Mr. Chair, thank you for recognizing me this evening.
Often a lot is said, but little is done. However, talking about inhumane situations is often the only way to make them known. This evening, we are giving a voice to those who have been silenced for standing up for their rights—rights that we take for granted here.
Freedom of religion is certainly a very important right, but there are so many others that we must not overlook. Let us talk about discrimination against women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered citizens. Let us talk about freedom of the press, the right to work and the right of association. We must remain vigilant and denounce these situations that have no place in a free and democratic society like ours.
This evening, we are talking about the human rights situation in Iran. According to the 2010 UN universal periodic review of human rights, 93 recommendations were made to Iran, from abolishing the death penalty for minors to eliminating obstacles to freedom of expression by simply allowing UN rapporteurs to enter the country.
There are so many issues that I would like to address, but there is not enough time to raise them all. Therefore, I have decided to focus on a few specific issues.
I am concerned about women's rights in Iran. According to Human Rights Watch, Iranian women are victims of discrimination based on personal status as it relates to marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of children. They are victims of constant and direct discrimination under the law. A women needs her guardian's approval in order to marry, no matter what her age. An Iranian woman cannot pass on her nationality to her foreign spouse or her children. A woman cannot obtain a passport or travel abroad without the written consent of her husband. Women are reduced to silence.
According to reports by the UN Secretary General and the UN Human Rights Council, Iran's attitude towards women, especially professional women, is paradoxical. Although they have unimpeded access to secondary and university education, their career choices are limited. Thus, they cannot hold senior political positions. Direct discrimination against women also manifests itself in areas such as access to housing and the status of divorced women. The list is long.
I am painting a rather negative picture and I will not take the time to name all of the female activists who are still fighting today to assert their rights and denounce the atrocious discrimination they still face every day.
As we speak, several female activists are being detained or imprisoned because they tried to use peaceful activities to denounce this situation and defend women's rights.
Amnesty International, whose very serious work I would like to commend here today, gave some very compelling examples in its 2012 reports of women who are standing up to defend their rights. The vast majority of these women were part of the “change for equality campaign”, which aims to gather one million signatures to demand the end of discrimination against women in Iranian laws. Some of these activists are being detained or mistreated, some are being denied medical care, while others are being barred from travelling.
The UN special rapporteur on violence against women has condemned discrimination against women from ethnic minorities on several occasions. She has expressed her concerns to the Human Rights Council about the increase in human trafficking, especially the trafficking of women from eastern Iran. Their rights are also violated when it comes to access to housing, which is limited for single women and divorcees. The UN special rapporteur on violence against women also spoke about restrictions on ownership and discrimination in the labour force, where women cannot be magistrates or hold important political positions.
If the situation is problematic for women, it is equally problematic for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
In other words, any type of sexual activity, outside what is accepted by the state, is prohibited. The state denies the whole thing, which makes the problem even worse. When the Iranian president said in 2007 that there were no homosexuals in Iran, we have to wonder. I believe the situation is very worrisome.
The punishment system is even more repressive. It is practically the middle ages with lashes or worse, hangings.
It is not prohibited to be gay in Iran, but Amnesty International's 2012 report cites article 111 of the penal code, which states that sodomy is punishable by death so long as both the active and passive partners are adults, of sound mind, and consenting, the presumption being that, in the absence of these requirements, the individual would not be tried for sodomy.
LGBT rights activists believe that, in some cases, this has led one of the parties in the consenting sexual relationship to claim to have been raped in order to avoid execution. At least three men were executed in 2011, on conviction of sodomy. At least three other men suspected of having participated in homosexual acts between men were sentenced to death.
We have talked this evening about freedom and democracy, but I would like to raise another issue. Human rights also include workers' rights. People are mistreated far too often. When I was a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, we even discussed human trafficking. I heard horror stories about people being literally exploited. The repression in Iran does not affect only the rights of women, nor gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people, but also affects workers' rights.
Union activity is dangerous in Iran. As an example, Reza Shahabi has been in prison since June 2010. Amnesty International has pointed out that his health is very poor and that in February, he began suffering from complications. And yet, it was not until April 30 that the prison authorities took him to the hospital. Even today, we cannot be sure he is receiving adequate treatment. He was condemned—on false charges—to six years imprisonment for a crime against national security.
In other words, demonstrating against poor working conditions attracts violent repression and arbitrary arrest. It is a fundamental right to be able to demonstrate, but Iran still prohibits independent unions.
My colleagues and I condemn the Iranian regime's human rights violations. We are very worried because the situation is getting worse. We support the Iranian people's desire for democracy and respect for basic rights and freedoms.
Respect for human rights is important not only in Iran. Too many countries require the international community's attention when it comes to human rights. This situation exists in so many countries; we could have a take-note debate on all of them.
The government's role is to make respect for human rights a priority in its negotiations, whether in foreign affairs or international trade policy. For example, some free trade agreements were negotiated even though witnesses made it clear that there are major human rights issues in their countries. Trade relationships should ensure and promote respect for human rights.
Official development assistance was reduced to 0.25% of our GDP. The government's policy should focus on promoting human rights, not helping mining companies. I do not understand why public funds are being used to cover social costs that mining companies should be paying for.