Human Rights in Iran
Delivered in Plenary - 24th October 2002
Iran is a large and important country with an ancient tradition of culture and learning going back to the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian period. It is also a country with which the West has had troubled relations over a number of years. In rejecting Western consumerist values, Iran radicalised itself and supported radical Islamic groups in Lebanon, such as Hizbollah. There is added complexity because the conflicts with the West have long been bound up with internal disagreements within Iran itself. Recent years have seen a growing awareness within Iran that this isolation was harmful to Iranian interests and leading nowhere. The result has been a thaw in relations which we should welcome in the EU.
Our relations will depend on fundamental progress in the areas of human rights and illegal immigration, weapons of mass destruction, in particular the country's nuclear weapons programme, drugs, the Middle East, Afghanistan and the battle against terrorism.
With regard to drug trafficking, the Iranians, who have a very serious drug problem of their own, should be commended for their efforts and cooperation. They have also resisted the temptation to destabilise Afghanistan and have indicated they will not attempt to foment instability in Iraq in the event of Saddam Hussein's departure from the scene. Iran needs regional stability, and this has been recognised by the Iranian leadership.
On the Middle East, Iran has joined Saudi Arabia in accepting the principle of 'land for peace', if that is what the Palestinians want. All of these developments are important and very welcome. Iran needs to understand that Europe is extending the hand of friendship and that ways can be found to live together without Iran losing either its identity or its opposition to the worst of Western values. It would be wrong for the European Union to overstress the issue of capital punishment per se, which remains legal, if used appropriately, in international law. It is practised in the world's largest democracies such as the USA, Japan and India and is supported by tens of millions of citizens in my country, the UK.
Iran's leaders, however, should be in no doubt about the universal horror felt by us about the barbaric and medieval Sharia punishment of stoning to death. I urge the Iranian leadership to reflect on this and to find solutions commensurate with Iran's dignity and history.