For many Iranians, January 16, 2016 will always remain a day of jubilance, hope, and a new beginning for prosperity. On that day, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that Iran had taken necessary steps towards implementing the multilateral nuclear agreement it had reached with major powers last July. The so called “Implementation Deal” indeed paved the way for lifting the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran that have severely crippled its economy for more than a decade. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani described the deal as a “golden page” in the country’s history and as an opportunity to open “new windows for engagement with the world.” U.S. President Barack Obama, in his remarks on the anniversary of the historical “peace” speech delivered by John F. Kennedy at American University, made the case that the nuclear agreement strengthens the incentive for the majority of Iranian people “to urge their government to move in a different, less provocative direction.” The expected outcomes of this deal—financial benefits for Iran on one hand and security assurances for much of the world on the other hand—are promising. But whether it also be a lasting path towards alleviating or even ending grave human rights abuses in the country remains unanswered.
U.S. officials viewed the release of five imprisoned Americans by Iran immediately after the implementation of the agreement as a sign of progress, with U.S. Secretary John Kerry stating, “peace and the progress of the humanitarian talks accelerated in light of the relationships forged and the diplomatic channels unlocked over the course of the nuclear talks.” He added that the international community has shown concerns over Iran’s “policies and actions and choices in the region” and that this deal would allow the international community to worry and address other regional issues, such as the Syrian crisis, “without the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran” overhead. For Ahmed Shahid, the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, the agreement now provides an opportunity “to focus on human rights in Iran.” According to his August 2014 report to the UN General Assembly, the sanctions on the country, among other things, have caused an unprecedented shortage of medicine and rise in food prices. “These circumstances have had a dramatic effect on the standard of living and have likely further undermined the full enjoyment of a range of civil, social and economic rights,” Ahmed Shahid said.
Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Article 11 of the Covenant urges States Parties to “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” But since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Iranian people have become too familiar with income inequality, unemployment, and the growing marginalization in much of the country’s rural areas. Undoubtedly, the removal of the sanctions will help to alleviate some major obstacles in the country. While it is unlikely that the U.S. will resume all of its business ties with Iran in the near future, the government now allows limited Iranian imports like Persian rugs and permits U.S.-based private companies to sell commercial aircraft to the country.
Unlike the U.S., European countries have already taken full advantage of economic opportunities provided by the nuclear agreement. Less than two weeks after the Implementation Day, Airbus signed a $25 billion deal to sell 118 commercial planes to Iran with several European airlines, including Air France and KLM, considering direct flights to the country. Apart from the U.S. and European economy, the lifted sanctions will allow Iran to sell its oil in the world market and to connect its banks globally.
Despite the economic prospects of the Iran nuclear agreement, basic civil and political rights remain in peril. A few months before signing the deal, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif appeared before a U.S. news program and unequivocally said: “[w]e do not jail people for their opinions.” According to the 2015 report of Freedom House, though, press freedom remains limited in the country as the regime’s “systematic Internet controls and pervasive censorship have continued despite Rouhani’s promises to ease restrictions on media and information.” Additionally, a month after the Implementation Day, an Iranian court of appeals sentenced a 30-year-old filmmaker to one year in prison with 223 lashes for “insulting sanctities” and “spreading propaganda.” These allegations stem from his short documentary on political graffiti in Tehran.
Despite these human rights abuses, there remains a new hope that the economic reliefs gained through the agreement may pressure the Iranian regime to respect and protect the fundamental rights of its citizens.