community was silent, which may have contributed to the decision of the Iranian opposition to abandon their peaceful protests.
Canada has been a leader in defending the human rights of Iranians. Canada continued to lead the way in holding the IRGC responsible for violating the human rights of Iranians by taking additional steps.
Here, I want to talk through some policy recommendations for how Canada can continue to lead the way. In December, 2012 the Canadian government added the IRGC's Quds Force to the list of terrorist groups under Canada's Criminal Code. This was a critical step in recognizing the IRGC's threat to international peace and security, and I'm sure Matt will talk about that in further detail.
I would urge the Government of Canada to take the next logical step and sanction the IRGC in its entirety for both its terrorist operations and its role in abusing the human rights of the Iranian people. This echoes the call from Foreign Minister , who only a few weeks ago told a group of Iranian pro-democracy advocates at a Toronto conference that I attended, that Canada needs to call attention to Iran's “regressive clerical military dictatorship” and “protect dissenting voices…and those who have the courage to tell the truth about the Basij and the IRGC.” Foreign Minister Baird said “The world must target the IRGC's assets, and expose the wealth they've been amassing at the expense of the people”.
Indeed, if Canada were to designate the IRGC, this would be a substantive and symbolic step. It would target the IRGC's assets in this country and would expose the wealth they've been amassing at the expense of the people. All IRGC profits ultimately end up funding the IRGC's nefarious activities—it's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, its overseas terrorist proxies, and its vast apparatus of domestic human rights repression.
Canada must shut down the IRGC's entire commercial enterprise. This in turn requires a blanket designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization and would render it illegal to have any financial dealings with the entity, as well as a blanket designation of the IRGC as a human rights abuser under subsection 4(1) of SEMA. This would impose substantive penalties, undermine the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, and send a powerful message to Iran's people.
Human rights abuses by the Iranian regime fulfill the basic criteria under subsection 4(1) of SEMA for the imposition of economic sanctions. We've seen SEMA being used to target IRGC entities and persons for proliferation-related activities, but SEMA has also been used to sanction human rights abuses by Syria's Assad government and its supporters, by the Government of Zimbabwe, by the Government of Burma, and by the Government of Sudan, among others. So we've seen SEMA used in numerous cases by the Canadian government to target a regime and elements of it for massive human rights abuses.
I want to conclude by summarizing the three grounds on which the IRGC should be designated for its human rights abuses. First, the IRGC has a constitutional mandate to “safeguard the revolution and its achievements”. In practice, that means that the revolution of 1979 is not an historical event, an event of the past, but an ongoing process or a permanent revolution. This, in turn, keeps Iran in a permanent state of emergency in which the IRGC is authorized to interpret any opposition to the regime as a counter-revolutionary act.
Second, the IRGC's statute authorizes the IRGC to violate the basic rights of Iranian citizens on the mere suspicion of those citizens being so-called counter-revolutionaries.
Third, as I've outlined, the reorganization of the IRGC under Major General Jafari and the domestic focus of the IRGC resulted in the killing of protesters in the wake of the 2009 fraudulent presidential election, and murder, torture, and abuse that continues until today.
To the extent that individual members of the IRGC demonstrate that they want to separate themselves from the IRGC, they should be removed individually from the sanctions. Prohibit the IRGC, and individually remove those members who have distanced themselves from the organization. But IRGC members need to be put to a fundamental choice by Canada, between continued association with a repressive, clerical, military dictatorship and respect for the human rights of their citizens.
In conclusion, this hearing could not be timelier, as we meet merely two weeks before the upcoming Iranian election, which is sure to be fraudulent and involve intimidation and repression by the IRGC. I commend your committee's courageous stand in support of the Iranian people. I hope your actions this week will be heard in the streets of Iran from Abadan to Isfahan, and from Tabriz to Tehran.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here and an honour to sit next to Mark Dubowitz.
I provided a longer testimony for the record, which I understand is being translated into French. This is just a summary of that.
In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 there states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” In this week, which we're marking here in the Canadian Parliament as Iran Accountability Week, it's especially appropriate to consider Iran’s long record of supporting and carrying out acts of violence and terrorism in express violation of this right to “security of person”.
Iran has a long history of violating human rights at home, as you have heard. But some of its more recent violations are taking place in Syria, where Tehran is actively supporting Bashar al-Assad's government’s targeting of the Syrian civilian population, and around the world, where Iranian agents and Iran's proxies from Hezbollah are targeting diplomats and civilians alike for assassination. In fact these violations, both at home and abroad, are now more interconnected than ever. It is frequently the case that the people who direct and oversee the regime’s human rights abuses at home and abroad are the same people.
When the revolution in Syria began in March 2011, the Quds Force was sent by Iran to help the Syrian regime stifle protesters. A month later, the U.S. government designated the entire IRGC Quds Force for human rights violations in Syria, specifically for repressing the people of Syria, for the use of violence and torture against them, and for the arbitrary arrest and detention of peaceful protesters.
Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and security forces, as well as the Iranian law enforcement forces, were also active in Syria and have also been designated by the U.S. government for human rights abuses. Both of these forces provided material support to Syria's General Intelligence Directorate, but they also dispatched their own personnel to Damascus to assist the Syrian government in suppressing the Syrian people. However, it is the Quds Force that is in charge and is the most active Iranian unit in Syria.
Several individuals from the Quds Force have been designated by the U.S. government for violations of human rights, among other charges. For example, in May 2011 the third-ranking Quds Force leader, Mohsen Chizari, was designated for human rights violations in helping the Syrian government violently repress protesters. Chizari had previously been detained by U.S. forces, in 2006 in Iraq, where evidence showed that he was importing weapons targeting coalition forces there, but the Iraqi government eventually released him.
This past January, a top Quds Force commander was killed in Syria near the border with Lebanon, when Israel attacked a convoy of Iranian weapons being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon. General Hassan Shateri had been a member of the Quds Force for decades. Iran described his work as “war reconstruction” in Lebanon and gave no explanation of what he was doing in Syria. But at his funeral, it was Hezbollah flags that were flying alongside the Quds Force flags, and the Supreme Leader Khamenei spoke at his funeral, calling him “our very own Imad Mughniyah”, a reference to Hezbollah's arch-terrorist.
The comparison with Mughniyah appears to be an admission that “reconstruction” was not exactly what Shateri was up to. In fact, he had already been designated by the U.S. Treasury, under an alias, for providing financial, material, and technological support to Hezbollah as the personal representative of Iran to Lebanon.
The U.S. Treasury has also designated the head of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, not only for terrorist activities, which themselves are human rights abuses, but expressly for human rights violations in Syria as well. Then, just months after he was designated, Soleimani was exposed again for his involvement in the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a popular Washington, D.C. restaurant. Arbabsiar, the individual who pled guilty to that, was just sentenced earlier today.
In the assessment of the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, the Arbabsiar plot shows the following:
...that some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived... actions that threaten the regime.
Iran’s primary proxy terrorist group, Hezbollah, is now also deeply involved in Syria, despite the fact that the fighting alongside the murderous Assad regime is costing Hezbollah significant political standing back home in Lebanon, not least because Hezbollah’s involvement is dragging a sectarian bloodbath over the border into Lebanon.
Hezbollah’s destabilizing activities in Syria have, as one Lebanese journalist put it, “torn away the party’s mask of virtue”. Nonetheless, Hezbollah's activity in Syria is increasing as events in Qusayr have made clear. Iran and Hezbollah both are “all in” in support of the Assad regime.
In August 2012 Hezbollah was re-designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, this time not as a terrorist organization but for its destabilizing activities in Syria. Then a month later Treasury designated several members of Hezbollah's leadership for their roles in Syria, specifically noting that “Hizballah consistently uses terrorism against civilian targets to achieve its goals, and this trend has only increased recently”. Under Nasrallah's leadership, the Treasury reported, Hezbollah has been “providing training, advice, and extensive logistical support” to the Assad regime in support of his violent crackdown on the Syrian people, and this has only increased.
Meanwhile, Iran's use of terrorism as a tool of foreign policy goes back all the way to the 1979 Islamic revolution. Writing a few years later, in 1986, the CIA assessed in a now declassified report entitled “Iranian Support for International Terrorism” that while Iran's support for terrorism was meant to further its national interest, it also stemmed from the clerical regime's perception that it has a religious duty to export its Islamic revolution and to wage, by whatever means, a constant struggle against the perceived oppressor states.
A few years later, in 1989, a CIA report highlighted several factors that made Iran more likely to take increased risks in support of terrorism, factors that faded somewhat after the mid-1990s but are now coming back with a vengeance.
The first was the dominance of radical elements within the clerical leadership, which translated into significant Iranian hostility toward the west. Then, as now, there was little chance that more pragmatic leaders would come to the fore. Furthermore, igniting tensions abroad could shift popular attention away from domestic problems, while asymmetrical warfare provided Tehran with a potent weapon at a time when its military and economy were weak.
According to CIA reporting in the late 1980s, Iranian leaders view terrorism as an important instrument of foreign policy that they use both to advance national goals and to export the regime’s Islamic revolutionary ideals. When it comes to Iranian support of terrorism, its primary terrorist proxy group is Hezbollah. The relationship between the two has been described by the director of national intelligence as “a partnership arrangement with the Iranians as the senior partner.” This “strategic partnership”, as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center put it, is the product of a long evolution from the 1980s, when Hezbollah was just a proxy of Iran.
Iran has used Hezbollah networks for a variety of terrorist activities that were in their interests, from carrying out assassinations of Iranian dissidents to the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992, the AMIA Jewish community centre in Argentina in 1994, the Khobar Towers military barracks in 1996, and much more.
Hezbollah's Unit 1800 is dedicated to supporting Palestinian terrorist groups and infiltrating Hezbollah operatives into Israel to carry out its own reconnaissance and operations there, while its Unit 3800 was established specifically to train Iraqi Shia militants and conduct attacks targeting coalition forces in Iraq.
However, recently Iran has used Hezbollah even more closely tied to their nuclear ambitions. Over the past few years the Quds Force established a dedicated unit to target western diplomatic interests around the world—Unit 400. Meanwhile, Tehran instructed Hezbollah to target Israeli tourists around the world in an effort to deter the Israelis or others from taking action against Iran's nuclear program, and also to send a message that if anybody does target their nuclear facilities, more asymmetric terrorist operations would be awaiting them.
The deliberate targeting of civilians is another clear example of Iran's disregard for human rights. The results were made clear last July, when Hezbollah blew up a busload of Israelis in Burgas, Bulgaria, also killing a Bulgarian bus driver and injuring 30 others. Just two weeks earlier a Hezbollah agent, a European citizen, had been arrested in Cyprus. A week after the successful Burgas attack, which involved at least one Hezbollah operative who was a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen, the Bulgarians found a Quds Force officer, who apparently might also have been a Canadian citizen, conducting surveillance of one of the main synagogues in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
Following the arrest of Hossam Yaacoub in Cyprus, he admitted the following in his deposition:
I don’t believe that the missions I executed in Cyprus were connected with the preparation of a terrorist attack in Cyprus. It was just collecting information about the Jews, and this is what my organization is doing everywhere in the world.
In conclusion, let there be no doubt: Iran is involved in severe human rights violations both at home and abroad. But since 2009 these violations have become more intertwined than ever before. The partnership of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah has amplified these violations with instructions from the Iranian leadership to target civilian tourists in terrorist attacks around the world. Then the Quds Force's own plotting is targeting American, British, Saudi, Israeli, and other diplomats as well.
Now Iran and Hezbollah provide significant assistance to the Assad regime’s brutal campaign against its own people, the latest in a terrible litany of Iranian human rights abuses around the world. Indeed, the UN human rights body just passed a non-binding resolution condemning the intervention of foreign combatants—meaning Hezbollah and Iran—fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime in Qusayr in particular.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify before you.
I look forward to answering any questions you may have.
Thank you for the question.
Indeed, my colleague, Mehdi Khalaji, is one of the strongest voices out there on this issue.
Let me bring this directly to the issue that Mark and I have been discussing today, tying this not only to Iran's human rights abuses at home but also abroad, as there's a distinct connection between the two that goes back to the Green Revolution in 2009. According to multiple sources—and I get into this in my written testimony—when the Iranian regime decided to crack heads in an effort to suppress peaceful protests during the last election, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, MOIS, which is a very professional intelligence organization, was uncomfortable with the idea of cracking heads of fellow Iranians. Because of that they were demoted as an organization, and key individuals were demoted as well.
The IRGC, the Basij Resistance Force, and the Quds Force were more than happy to do whatever the regime asked of them, including sniper attacks and bullying and sending the Basij into the university campuses etc. Because of that, they were promoted, which has had an effect on their ability to conduct operations abroad. It's actually made them less capable, because the IRGC in some of its asymmetric capabilities abroad is not as capable on its own without the support of the MOIS. So this has had an impact not only on their ability to do these things at home, but also abroad.
It's obvious that the Green Revolution was a turning point where the Iranian regime indicated to anybody who was watching that there is really no limit to what it would do to keep itself in power, including to its own people. When it comes now to the events in Syria, it's willing to expend everything to do the same for its allies. So in the first instance it advised the Assad regime to stop suppressing social media. Suddenly social media proliferated, Facebook accounts were opened, and then it became clear that Iran was providing Syria with the know-how to track social media and to prevent protests. But that was just the beginning and it has gotten much worse. One of our concerns is that we see Iran providing Syria with all kinds of kinetic options—not just suppression of social media—to put down the rebellion in Syria, much as it did at home.
Let me answer your question.
One thing we underestimate about the Iranian regime is this. Unlike Saddam's Iraq or North Korea, which are Stalinist dictatorships, the Iranian regime actually cares to some extent about its international reputation. These Iranian regime officials imagine themselves as supporters of a great global revolution, one that needs to expand internationally.
They're actually trying to be more popular. They're trying to gain popularity across elements of the Muslim world. So the naming and shaming element should not be underestimated. In fact, there are many Iranian dissidents today who are alive only because countries like Canada and others have actually named and shamed regime officials, highlighting the names of dissidents here and abroad, in Canada and Iran.
I think the work you're doing, for example during Iran Accountability Week in matching Canadian parliamentarians with Iranian dissidents, is critical to giving these people a name and a face and a story. It's clear to me that without that kind of exposure, those people would disappear in the night and never be heard from again. So keeping a spotlight on the individuals, not having this become a statistic, I think is number 1, it's critical. Number 2, actually designating the IRGC and the Basij Force for human rights abuses would be profoundly important, not only substantively but symbolically.
Again, these are individuals who are free to travel around the world and use Iranian embassies for diplomatic cover. Certainly, Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor, released a 500-page report only yesterday on the 1994 AMIA bombing, which Dr. Levitt talked about. What Dr. Nisman actually underscored is that the Iranians have used that AMIA business model to extend their influence through Latin America and around the world, using embassies, mosques, cultural bureaus and the whole infrastructure that affords the Iranian regime much flexibility and operational freedom to plan terrorist attacks and intimidate dissidents.
Again, I would applaud the Canadian government for having recognized that the Iranian embassy in Ottawa was being used for exactly that purpose, including for intimidation of Iranian Canadians, and for having expelled these so-called Iranian diplomats from Ottawa who, in many cases, were intelligence agents and IRGC officials. I think that was a very powerful message that you sent. I would encourage you to encourage your colleagues in Latin America and in Europe to do exactly the same thing.
Both the Basij and Quds Force fall under the IRGC, but the most important thing to understand is the personality of and the relationship of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, to the supreme leader. Qassem Soleimani does not need to go through Jafari, the head of the IRGC. He has, we believe, a direct reporting line to the supreme leader.
People were very careful in the wake of the Arbabsiar plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., not to say that the supreme leader called for this attack. The U.S., Britain, and others did go as far as pointing directly at Qassem Soleimani. I have no other hard evidence to point to, but if you believe that Qassem Soleimani would plot to blow up the Saudi ambassador to Washington, D.C. in a restaurant that's known to be frequented by U.S. senators without the okay of the supreme leader, I've got some bridges to sell you.
You hit the nail on the head in the fact that there is a systemic leadership issue here. There's no rogue element here. In fact anything can be done, as Mark and I have said, in support of this revolution that is ongoing. Therefore your point is very well taken and I included among my materials, which I understand are being translated, an article by my colleague Patrick Clawson who makes this exact same point. Republican or Democrat, the reality is that policy-makers would throw human rights under the bus if there were an opportunity to have a grand bargain. It's not nice but this is the reality, which is why, as Mark said, we have to incorporate this into everything we're doing.
I'll just add to what you said, Mark. It's not just about increasing the number of the human rights designations. Even when we're talking about exposing designations and other types of activity, we need to say, not willy nilly but whenever it is the case, and it almost always is the case, that it's the same people supporting terrorism, the missile program, and the proliferation program who are also engaged in human rights abuses. When you have that evidence, make that point.
When I was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence at Treasury, this is something I tried there, and they continue to try to do at Treasury. Fold that in there just to make it clear. It's the same people.
Mr. Cotler, it's actually a very timely question.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress just unanimously adopted legislation last week called the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013. In the legislation there is a specific human rights provision that would require the administration to report back to Congress with a list of all Iranian officials who are implicated in human rights abuses, and then to give a 30-day or 60-day determination, after issuing that report, on the imposition of sanctions against the said individuals.
The premise is that this vast system of domestic repression, again, is headed up by one man, Ali Khamenei, but that there are many officials are involved, from IRGC commanders to prosecutors, judges, prison guards, members of the Basij, members of the Iranian Parliament. Really, as you go through the entire power apparatus of the Iranian regime, you find yourself able to map out a repressive apparatus of people who are actually specifically implicated in murder, torture, imprisonment. The legislation would actually call for the identification of these individuals, the sanctioning of them, the freezing of their assets, the denial of travel visas, and call on other countries to adhere to these travel bans.
I think it would be a very good idea for the Canadian government—which again, has really taken the lead on this human rights issue, more so than our government, more so than even the Europeans—to designate under SEMA the IRGC for human rights abuses, and also go after the specific individuals in that apparatus of repression that I've named, specifically identifying and sanctioning them individually, as well as the collective.