Mr. Chair, I am pleased to rise this evening to kick off the debate on this motion regarding the horrific human rights situation in Iran.
Our government continues to have deep concerns about the situation of human rights in Iran, concerns that I know are shared by every member of the House. Iran's refusal to respect human rights obligations is a violation not just of universally recognized norms and standards but of those enshrined within its own constitution.
Let me highlight some of the human rights violations in Iran.
First, the suppression of women's rights in Iran is particularly troubling. Women face many restrictions on their freedoms. For example, they are unable to run for president or to serve as judges. They cannot have full guardianship over their children after divorce. As inheritors, they receive half as much as men, and their court testimony is worth half that of a man. A woman who refuses to cover her hair may face a jail term and up to 80 lashes. Women who belong to ethnic or religious minorities face discrimination on multiple levels.
With respect to religious minorities, Iran remains a dangerous place for members of numerous communities, including the Baha'i. For years, this peaceful community has been targeted by the Iranian authorities and subjected to discrimination and detention. Baha'i leaders have been arrested and imprisoned for practising their faith. Iranian officials have also made statements to try to link the Baha'i to the political unrest in that country. These are trumped-up accusations and a cause of concern for the safety and well-being of those unjustly detained in Iran. In fact, today, on the fourth anniversary of the arbitrary arrests and detention of several Iranian Baha'i community leaders, we are particularly reminded of the ongoing, persistent and pervasive prosecution of religious minorities.
Equally troubling is that almost three years after the 2009 elections, the efforts by the Iranian government to suppress the voices of those who seek to exercise their basic political rights continue. Leaders of the pro-democracy movement remain either in jail or under house arrest.
The Iranian government continues to take steps to curb Internet freedom and prevent an exchange of ideas on governance and human rights. Those seeking to speak out in favour of reform are facing even greater obstacles to free expression.
Canada, along with its allies, leads the international community in putting pressure on the government of Iran to be accountable for its actions. As part of our ongoing efforts to promote respect for human rights in Iran, Canada once again led the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 2011 fall session at the United Nations General Assembly. This was the ninth consecutive year that Canada led this initiative. In December 2011, the General Assembly adopted this resolution, with 89 member states supporting the vote and only 30 member states voting against it. This represented the largest margin of support since 2003.
The promotion and protection of human rights has been and continues to be an integral part of our government's foreign policy. Canada stands up for human rights and takes principled positions on important issues to promote freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Canada calls on Iran to address the substantive concerns highlighted in the report of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the specific calls for action found in previous resolutions. The resolution calls on Iran to abolish the use of stoning and hanging as methods of execution and further calls on Iran to respect its human rights obligations in law and in practice. Canada believes that the adoption of this resolution provides comfort to human rights defenders in Iran as it reminds them that they are not alone in their struggle to attain their basic human rights.
In addition to our efforts at the United Nations, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs continue to issue frequent statements urging Iran to respect its domestic and international human rights obligations, and our head of mission in Tehran conveys these messages to the Iranian authorities.
Canada remains highly concerned with the routine news of Iran's failure to comply with its international obligations, including nuclear energy support for terrorist country entities.
Canada continues to work to ensure that the human rights situation remains on the agenda and is not overshadowed by other important issues. Human rights is only one of four areas where we engage Iranian officials under the controlled engagement policy that Canada put into place in 1996 and tightened following the death while in Iranian custody of Canadian Iranian journalist, Zahra Kazemi, in 2003. The other areas of engagement include consular cases, nuclear issues and international security.
It is important for all those participating and listening this evening to know that we will never waver in our commitment to support the people of Iran in their aspirations for universal human rights. They are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as Canadians and, above all, they are entitled to live their lives with dignity.
Tonight in this debate my colleagues will highlight many other abuses that are going on in Iran. We call upon the Iranian government to respect its human rights obligations.