The Challenge of Universal Human Rights

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ten years after its enactment, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the United Nations, saying:

Where do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home.  In the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

We at NIAC are reminded on nearly a daily basis how difficult it can be to enact real and significant change in our world.  Oftentimes it seems like our leaders have simply tuned out the calls for rational policies and peaceful dialogue with Iran.  However, to paraphrase Iranian author and activist Fariba Hachtroudi, the difficulty of the job ahead is miniscule in comparison to the amount of human suffering faced by those whose situation we are trying to correct.

Because of this, NIAC takes very seriously our charge from our members to promote human rights in Iran.

As with everything involving Iranian politics, the human rights issue is a complicated one.  What seems to be black and white is not always so simple.  For example, NIAC believes the US government should promote human rights in Iran as a top foreign policy priority, but not as a pretext for military action.  Rhetoric from Washington politicians can appear completely benign when they condemn Iran for its human rights violations, but frequently these condemnations belie a more sinister policy agenda–one that calls for regime change as the solution to all of Iran’s problems.

Let us be clear: human rights violations in Iran are detestable, but military action for regime change would exponentially worsen the situation for millions of Iranians.  That is why NIAC pushes for diplomatic engagement with Iran.  When the US sits down with other countries, it serves two purposes: it provides recourse for settling conflicts without war, and it allows us to promote the most critical issues, such as human rights, directly.

Human rights is too important an issue to use only as a rhetorical arrow to fling at an adversary.  The New York Times editorial board said “Saber-rattling is not a strategy.”  We continue to hope that our leaders will engage Iran directly, with human rights on the table.  That, in our view, is where we will finally find “progress in the larger world.”

Posted By Patrick Disney

    3 Responses to “The Challenge of Universal Human Rights”

  1. Arsalan Barmand says:

    The US government can better promote HR in Iran through dialogue. Alienation and containment will not achieve this goal, only discussion. Even then it is difficult to persuade states to change their ways; in an economically interdependent world, there is only so much one state can do to change another states’ bad habits without threatening their own livelihood (i.e. Western states and China).

  2. Michael Mahyar Hojjatie says:

    Good example. While hardly ideal, China had to change many of its way to modernize out of its backwardness. Hopefully Iran can regain the momentum it had before 1979 towards modernization (and relax, I am not condoning the pre-revolution government, hopefully any government will come to their senses after so many years of stagnation).

    Regime change will only further the dilemma. Look at the power vacuum in Iraq and the nightmare “regime change” created over there. There are plenty of Iranian opposition groups exiled in many countries just licking their lips for regime change so they can impose their will upon the Iranian people 1979 style. Does anybody honestly think they won’t resort to heinous acts of violence to come out on top? It already happened once. All this talk of “Secular Revolution” hardly hints at any peaceful transition.

  3. m_a says:

    In iran the prisonment of persons who com to protest to election is with har attack on them and in prison they break their hand and their leg and do bad things with them like Guantanamo and one of its place that no one khnows is in this address:Tehran_narmak_helal ahmar sq _golestan street_shahid nobari street_moavenat rahian nor and gardeshgari

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Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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