In November, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the first round of sanctions under the recently passed Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, targeting 52 human rights violators in Russia, Venezuela and South Sudan.
Often referred to as the Magnitsky Act, the bill was formulated in honour of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who, in 2008, discovered hundreds of millions of dollars of tax fraud linked to the Kremlin and individuals close to the Russian government. Russian authorities imprisoned him without charges, beat him and were ultimately responsible for his death.
By implementing these sanctions, which include travel bans and asset freezes, Freeland expressed Canada’s determination “to protect human rights and combat corruption worldwide. Today’s announcement sends a clear message that Canada will take action against individuals who have profited from acts of significant corruption, or who have been involved in gross violations of human rights.”
Freeland should now use the law to target members of the Iranian regime, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, and two major organizations that fall under his direct authority: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam (EIKO).
The events of the last few weeks certainly underscore Tehran’s record of gross human rights violations. Iranian security forces arrested and killed their own citizens, who were peacefully protesting against their government. The regime now claims that the IRGC has successfully quashed the protests that rocked the entire country. This is no surprise.
The IRGC can arrest virtually anyone, anytime, for any reason, without consideration for human rights or personal liberties. It also controls Ward 2A of Evin Prison, in which widespread and institutionalized torture takes place. Its brutal violations of the fundamental human rights of the Iranian people are incontrovertible and well documented.
The IRGC was created in 1979 with a two-fold mandate: to defend the Islamic Revolution from domestic enemies and to spread the revolution abroad. To that end, it violently represses pro-democracy protesters inside Iran and finances terrorist groups around the world.
The Canadian government commendably addressed the latter conduct by listing the IRGC’s Quds Force as a terrorist entity in 2012. Ottawa should now slap Magnitsky sanctions on the appropriate commanders, deputy commanders and other senior officials within all the branches of the IRGC for their human rights abuses.
But the IRGC should also be held accountable under the act for enriching itself at the expense of the Iranian people. Indeed, the Revolutionary Guards, along with EIKO, share a great deal of responsibility for the fact that Iran is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. (Transparency International ranked it 130th out of 168 counties on its corruption perception index.)
EIKO is a vast holding company controlled by the supreme leader, which, according to an important 2013 Reuters report, has assets and commercial operations worth an estimated $95 billion. More than half of that wealth comes from its real estate portfolio, which was amassed through the “systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians.”
EIKO was originally created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei to fund specifically approved charities in Iran, with the assets seized from those associated with the Shah’s government and perceived as enemies of the young revolutionary state. Khamenei later expanded the mandate to confiscate property from dissidents. He draws on this illegitimately obtained money to maintain his power.
If Ottawa is serious about using its newly minted Magnitsky Act for its designed purpose, the next logical step – especially in light of the recent protests in Iran – is to target Ayatollah Khamenei and his senior officials within the IRGC and EIKO, for their corruption and human rights abuses.