Ganji is considered one of Iran's leading investigative journalists; his 2000 book, "Dungeon Of Ghosts," implicated leading conservative figures in what were dubbed the "chain murders" of Iranian writers and intellectuals in 1998. Ganji was arrested after participating in the 2000 Berlin Conference. In an interview with Radio Farda correspondent Sharan Tabari on August 29, Ganji talked about his recent call for the UN to make human rights its highest priority in dealing with Tehran.
Radio Farda: Since you traveled to Europe and the United States about a year ago, you have given a number of talks and interviews and have written articles and letters. In them all, you have consistently emphasized the importance of the issue of human rights in Iran and argued that, in dealing with Iran, the international community should give this matter the highest priority. Now in a letter to UN Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon], you have reiterated this argument. Would you please tell us more about the content of your letter [to Ban]?
Akbar Ganji: In the letter, I explained the systematic, organized, and ongoing violation of human rights in Iran. I gave specific examples of the violation of the rights of women, workers, students, teachers, academics, and intellectuals and demanded direct intervention by the secretary-general on this issue.
I strongly believe that Iran's violation of human rights should be the first and foremost priority for the international community, instead of Iran's nuclear program.
Two hundred prominent writers, intellectuals, and academics from all over the world signed this letter and supported my argument for giving this matter the highest priority.
Radio Farda: What do you think the UN could do in this respect?
Ganji: Let me explain that I understand the UN's position. The UN is more an organization of governments than of nations. Among its members, many undemocratic governments are not the real representatives of the people they govern; therefore, it is not easy to reach a consensus over human rights issues when it has to rely on the votes of such governments.
For example, on the present Human Rights Commission there are member countries like Russia, China, Iran, and Syria, who support one another and block any real progress of cases referred to the commission.
To address this problem, I believe the UN's secretary-general should use the authority of his position to set up an organization like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to preside over the issue of human rights, which could then influence the issue of human rights in countries like Iran. This is what we asked for in this letter. We also asked the secretary-general personally to demand the freedom of all political prisoners in Iran.
Radio Farda: As you mentioned, the United Nations does not have any decisive executive power. Do you think it can give any practical response to your request?
Ganji: Although I believe it is difficult to reach a consensus over issues as such in the UN...if there is enough resolve on this matter, the UN Security Council can pass resolutions with international legal ramifications and enforcement attributes.
Radio Farda: The UN can pass resolutions, but what if they are ignored -- as some have been in the past?
Ganji: Well, this is the main issue. I believe there are mechanisms for enforcing these resolutions. The problem is that, at present, "human rights" is not the primary issue in dealing with Iran. Had it been -- like Iran's nuclear program -- the UN could find ways of dealing with it effectively.
Radio Farda: You are not the first person to write to the UN regarding Iran. What do you think makes your letter more important?
Ganji: It is true that a number of people have already written to the UN regarding the violation of human rights in Iran. Iran is a member of the UN and has signed the UN's Charter of Human Rights, and therefore it has to abide by it. However, what gives our letter a different weight is the signature of 200 of the most prominent international dignitaries, including three Nobel Prize winners under it. We decided this is one of the best ways to draw attention to this matter and make it an urgent case.