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Calling For A Renewed Focus On The Government Of The Islamic Republic Of Iran's Violations Of Human Rights

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, first, I thank my friend, the Senator from Delaware, for his strong statement. I thank him for his support of freedom and democracy in Iran. I thank him for his longtime advocacy of human rights. I and others are pleased to have the opportunity to work with him in a common cause of human rights and democracy. I thank the Senator from Delaware.

Mr. KAUFMAN. I thank the Senator.

Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have a colloquy with the Senator from Connecticut, Mr. LIEBERMAN, and I am aware of the time constraints of being in morning business.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, today is the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, it is a record that many would rather forget--31 years of economic potential lost, stolen by a corrupt elite. We know what has gone on over the last 31 years.

Right now, as we speak, if anyone watching wants to turn on cable news,
turn on FOX News, they will see videos coming out of Tehran of innocent people, young and old, being beaten and tortured and taken away to prison where unspeakable things are done to them as the people of Iran are standing up and demonstrating, again, their commitment, their courage, their sacrifice on behalf of a free and open democracy and society. We are watching as Iranian men and women, many not more than young boys and girls, are rounded up in their homes and dormitories, hauled away unlawfully to face torture and other abuses in the darkest corners of the country where the eyes of the international community struggle to see. These are unacceptable, unspeakable crimes that are being committed on the Iranian people, and we and the world must stand up against it. I appreciate being part of an effort, along with my friend from Connecticut--both sides, a bipartisan effort--to take action on the part of these people in Iran. Turn on FOX News, I say to my friends. They will see the videos coming out of Tehran of the brutality that is being inflicted on innocent Iranians who are trying to just have the God-given right to freedom and democracy.

I thank my friend from Connecticut. This resolution we are submitting today has two parts. It would require the President to compile a public list of individuals in Iran who, starting with the Presidential election last June, are complicit in human rights violations against Iranian citizens and their families. No matter where in the world these abuses occur, I want to stress this will be a public list. You will know their names. You will know their faces. You will know what they have done. And we will make them famous. They are war criminals, and they should be taken to The Hague for trial. The bill would then ban these Iranian individuals from receiving U.S. visas and impose on them the full battery of sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. That means freezing any assets and blocking any property they hold under U.S. jurisdiction, et cetera.

This Nation has always stood for the human rights of people throughout the world. We stood up for the people behind the Iron Curtain. We provided Lech Walesa with a printing press. Now we need to help the Iranian people with the means to use the Internet to communicate, to resist.

I hear back and forth that the Iranian people are without a leader. They have leaders. They have thousands and thousands of leaders who are in the streets right now demonstrating for freedom and putting their very lives at risk.

I thank my colleague from Connecticut and ask him if he has additional comments on this disturbing reality that is unfolding before our eyes as we stand on the floor of the Senate.

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I thank my friend from Arizona, Mr. MCCAIN, first for his leadership on this issue, which is consistent with a lifetime of support for America's freedom agenda, for the principles that are enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and that have always been at the center of our foreign policy when it has been at its best.

This is a day of history. It is a day of history on the streets of Tehran and other cities in Iran on this 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution.

I heard a report today. It encapsulates what has happened to that revolution. Today, apparently, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khamenei was arrested as a street protester. When they realized who she was, they immediately let her go.

Mr. MCCAIN. Will the Senator yield? I also heard that the wife of one of the opposition leaders was beaten in the streets today. Did the Senator hear that?

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I say to my friend, I did. That is the wife of the former Prime Minister, I believe, Mr. Mousavi. His wife was beaten on the streets of Tehran today.

This is a day of history in Tehran, and I hope we can make it a day of history in the U.S. Congress because if this legislation which Senator McCain and I and a bipartisan group of other Senators introduce is adopted, it will be the first time we impose economic sanctions on Iranian leaders for the human rights abuses of their own people.

We have come full circle. We have obviously been concerned about Iran's sponsorship of terrorism. It is still the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world, according to the State Department. Second, its nuclear weapons program menaces its neighbors in the world. But as so often happens with countries that threaten their neighbors in the world, that have no regard for human life, ultimately we come back to their core. And the core of the Iranian regime is rotten. It is rotten because it treats its own people not just with disrespect but with brutality. As my friend from Arizona has said, look at the television. Look at YouTube. Read the Internet, the text messages about what is happening on the streets of Iran as we speak today: remarkable demonstrations of courage by the people coming out to protest, to simply ask for their freedom, and unbelievable brutality against them for doing nothing more than asking for their universal human rights.

Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, I ask my friend, I believe that last year an attempt was made to establish some kind of relationship and dialog with the Iranian Government--in other words, to have an unclenched fist. Will my friend comment on what success that has been?

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Yes, indeed. I thank the Senator from Arizona. President Obama adopted the policy of reaching out to the Iranian regime. Personally, I thought he did the right thing. What he got in return for his outstretched hand was a clenched fist.

I think the only thing constructive that has come out of this attempt to engage the Iranians, to begin a new chapter, to give them a peaceful way to avoid conflict with the rest of the world, the only constructive result of it is that we see that the problem in the relations between the United States and Iran is not the United States, it is the oppressive, extremist regime in Tehran.

I think it is clear that President Obama has not only been disappointed but grows impatient and, I will say from what I perceive, angered by what has happened. That explains the increasing move, including just in the last day or two, of the imposition of new sanctions on companies related to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and individuals. This regime will not stop its nuclear weapons program, in my opinion, will not stop its support of terrorist killers, will not stop suppressing the human rights of its people unless it feels pain, unless it feels that perhaps its regime is in jeopardy. We can only do that now with tough sanctions, such as those that are proposed in the legislation we introduce today.

Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, I say to my friend from Connecticut, isn't it also true that there are certain elements who say: Don't do these things--the sanctions and actions we are trying to take--you only hurt the Iranian people. Isn't it true that the demonstrators in the streets of Tehran were chanting: Obama, Obama, are you with us or are you with them?

What would be the effect on the Iranian people if we impose these sanctions?

Mr. LIEBERMAN. The Senator from Arizona is very clear that these sanctions directed against the thugs in the Iranian Government who brutally suppress the rights of their own people will be very popular with the people of Iran. In my opinion, the economic sanctions that would be imposed in the legislation that passed the Senate unanimously about 10 days ago--those sanctions are tough, but if we have any hope of achieving an end to the Iranian nuclear weapons program through diplomacy, it has to be coupled with tough economic sanctions or else we will be left with no alternative but military action.

There is a difference between the regime in Iran and the people of Iran. The people of Iran want a change in the regime, it is clear. There is nothing inherently at odds between the American people and the people of Iran. As a matter of fact, we have all sorts of histories and values and goals in common. The problem is the extremist, brutal, aggressive regime in Tehran, and the sooner it goes, the better.

I hope the people of Iran hear this legislation we are introducing today, under the leadership of Senator MCCAIN, as an expression of unanimity across party lines and ideological lines on behalf of the people of America that we stand with the people of Iran against the Government of Iran as it attempts to suppress the people.

Mr. MCCAIN. Finally, I would like to ask my friend, we were together in Munich over the weekend. The Foreign Minister of Iran came and spoke. I wish everyone in the world could have seen that performance--one, a complete denial that they are on the path to acquisition of nuclear weapons, and, perhaps as important, a denial that any human rights abuses were taking place anywhere in that country. It was a remarkable display of hypocrisy and outright lying.

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I was with Senator MCCAIN. It was such a baldfaced lie because we see Mr. Motaki get up and say Iran is the most democratic regime in the entire Middle East region and beyond and says, with regard to our complaints and the Europeans' complaints about the suppression of the rights of the Iranian people, the execution of political demonstrators, the jailing of thousands of peaceful political protesters, that is the law and if they violated the criminal law, they would be punished for it. When somebody is so detached from the truth as we know it from what we see with our own eyes, it is hard to trust them otherwise.

I wish to add a word. If we adopt this proposal, as I believe we can and will when the general Iranian sanctions bill comes back from conference, we will have taken a significant first step in the direction of penalties on the Iranian regime for human rights abuses of its own people.

I want to use this, and I ask my friend if he agrees that the impact of this legislation would be magnified many times over if our allied governments around the world, particularly in Europe, which has a tradition of support for human rights, also joined us in adopting laws that impose targeted sanctions against human rights abusers in Iran? It does not require previous U.N. Security Council action. There is nothing stopping our Congress or the EU from imposing targeted human rights sanctions as quickly as possible. I ask my friend if that would not make the power of what we hope to do in Congress many times more effective against the tyrants in Tehran.

Mr. McCAIN. I know we are running out of time, but I want to say to my friend that history does repeat itself. There was a time during the Cold War when Ronald Reagan spoke out and mentioned Natan Sharansky's name and he was beaten for it. People said he shouldn't have done that, but Ronald Reagan said: Take down this wall. People said that was provocative toward the Soviet Union. You know what Natan Sharansky said, after he was released from the prison? He said: Those words reverberated throughout the gulag and gave hope for democracy and freedom, and made them even more steadfast and encouraged them in the face of the brutality they underwent in the Soviet gulag.

That is the same message we are sending to the Iranian people with this legislation. I hope we will enact it soon. We will not slack nor will we give up until the Iranian people have their God-given rights restored to them.

Mr. President, I yield the remainder of my time.

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, over the past several months, the Iranian government has carried out an unprecedented campaign of repression and violence against the Iranian people. Its targets have spanned everyone from religious clerics to women's rights advocates, as well as bloggers, students, photographers, children's advocates, human rights activists, journalists, and members of the political opposition. In fact, according to Reporters Without Borders, Iran now has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world.

The targets of the Iranian regime's crackdown have suffered numerous and varied human rights abuses. Some have been dragged out of their homes and away from their families in the middle of the night, disappearing without charge and without process of law. Others have been beaten and tortured while in government custody, and in some cases, sexually abused. Still others have been prosecuted in mass trials by revolutionary courts and punished with draconian prison sentences, for no reason other than their political beliefs. And some have been executed. Human Rights Watch has rightly condemned Iran's crackdown ``a human rights disaster.''

These abuses are ongoing. Just in the last few hours, despite the efforts of the Iranian government to control the flow of information from their country, videos have gone up on YouTube showing peaceful protesters on the streets of Iranian cities being violently broken up, and individual Iranian citizens brutally beaten, by members of the Iranian security forces.

These human rights abuses are a clear violation of multiple international agreements signed by the Iranian government, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

To be clear, this isn't about the outside world dictating our values to Iran. This is about the failure of Iran's own leaders to live up to the international human rights obligations that they themselves voluntarily committed to, both through the international agreements they have signed and through their own constitution. All we are asking of Iran's leaders is that they respect their own laws. Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear that Iran's government does not respect its obligations--whether with regard to human rights record or its nuclear activities.

The legislation that we are introducing today has a clear purpose; namely, to shine a bright light onto the human rights abuses being committed in Iran as we speak, and make clear to the people who are perpetrating them that there is going to be a cost to be paid for doing so.

I am very encouraged that this legislation has already won the support of a broad bipartisan coalition of cosponsors--many of whom unfortunately could not be here today because of the weather. They include Senators DURBIN, KYL, BAYH, COLLINS, CASEY, BROWNBACK, GILLIBRAND, GRAHAM, and KAUFMAN.

I would especially like to thank my colleague Senator MCCAIN for his leadership on this issue. As he mentioned, Senator MCCAIN sought to attach an earlier version of this legislation as an amendment to the comprehensive Iran sanctions bill that was then on the floor of the Senate and that the Senate unanimously passed. Although we were unable to attach Senator MCCAIN's amendment to the broader sanctions bill at that time for procedural reasons, I remain very hopeful that the human rights legislation we are introducing today will become part of the comprehensive Iran sanctions bill when the House and Senate meet in conference.

And I hope that President Obama will aggressively apply these sanctions once they are signed into law.

More broadly, I hope that the Obama administration will make human rights a centerpiece of our Iran policy in the days and weeks ahead. I understand that, on Monday, there will be what is called a ``Universal Periodic Review'' of Iran's human rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, and that the administration hopes to use this event to shine a spotlight on the human rights abuses that are being committed there. I welcome that initiative, and appeal to other countries to support it as well.

Finally, I would like to appeal to our international partners, in particular in the European Union, to join us in imposing these kinds of targeted sanctions against human rights abusers in Iran. We all know what the Iranian regime has been doing to its people, and I hope that Europeans in particular--given the importance they attach to human rights--will not turn a blind eye to these abuses. We don't need to wait for a U.N. Security Council resolution to do this. There is nothing stopping the EU from imposing target human rights sanctions right now.

Mr. President, this is a piece of legislation that has significance if it is adopted, in effect, we hope, but this is also our way--the 10 of us who have sponsored this legislation, and I would guess every Member of the Senate when it comes to a vote will vote for it--to say to two groups of people, first, the government in Iran, that we see what you are doing, we know what you are doing, it is intolerable, it is unacceptable, and you will be punished for it; and secondly, to say to the people of Iran--who have the courage to be in the streets protesting and asking for the rights their government is supposed to give them according to international treaties that Iran itself has signed--we are with you.

The struggle for freedom and justice against tyranny is often a long one, it is always a hard one, but history tells us that, in the end, freedom and justice prevail. That means the people of Iran will prevail over the totalitarian government that now brutally rules them.

I thank the Chair, I thank my friend from Arizona for his leadership, and I yield the floor.


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