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EU must prioritize human rights in Iran after Lausanne

A few days after the historic framework agreements between the P5+1 and Iran on the nuclear program, the contours of the challenges ahead are clear. There are different read-outs of what was and was not agreed in Lausanne. And even with the framework in place, it may take well beyond the 30th of June to work out all the details. The verification of compliance will be ongoing, and so will be the removing of sanctions. What must be avoided is a situation in which human rights are kept off the agenda any longer. The plight of the population has already been overshadowed by the nuclear talks for too long. It was not to be expected that much political capital would be spent by the US, the EU and the other members of the UN Security Council while investing all time and effort in The Deal. The Iranian people in turn stuck it out a little longer, as they have for the past 35 years. However, the wellbeing of Iran's population must be prioritized sooner rather than later. It is also essential to make sure that the economic benefits of removing sanctions do not strengthen those engaged in a flourishing shadow economy, at the expense of the people who already suffered under the sanctions, while billions were spent on waging wars in other countries. Last week, a number of people took to the streets of Tehran not only to celebrate the last day of Nowruz, but also to welcome the outcomes in Lausanne. More than concrete expectations, these are expressions of hope. Hope for a better future, with more freedom and self-determination. A consistent call by civil society since the country got its modern constitution. For a people with high levels of education, and the most pro-Western outlook of any population in the Middle-East, living under the repression of the Islamic Republic has been unbearable for too long. During my European Parliament's visit in Iran, it was not hard to see the enormous human capital that is under-utilized as a result of the many restrictions people have to live with. Anything from the lack of equal rights for women to the absence of press and academic freedoms restricts individual potential, and the development of the country as a whole. President Rouhani came into office with the ambition to bring Iran out of global isolation, but he also promised to increase freedoms and equal rights through a citizens rights charter. He spoke of the Green Movement leaders still under house arrest, and of working with the Iranian diaspora, so they can safely come to their homeland. It is high time to take a closer look at why the human rights situation has not improved and even worsened under President Rouhani. The number of executions is at historic highs, but the systematic repression has many more implications for people's everyday lives. A situation where a deal on the nuclear program is in place, while the human rights situation continues to be bad and deteriorating, must be avoided. At least we should be aware that a nuclear deal is not at all a guarantee for better human rights. Instead, repression by for example the judiciary, may well be a way for the hardliners to express their opposition to the President. With Iran's neighborhood on fire, the army and the revolutionary guards playing a significant role in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, stability in the region is a key priority for the international community. Iran can and must play a role in solving the war in Syria, but also in fighting IS. It must avoid further destabilization and proxy conflicts in its neighborhood. Solving the nuclear hurdle frees up space to address stability and counter-terrorism, but will likely lead to responses from neighbors that will seek nuclear development along the same lines Iran has. There are many important strategic issues in the Middle-East, but they must not trump over a focus on the people inside the Islamic Republic. It is high time that the international community, Europe first and foremost, appreciates the relation between domestic and foreign policies of the Islamic Republic's rulers. And regardless of any international, strategic objectives, Europe must be seen and heard to push its key priority in relation to Iran: human rights and democracy. There is no doubt that the improvement of human rights in the country will reflect positively on the role Iran plays on the global stage. It is the same fractions both inside and outside of Iran, that drive a hostile foreign policy agenda, financed through a gray economy, and that do not wish to be challenged by critical journalists, judges or political opponents. iran-lausanne