ARTICLE 19 has launched a new report on the Human Rights Defenders of the Iranian Diaspora. The report is based on interviews with diasporic Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) across 5 different countries, with the aim of identifying the obstacles faced by Iranian HRDs in the diaspora. For the very first time, this report assesses the immediate needs and hurdles faced by Iranian activists striving to continue their work outside Iran.
“This is a much-needed look at the needs of the Human Rights Defenders of the Iranian Diaspora: this is the first time these pressing issues have been properly addressed, and this report can be a starting point for a dramatic improvement in collaboration and communication between donors, NGOs and individuals working on Iran,” commented ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director, Thomas Hughes.
A huge amount of human rights work relating to Iran is done by Iranians and organisations outside Iran, including activists, academics, lawyers, scholars, artists and journalists who have left Iran due to pressure from the Government, often finding themselves unable to return. HRDs who are forced to leave Iran often feel that they gradually lose their connections and support networks, and the authority and legitimacy which their activist status conferred upon them.
“These individuals form an international Iranian civil society whose commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in Iran remains undaunted by distance,” commented Dr Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the report’s foreword.
Donors are out of touch when it comes to Iran’s human rights work, while myths and misunderstandings prevail, and HRDs spoke of a lack of communication and transparency regarding funding allocation. There are major concerns that work has become donor-driven, rather than based on the issues identified by experts in meaningful consultation.
“Too often, international civil society and UN bodies hold misconceptions about this exiled community: these assumptions seldom reflect the truth, and in many cases simply oblige the interests of their respective countries and policies, significantly hampering and obstructing the work of HRDs;” added Hughes.
Those who have fled from persecution suffer from a number of gaps in resources, including language training, and training on proposal writing and funding sources and psychosocial needs. Although the most valuable resources were felt to be unrestricted access to the internet, and access to academic institutions, think-tanks and other NGOs, access to these resources need to be fostered and maintained.
Mentorship and fellowships are effective means to improving and expanding support networks, sorely needed in a community with a wealth of expertise, but limited available funding.
Effective work can only continue if contact with Iran can be maintained: assessing the security of these communications is therefore vital, but security knowledge is lacking for some, as available training events are not perceived to be effective, and need to be made accessible and adapted dependent on who is attending and their needs.
By fostering an environment in which many HRDs fear for their safety, but one which is open enough for them to leave Iran, the Iranian regime has managed to partially disintegrate Iranian civic space, forcing a large number of HRDs into exile. Iranian human rights networks are weakened from within, and those exiled require patience and resources to find their feet, if they can.
Faced with the Iranian state’s strategy to exile and marginalise HRDs, ARTICLE 19 has conducted this research with the aim of minimising the gap between Iranian HRDs in Iran and those in exile, clarifying the misconceptions about the needs of HRDs in exile, as well as bridging the gap between these groups and potential funders.