German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says Iran’s Islamic clerical regime “is on the wrong side of history” and has pledged new sanctions from the EU.
https://www.dw.com-Nationwide anti-government protests, now in their fourth week, pose the biggest challenge to Iran’s clerical rulers in years
“Anyone who beats up women and girls in the streets, abducts people who want nothing more than to live freely, arrests them arbitrarily, sentences them to death, is on the wrong side of history,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said over the weekend, referring to the Iranian regime’s response to ongoing mass anti-hijab protests across the country.
She also pledged that the European Union would use travel bans and asset freezes against Iranian officials trying to suppress the protests.
“We will ensure that the EU imposes entry bans on those responsible for this brutal repression and freezes their assets in the EU. To the people of Iran, we say: ‘We stand and remain by your side’,” Baerbock told the German weekly Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Germany is apparently working behind the scenes, together with France, Denmark, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic, on a package of EU sanctions against select Iranian individuals and organizations. EU foreign ministers are expected to decide on the measures when they meet on October 17.
The EU must “quickly adopt powerful sanctions that target the Iranian oligarchy,” Bijan Djir-Sarai, the foreign policy spokesperson for the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
He said that those responsible for serious human rights violations — including members of Iran’s so-called morality police, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and other regime loyalists — shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of freedom in Europe. Djir-Sarai urged the EU to impose a visa ban and freeze their assets in the bloc accordingly.
The West’s dilemma
In fact, targeted sanctions against specific individuals have a better chance of success compared to conventional economic sanctions, says Bente Scheller, head of the Middle East and North Africa Division at the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin.
“The regime has learned over the years to live with these sanctions,” she said. “The ones who suffer are mostly the people of Iran.”
Scheller added that the West faces a dilemma on the issue of sanctions, pointing out the desire to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.
This is all the more difficult, she said, because it is not entirely clear who has the greater interest in striking an agreement: the Western states or the Iranian government, which is hoping above all for the sanctions to be lifted in return.
“That makes it difficult to assess Iran’s willingness to compromise in the nuclear talks as well as when it comes to improving human rights,” she added.
Therefore, Scheller noted, conventional sanctions will likely not make an impact on the regime.
“However, the situation could be different in the case of targeted individual sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations.”
Should the West put pressure on Iran via the UN?
Simon Engelkes, a Middle East expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, shares a similar view about the limited effectiveness of sanctions.
He believes that the West should consider other avenues of influence to persuade Tehran to change its ways.
Engelkes pointed out that Iran was elected as a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women for a four-year term this March.
IranWire, a news site based outside Iran which is critical of the regime, described the move as “surrealism in action.”
But this membership can now serve as a lever to sway Tehran.
Iran is also one of a few countries which isn’t a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
“Now the German government could exert pressure on Iran at the international level to ratify this convention. This would at least end official discrimination against women in Iran,” Engelkes said.
“It is of course questionable to what extent this would then actually be implemented, especially in view of the current protests,” he added, stressing that the possibilities for influencing the Islamic regime are limited.
International attention is key
Engelkes is counting more on pressure within Iranian society. “We observe that the current protests are much more broad-based compared to the previous ones. The demonstrators are coming from different social classes as well as different ethnic groups.”
Even though the regime is trying to divide protesters along ethnic lines and crush them, Engelkes stressed that there is enough solidarity within the protest movement to keep it going.
“This is a strong sign of their strength,” he said.
Scheller from the Heinrich Böll Foundation said that maintaining international attention is very important, particularly in view of the multiple crises the world is currently confronting.
“The international community has a greater political responsibility to ensure that these protests are not forgotten,” she noted.
“There is nothing more frustrating for those who put their lives on the line to fight for freedom than when no one outside their country’s borders pays attention to it. That’s why we need to maintain our attention.”
This article was originally published in German.