Up until now, regional powers had only Tunisia and Egypt to look to as test-cases of how to deal with their own popular uprising. In both countries, limited force did little to quash protests while meaningful concessions seemed to only embolden demonstrators. With Gaddafi's decision to use unrelenting and brute force against mounting protests, followed by the international community's decisive action to delegitimize his regime (and possibly even assist the opposition), a clear signal is being sent to other embattled leaders that violent repression is no longer a viable means of political survival. It may in time come to be a defining moment in the field of international law.
Secretary Clinton's comments, however, also sent an unmistakable message to the Islamic Republic. In light of the recent ICC referral and sanctions imposed on Gaddafi's regime, her comments on Iran are particularly significant:
Extremists and rejectionists across the Middle East argue that they are the ones who champion the rights of the downtrodden. For decades, they have claimed that the only way to achieve change is through violence and conflict. But all they have accomplished is to undermine peace and progress. The success of peaceful protests has discredited the extremists and exposed their bankrupt arguments.
Iran, for example, has consistently pursued policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home. In Tehran, security forces have beaten, detained, and in several recent cases killed peaceful protesters even as Iran’s president has made a show of denouncing the violence in Libya. Iranian authorities have targeted human rights defenders and political activists, ex-government officials and their families, clerics and their children, student leaders and their professors, as well as journalists and bloggers.
Last week, the United States imposed new sanctions on Iranian officials for serious human rights abuses. Here at the Human Rights Council, we are proud to be working with Sweden and other partners to establish a special rapporteur on Iran. Its mandate would be to investigate and report on abuses in Iran, and to speak out when the government there does not meet its human rights obligations. Iranian human rights advocates have demanded this step to raise international pressure on their government.
This will be a seminal moment for this Council, and a test of our ability to work together to advance the goals that it represents. Indeed, every member of this Council should ask him or herself a simple question: Why do people have the right to live free from fear in Tripoli but not Tehran? The denial of human dignity in Iran is an outrage that deserves the condemnation of all who speak out for freedom and justice.