Violent Crackdown on the Recent Protests in Iran: Remarks of High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the European Parliament Plenary Debate

December 18, 2019


Mr President, Honourable Members,

You are all aware that Iran is in the midst of an extremely serious economic crisis, with shortages of basic supplies, including medicines, high level of inflation and unemployment leading to protests. I and my services have followed the developments around the recent protests very closely. Since they began on the 15 November, we have been trying to obtain reliable, verified information on the number of deaths, injuries and arrests. We have also seen – as I am sure you have – video of snipers shooting at protestors, and seen official confirmation of at least 7 000 people arrested. This underlines the severity and the magnitude of what is occurring, what has occurred, what is still happening.

We have not been silent in response to these developments, on the contrary we have responded both privately and publicly. Indeed, my first statement as High Representative on behalf of all the 28 Member States on December 9 was about the protests in Iran. In that statement, we clearly stated that despite repeated calls for restraint, the Iranian security forces’ disproportionate response to the demonstrations led to high numbers of deaths and injuries, and once more I want to emphasise that whether in Iran or elsewhere, the widespread use of force against non-violent protestors is unacceptable.

We have urged the Iranian authorities to ensure transparent and credible investigations to clarify the number of deaths and arrests, and we expect all perpetrators of violence to be held accountable.

Mr. President, I am aware that this crackdown was also extended to the access to the internet, and that Iranian citizens were prevented from accessing global networks, which severely impacted communication and the free flow of information.

We are committed to pursuing a balanced, comprehensive approach with Iran, with a view to addressing all issues of concern, and this of course includes our longstanding concerns regarding the human rights situation. In the context of the regular EU-Iran High-Level Political Dialogue – with the adoption of the Iran nuclear deal, the famous JCPOA – we have raised human rights issues and cases. We have also regularly engaged with the authorities to demand progress on several important human rights issues, including the use of the death penalty, the rights of women, and Iran’s practice of detaining dual nationals. This has also extended to demanding such improvements in international fora such as the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Mr. President, Honourable Members of Parliament, I fully understand the severity of the situation with regard to the protests and we will continue to address this response and urge concrete actions as part of our diplomacy with Iran, which is not limited to the nuclear problems. We firmly believe that the Iranian authorities must live up to their international obligations, including both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Rights such as freedom of expression and assembly must always be respected, and I look forward to working with you to promote better respect for these rights across the world. Today we have analysed several cases of these situations, which require a stronger stance from the European Union.

Thank you.

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Closing Remarks:

These exchanges of views have been very informative and I am grateful for the opportunity to know more about your views on this difficult issue which is the relationship with Iran. 

I can assure you that we will not ignore the plight of the thousands of individuals in Iran who were involved in or affected by the protests. And I confirm our commitment to address these issues with Iran, publicly and privately, until we get clarity on the full scale of what has occurred, and with the expectation that those identified as responsible for the violence will be held accountable. This is in general terms.

I will then try to answer some of the specific issues that you have been raising. It was asserted that support for the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] JCPoA has prevented the European Union from focusing on other issues. That is not true. We have engaged in a frank and active dialogue with Iran on all issues, maintaining a range of EU autonomous restrictive measures, including on human rights violations. We do not believe we would be in a better position to address those without the JCPoA being in place.

The JCPoA was endorsed by a United Nations Security Council Resolution. It is not an invention by the European; it was the United Nations Security Council that endorsed this agreement. And we view it as a crucial agreement for regional and European security. No one wants to see a nuclear arms race in the region and no one has been able to come up with another peaceful way of ensuring that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Having said this, we have in several occasions since June 2019 expressed our strong concern about Iran’s reduction of its commitments and we will continue defending the objective and full application of this agreement. We will do our best to preserve the JCPoA. 

Other people said that we are too soft on Iran. I want to engage with you in a frank and deep debate, not saying that everybody is happy. Let us go to the real issues. Are we too soft on Iran? I do not think so. The EU still has a number of sanctions in place. First nuclear proliferation sanctions under the JCPOA. Second human rights sanctions, currently 83 individuals and entities, including a ban of exports to Iran of equipment which might be used for internal repression and of equipment to monitor telecommunications. Because you know when you disturb the traffic in the net you do that with sophisticated telecom instruments. And third, sanctions under our Syria and CP931 (terrorism) regime. So we are not being especially soft nor hard. We do what we have to do and I think that you will understand that the JCPoA is something important for us but it does not prevent us from taking a tough position when things like the ones we have seen in Iran happen. 

On additional human rights listing in response to the repression of the protests: to tell the truth there are currently no proposal for additional listings on the table. Having said that, the process for the annual review for the Human Rights regime is ongoing. As things stand, we still have Human Rights sanctions in place, as I told you, affecting 83 individuals and entities in Iran. It is a difficult question. We will continue working on it using at the same time our diplomatic capacity in order to save a deal that is very important for our security and on the other hand defending Human Rights in Iran and elsewhere with our sanction regime, with our diplomatic pressure and with our permanent claim to respect Human Rights. 

Dear members of the European Parliament, dear President, this has been a very intense session, it has been my first session, mon baptème du feu. I would like to thank all of you for all your contributions, for your support. I know that not everybody sees things the same way, from the left to the right there are different approaches and different understanding of what is happening in this difficult world in which we have to live. 

Today we have covered four difficult issues, thank you to all of you for your contribution and thank you for your support to my work. 

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