Is Destruction of Environment and Natural Resources a Violation of Human Rights in Iran?


The value of human rights have been promoted more and more, especially after World War II. The idea is that human rights are universal, and due to the dignity of human beings. The promotion of environmental rights is relatively new. The treaties about both were gradually accepted and ratified through a wide range of international documents and conventions. The opponents of such ideas are also arguing that human rights are non-universal. They are different because cultural and domestic values are different. While the proponents of universality of human rights have been trying to develop them throughout the world by creating international laws, regulations, and establishing international and national organizations. The proponent’s perspective of cultural relativism of human rights speak the differentiation of indigenous values and their national cultures. In this debate, authoritarian governments have been resistant to accept the validity of human rights as universal values, as well as environmental rights.

A huge sand dune in Hamidieh, Ahvaz, moving toward farms.

The universal perspective of human rights is challenging for the offender governments, such as the clerical regime of Iran, which gives priority to cultural relativism perspective and fake Islamic criteria in its human rights behavior. Nowadays, the debate regarding human rights and environmental rights has become a common debate for Iran’s population and it seems to be part of a new wave of social demands to impress upon Iran’s clerical regime. Because of emergence of this new wave of social and political rights movements in Iran, one must closely investigate how these two subjects, human and environmental rights, relate to each other.

Increasing damage to natural resources and environmental destruction has become a major concern for communities around the globe (Kapur, 2016). The destruction of the environment is obviously manifested as environmental crimes (Dorri & Heidari, 2016). These crimes are any misconduct afflicted on the environment, which have a different nature compared to other crimes. The recognition of such criminal acts is difficult because of their complex nature and multidimensional context (Starr, 1986). Conservation, environmental protection, and crimes committed on the environment, animals, plants, and historical monuments are some of the issues raised in the paradigm of globalization, which requires all governments and active environmentalists to be aware of and actively act upon them, regardless of their political, cultural, social, economic, or racial affiliation (Globalization 101, Brisman, 2007). Therefore, in the realm of environmental crime prevention, some penal and criminal strategies must be proposed (Dorri & Heidari, 2016).

Comparison of regressed boundaries of Lake Urumia, NW Iran.

Human beings are an integral part of the environment in which they live. They are influenced by their environments and have an influence on environment. A safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water, and sanitation. Without a healthy environment, we are unable to fulfill our aspirations or even live at a level commensurate with minimum standards of human dignity (Remoundou & Koundouri, 2009). At the same time, protecting human rights helps to protect the environment. When people are able to learn about, and participate in, the decisions that affect them, then they can help to ensure that those decisions respect their need for a sustainable environment (Greartly, 2010). 

Sand dunes have occupied a house in Baluchistan, Iran.

In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly (Shelton, 2002). Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions (Boyd, 2012).
Environmental crimes, noncompliance, and risks create significant harm to the health of humans and the natural world. Yet, the field of criminology has historically shown relatively little interest in the topic. The emergence of environmental or green criminology over the past decade marks a shift in this trend but attempts to define a unique area of study have been extensively criticized (Gibbs, 2009). The misconceptions that environmental crime is not an offense has led to lack of attention toward these crimes (MPICC). The triangle of crime theory involves community, people, and the government. The green crime has evolved in this context (Brennan, 2016). Some believe that gentleness and leniency while dealing with environmental crime offenders has caused the nature and severity of this crime to be underestimated (NSW, 2011). At the same time, many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved and requires further examination (OHCHR, 2018). 

As a result of Petrochemical Plant many unusual cancers have been spread among residents around it.

As a result of the tireless efforts of environmental conservationists, human rights activists, citizens demands, and the importance of the issue in various countries, in March 2012, the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will, among other tasks, study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking (Grear, 2013). 

Environmental activists are jailed in Iran as foreign spy.

The focus of research in academic institutions on environmental subjects due to their complexities has consequently led to an interdisciplinary approach in conducting research and studying the different nature of environmental sciences (Roy et al, 2013). Accordingly, the following twofold questions were proposed: Why a healthy environment cannot be classified in the fundamental values of society? Why does this issue not require penal protection like others merit? Is the penal law with its traditional indices capable of achieving its objectives, namely the prevention of environmental crimes? Careful review of related literature about the assessed laws and their effectiveness regarding the protection and conservation of the environment from committed crimes has indicated a lack of proper strategies to stop such crimes. The objective here should be the evaluation of the performance of the criminal policy on the prevention of environmental crimes through the descriptive analytical approach, because the compensation and restoration of the same to its previous status is very difficult and perhaps impossible (Lynch et al, 2015 & Nurse, 2017).
Environmental rights mean access to the unspoiled natural resources that enable survival, including land, shelter, food, water, and air (Mohammad, 2014). They also include more purely ecological rights, including the right for a certain beetle to survive or the right for an individual to enjoy an unspoiled landscape (Mohammad, 2011).

Water crisis in Iran due to mismanagement and lack of appropriate planning.

Environmental rights include additional political rights, like rights for indigenous peoples and other collectivities, the right to information and participation in decision-making, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to resist unwanted developments (EHRD, 2015). Also, the right to claim reparations for violated rights, including rights for climate refugees and others displaced by environmental destruction, the right to claim ecological debt, and the right to environmental justice (UNHCR, 2011).
Many of these rights, particularly the political ones, are well-established and enshrined in various conventions and agreements. We can credit the establishment of some of these rights, as well as the acceptance of others that are not yet legally recognized, to the ongoing struggles of communities and indigenous peoples around the world (Ortega, 2004).

Destruction of farmers livelihood in Southern Iran and inaction of authorities.

Other ‘new’ rights, including rights for climate refugees, have arisen in recent years due to the acceleration of economic globalization and the accompanying environmental destruction and social disruption (McMichael et al, 2012). All of these rights are equally important and interdependent on each other. Environmental rights are human rights, as people’s livelihoods, their health, and sometimes their very existence depend upon the quality of and their access to the surrounding environment, as well as the recognition of their rights to information, participation, security, and redress (Boyle, 2012). Rights can be asserted in a variety of ways, such as by appealing directly to the violating government, international financial institution or corporation; through international, regional, and national courts; by applying public and media pressure; and by building coalitions with others seeking similar rights (Langford, 2009).

The picture itself is self explanatory due to lack of social justice, disrespect for human right and destruction of environment.

The link between human rights abuses and the destruction of natural resources has become the focus of growing concern as governments throughout the world push through major development projects without integrating economic, social, and cultural rights. Human rights have emerged as a weapon in the political battleground over the environment. As natural resource extraction has become an increasingly contested and politicized form of development (Raftopoulos, 2017).

Another aspect of disrespect for human rights, women right and destruction of human ecology in Iran.

The explosion of social-environmental conflicts that has accompanied the expansion of extractive activities has posed a challenge to the political and economic ideology of the current development model (Martine, G. and Alves, J.E.D., 2015). This challenge comes from the new relational ontologies of local and indigenous communities and cultures who have opened up debates about the relationship between the human and non-human world, and the relationship between the rights of nature and human rights and duties (Reddekop, 2014). While extractivism previously referred to activities that involved extracting, such as in mining, oil and gas, the term is now increasingly used to refer to the accelerated pace of natural resource exploitation at an industrial level and the construction of mega-projects and infrastructure intended to make full use of natural resources (Klass, 2011 & Bambrick, 2018).
Governments naturally provide oversight for resource management, regulate trade and development, establish licensing protocols, levy taxes on resource industries, and engage in natural resource extraction directly or by selling extraction rights. Governments that receive substantial income from natural resources may have less incentive to enter into power-sharing arrangements or promote democracy-building efforts because they have the means to buy off or intimidate their opponents (Collier and Hoeffler, 2005). In those cases where there is little government accountability or financial transparency, government officials are more likely to take bribes, funnel public funds to private accounts, and ignore environmental degradation, resource-related violence, and human rights violations. Often in developing countries with weak state institutions, powerful groups are able to use persuasion or force to gain improper access to natural resources and their profits (Peiffer and Rose, 2018).

Direct result of social injustice and destruction of environment in Iran.

Growing demand for natural resources and the increasing complexity of conflicts make conflict management and resolution more difficult. However, in a world of globalization, there is also more incentive for states and communities to work together to establish peace. Since natural resources are necessary for life and growth, it is not surprising that resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and unsustainable consumption sometimes contribute to or cause violent conflicts. Nonetheless, there are ways to address natural resource issues that will prevent, manage, or resolve such conflicts (Cox et al.,2010).

Dunes progression into fields in South of Kerman.

Today, and due to the market failure, the necessity of government intervention in the environmental issues is obvious. Most of the time, the price of resources does not reflect all the expenditures of their uses. In addition, there is no ordinary price for many environmental resources, despite their significant values. The maximizer institutes do not pay the real price for the exploitation of environmental resources and impose extra costs on society. Not surprisingly, many environmental goods are more “public goods” than private ones. Consequently, the market system alone cannot help to preserve the environment. Hence, the governments by pricing the resources, the internalization of environmental costs, and the benefits from the legal instruments can reduce the pollution. Nevertheless, in contrast to the theory of market failure, one can talk about government failure too. According to this theory, bad governance causes economic distortion, including environmental damages (Dadgar & Nazari, 2016).

Violations of human rights and environmental rights in different regions of Iran. These are samples of water quality that people are consuming.

Noticing the increasing importance of environmental related issues in our time, the close observation of the aspects of these problems and how-to-face them in domestic laws of countries and international rules has gained vital importance. Problems, such as global warming, acid rain, oil and nuclear pollution, the extinction of some of living species, floods, and the destruction of the ozone layer, have gained such importance that they are called the second generation of environmental problems. Full recognition of domestic and international environmental laws is almost impossible to understand without fully considering the global importance of such issues. Moreover, the convergence of the world body to face them is necessary. The analyses of the mentioned issues in domestic laws of countries in order to provide appropriate harmony for growth of such laws in international relationships is essential (Taghvaee et al.,2015).

A scene of heavy flooding and lack of dispersing it in Western Azerbyjan, Iran.

The fact is that most of the environmental problems are due to the abusive activities of various exploiters. Analyses of a vast body of existing literature, one extracts five key terms regarding the environment, as follows:

  1. The rights of the current and future generations; although the how-to-reach this right is not clear and should generally accept the principle of devotion. The right to enjoy the benefits of the environment in social laws are just conditioned on the current generation.
  2. Equity between generations and within a generation; it must guarantee the rights of future generations. This guarantee means that the current generation is the trustee of the next generation’s environment.
  3. Life style change of the population; in which growth is more a general term than an economic one and it is based on the social and economic growth that should be adapted into the daily life necessities and environmental conservation.
  4. It is a public obligation to protect the environment in accordance with the laws; it means that laws should obliged to protect the environment as a public right. There should be some punitive responsibility considered in a number of laws for protection of the environment. Also, the life settings of human beings must absolutely be protected without disregarding of the discussion of civil responsibility. The possibility of inquiry must be considered in the courts of law if an environmental misuse has happened and must become institutionalized in all countries.
  5. The prohibition of any environmental destructive activities; this task can be accomplished by public education, awareness, and public participation. Although the decision about this is in the realm of organizations related to environmental affairs or at least having a veto right by these organizations if environmental problems occur (Taghavee et al., 2015).
    Iran has a failing grade as far as human rights are considered. The clerical regime’s human rights misconduct has been condemned by international rights organizations 65 times. Their records on the protection of natural environments and their preservation is even worse than its human rights issues. Anywhere man turns in this regards, the presence of the IRGC and the Supreme Leader sticks out. Iran makes very little of its potential and the possibilities, including abundant natural resources and human capital, largely due to governmental mismanagement and rampant corruption. Most state services and administrative institutions operate inefficiently. Religious affiliation and, even more so, loyalty to the regime weigh more heavily in employment than professionalism or leadership competence. Bureaucratization, corruption, and interference by other authorities make these apparatuses even less efficient. The tax authorities and their revenue system are particularly weak due to a lack of modern, effective taxation mechanism. As an oil-rich country, Iran has had little dependence on the taxes of its citizens to date. The enterprise-like religious foundations, the economic bodies linked to the IRGC that run lucrative projects in major economic fields, such as oil, gas, etc., and the supreme leader are exempt from tax. The state has considerable difficulty enforcing debts and tax compliance on the part of influential and prominent persons, such as formerly high-ranking IRGC officers now engaged in business (BTI, 2016).
    Police forces are highly corrupt. The police and security forces, in coordination with the Basij militia and the IRGC, take immediate action against socially and politically motivated protests, but are less responsive when it comes to protecting citizens against criminal activity. Crime rates are rising relentlessly, especially in the capital, despite the judicial imposition of severe penalties as a deterrent. In October 2014, hardliners in Isfahan attacked 14 young women with acid, deeming their clothing inappropriate. Earlier, Iran’s parliament had passed legislation that supported the morality police and plainclothes militia in their actions against citizens, giving them an almost free hand (BTI, 2016).
    The IRGC was created as a guarantor for the Islamic clerical regime that took power in Iran after the 1979 Revolution. The very existence of the IRGC affords the organization special status, as it stands deliberately separate from the country’s regular armed forces. The head of the IRGC reports directly to the Supreme Leader, and under Iran’s constitution, the Supreme Leader alone reserves the right to undertake the “appointment, dismissal, and acceptance of resignation of” the chief commander of the IRGC. Meanwhile, the IRGC has grown into a potent political force itself, using its intelligence capabilities to gain control over the internet, telecommunications, and key economic sectors. As a result, the IRGC is arguably the most powerful force in Iranian politics with its own interests, which are, for the time being, mostly aligned with those of the clerical regime and the Supreme Leader (Banerjea, 2015).
    The research has confirmed the IRGC’s control of Iran’s economy by proving the IRGC’s extensive control of Iran’s elected institutions and accountable businesses while proving only a slight increase of control in the unaccountable businesses (Robin, 2011). The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is Iran’s most powerful security and military organization, responsible for the protection and survival of the regime. The IRGC’s political and economic role is likely to increase due to its unique relationship with Iranian political elites, and in view of the current power struggle between various political factions within Iran (Mahtab Alam Rizvi, 2012). A considerable part of the economy and its financial systems are owned and controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Since they enjoy the final say in decision-making and corruption is ingrained in the political and financial institutions that are the country’s backbone ( Rafizadeh, 2017).
    Worsening of Environmental issues in Iran are dominant across the country but affects are much higher in minority-inhabited regions. The lack of inclusivity in the decision-making process fosters the gap between centre and peripheries in terms of policy impacts. Minority-inhabited territories are generally rich in resources and agricultural potential, but exploitative policies coupled with water mismanagement have serious impacts countrywide and are severely affecting the living condition of minorities. This mismanagement and negligence leading to an environmental crisis also has other detrimental impacts and contributes to food insecurity, mass migration, health hazards, soil deterioration, and desertification (Aman, 2016).
    IRGC is a core arm of Iran’s oppression, exporting terrorism, and it is a major stakeholder of its economic activities apparatus. IRGC as the sole oppression force of clerical regime has free hands to assassinate, imprison, torture, hang, or vaporize anyone who is not align with them. Also, they consider anyone informing the public as an enemy of the state, a spy, or a foreign agent. They find them as a threat to the foundation of the clerical regime and their own existence. Therefore, the IRGC allows their elimination. The detention and punishment of environmentalists for their work to conserve and protect the natural environment cannot be justified and is one such example. Nowhere in the world, including Iran, should conservation be equated to spying or regarded as a crime. Detention of human rights defenders for their work is arbitrary in nature as well (OHCHR, 2018, HRW, 2018).
    A careful review of Iran’s government mismanagement of the environment, natural resources, and human rights related literature and analyses could bring one to the conclusion that Iran’s environmental crisis is indeed the effect of a bad governance for 40 years or in exact terms, a man-made disaster, disregarding the bad treatment of Iranians and the extreme violations of human rights. After the revolution in 1979, the Clerical regime had worked in many fronts against the conventional wisdom of governance. Government authorities in every level advocated for having more children and producing more grain and meat to become food self-sufficient without having any knowledge of farming processes. The Clerical regime had drained the country of educated manpower and intellectuals by forcing them into exile and added the most opportunistic elements of the society to the government’s circle. The seeds that the fundamentalist totalitarian Islamic government sowed, now it is harvesting.
    Construction of large dams was a gold mine for IRGC. The madness of dam building by the IRGC in Iran must completely stop because it has produced a disastrous result for Iran’s environment. Construction of a dam requires fundamental research in all aspects of social, environmental, geological, seismological, biological, and more factors of an ecosystem. Additionally, its cost and benefits must be reviewed in great detail. Another serious issue that must be resolved prior to construction is the matter of soil conservation practices and watershed management of upstream and downstream. All questions must be answered, and the arguments expressed to the satisfaction of the experts and the public. If the argument is for generating hydro-power, then it must be completely rejected in the case of Iran. The reason would be the availability of other less costly resources, such as sun, wind, geothermal, and fossil.
    Well, if one attempts to sum up the Islamic government’s efforts toward human rights, the environment, soil conservation, watershed management, erosion control, preservation of forests, the management of rangelands, water resources management, and Iran’s natural ecosystem, one will arrive at word “disastrous” only and give Iran a failing grade. It has committed a crime toward the environment, which takes the serious work of many generations to overcome. This harsh fact is not only an Iranian problem, but it is an international one.
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About Khalil Khani (16 Articles)
Khalil Khani PhD 2011-Now: Human Rights Activist 1974-Now: Various Research and Publications in Sustainable Natural Resources and others 1986-2011: Chief Engineer in Aerospace Industry in USA 2003: Health Psychology Graduate Studies at Arizona State University, USA 1985: Graduate Studies, Doctorate in Botany, University of Goettingen, Germany 1980-1985: Research and Teaching assistant in Botany, University of Goettingen, Germany 1973-1980: Research and Teaching Soil Conservation, Erosion Control, Rangelands and Watershed Management, Tehran University, Iran 1976: Master of Science in Forestry Tehran University, Iran 1975: Bachelor of Science In Forestry Tehran University, Iran
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