Death to No One: 30 Years after the Iran Hostage Crisis

Today marks the 30th year since the 444 day Iran Hostage Crisis began in 1979. On
this day the media traditionally offers us images of Iranians burning American flags and effigies
of Uncle Sam. We are reminded of the great chasm of mistrust and
misunderstanding that has marked the last three decades of US-Iranian
relations. But, in the past year both Americans and Iranians have asked for
something new. Americans have elected a
president that promises to pursue diplomacy and Iranians have given birth to a
popular democratic movement.

Today marks the 30th year since the 444 day Iran Hostage Crisis began in 1979. On
this day the media traditionally offers us images of Iranians burning American flags and effigies
of Uncle Sam. We are reminded of the great chasm of mistrust and
misunderstanding that has marked the last three decades of US-Iranian
relations. But, in the past year both Americans and Iranians have asked for
something new. Americans have elected a
president that promises to pursue diplomacy and Iranians have given birth to a
popular democratic movement. So, we should not use this 30th
anniversary of the hostage crisis to simply re-live tragedy and tension. Rather,
today Americans have an opportunity to honestly reflect on our relationship
with Iran and think about how to move forward.

For the past 30 years our government has dealt with
Iran through policies of isolation and sanctions.

As we all witnessed amidst post-election unrest,
Iranians have created a new dialogue within their country about respect for
human rights and the democratic process. Now, those of us concerned with human
rights must drastically alter our own dialogue towards Iran. If we herald the
bravery of the "Green Movement," we should ask what effect crippling sanctions
would have for Iran's human rights prospects?

Days before the United Nations General Assembly opened in September 2009, Human
Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Nobel
Laureate Shirin Ebadi and thousands of Iranians standing in solidarity with the
Green Movement, called on the United Nations to prioritize human rights in
discussions about Iran. The Preamble of the Universal Declaration for Human
Rights avows that all Member States have pledged themselves "to achieve, in
co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for
and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Yet, in recent discussions regarding Iran, the United Nations Security Council
plus Germany focused on the nuclear issue in every instance. In doing, so they
have consistently neglected all critical and serious conversations about Iran's
human rights violations.

Furthermore, the negotiating states chose to threaten the
very fabric of the domestic resistance with "crippling sanctions." Economic
sanctions that directly affect and isolate a civilian population weaken the
ability of people committed to creating a better, more just governance.

Consider, for example, the effects of comprehensive
sanctions imposed on Iraq
for a period of 13 years. Those who bore the brunt of brutal and lethal
punishment caused by economic sanctions were the elderly, the sick, the poor
and the children. The economic sanctions
directly contributed toward the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children. We should also remember that imposition of
comprehensive, multilateral sanctions against Iraq
proved to be a rallying cry for support of Saddam Hussein in countries where
there was high antagonism against the United States. Saddam Hussein could
claim to provide for the Iraqi people while the Americans insisted on starving
them.

What effects would greater sanctions have on Iran? The
Iranian regime has had years of practice in avoiding sanctions by relying on economic
relations with China and Russia. The rising revenue and power of the underground
economy has bolstered Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's allies who control it.

Meanwhile, sanctions leveled against Iran are creating
hardships among the poorest communities in Iran. In 2007, the Iranian government
announced fuel rations for private drivers. Due to Iran's limited refining
capabilities, Iran is not energy independent, despite its vast oil resources.
The decision to create rations has led to massive uproar and protest for a
people who have already suffered extreme rates of unemployment. Inflation has
soared to twenty-five percent. Also, in the last year, Iran has faced a serious
drought. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated
Iran's loss of wheat production at thirty-three percent. The USDA also noted
that, due to the drought and reduced reservoir levels, Iran's hydroelectric
generation capacity and supply have been severely cut. These conditions will
lead to severe agricultural problems and possibly to food shortages.

Furthering morally bankrupt policies that focus on the
nuclear issue and greater sanctions against Iran will harm the Green Movement's
capacity to struggle for democracy and human rights.

Iran
has become the world's poster child for the deficit of democracy that plagues
many nations. Citizens of all nations understand justice and agree upon its
terms with remarkable consistency across borders. "The arc of history is long,"
Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, "but it bends towards justice." For 30 years our
policies have failed to stand up for truth or justice.

A flyer from Tehran University marking this anniversary
declares "Marg bar hich kas", "Death to no one". The Green Movement is turning
a page in Iran's history, creating an opportunity for us to stand up for new
policy based on human rights and the will of the people.