Montreal, March 5, 2010
To the Prime Minister of Canada,
Two months and a half ago, a journalist contacted me, seeking my reactions to comments by your Minister of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, January 11th. These comments were made in the context of the release of a report by an Iranian Parliamentary Committee implicating the former Attorney-General of Tehran, Saeed Mortazavi, in the death of three prisoners arrested during the protests which followed last summer’s contested elections. In response, the Minister reiterated Canada’s demands that Iran repatriate the body of my mother, Ziba Kazemi, and hold an independent inquiry into the circumstances of her arrest, detention and death at the hands of Iranian authorities in July 2003.
I learned of these remarks with bitterness and repugnance. While successive governments in Ottawa, yours and your predecessors’, have, for six and a half years, proclaimed their indignation over the actions of the government of Iran and the impunity which those responsible for my mother’s murder still enjoy, your government continues to oppose the judicial proceedings which I have launched here in Montreal against the government of Iran, and which aim precisely to obtain the repatriation of Ziba’s body to her adopted country, to fully examine the circumstances of her arrest and death, and to force those responsible for these actions to face justice.
The response of Canadians from all backgrounds to the recent hearing in this case has, on the other hand, been marvellous. The last day of the hearing, set to determine my right or not to obtain justice before a domestic court for the murder of a Canadian, will take place on March 8th, a highly symbolic date. As this day is coming, I wanted to object to your position, asking you to act to ensure that the last obstacles standing in the way of the search for justice are cleared; in particular, the State Immunity Act, which could just as well be called the State Impunity Act. If the doors to the courts of Canada are closed to us, there will no longer be any place in which to obtain this much sought justice, since the Iranian justice system has proven, many times over, its powerlessness and incompetence in this matter.
My mother Ziba’s case is without precedent. Not only is it the first time in its 31 years of existence that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been brought up before a court of justice to answer to vile crimes committed against a citizen of our country, but it is also the first time that it has taken a case seriously enough to retain local lawyers to represent it. It is also the first time that the public seems to be engaged and mobilized, both in Canada and abroad, as the media coverage here and elsewhere indicates. And for good reason. The story of Ziba is the story of a woman, still young, an artist, film-maker, photographer, journalist, humanist, mother, who lived here, and who is no longer; whose life was stripped from her in the most horrific way possible, without any legitimate reason, by acts of absolute viciousness and brutality.
I would like to ask you: what was my mother’s citizenship worth if those responsible for her death cannot be called to account for their actions before a Canadian court? Was the welcome she was given 17 years ago, when she became a citizen of this country, really sincere? Didn’t she fully honour the good fortune and opportunity offered to her by Canada, particularly through her work as a photo-journalist, which brought her to Haiti, Palestine, Israel, Afghanistan, Mexico, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Iran, the African continent and many other places, where she proudly exhibited the values of her adopted country, values that she shared?
The government of Iran, which in its torturous and murderous ways is in its entirety responsible for the torture, rape and murder of my mother Ziba, has tried to cover up the affair since 2003; literally, to bury it. By opposing that justice be done in the only forum where justice is possible, is your government not participating in this cover up? Isn’t it supporting the executioner’s actions?
But there is more. Why has Canada systematically refused to bring Iran before the International Court of Justice for this clear violation of international law standards of the highest importance? Your party formerly insisted, when it was in the opposition, that the Canadian government should bring such proceedings. I still recall the indignation of your spokesperson Peter MacKay at the time. Was this indignation a sham? Why has your government not put into practice the fine words of its members before they took control of the country?
By what right and for what reasons have you systematically refused the demands of UN agencies, particularly the Committee against Torture, which require the establishment of an exception to the State Immunity Act for cases of torture, so that immunity can no longer be invoked when such barbarous acts have occurred? Would you support the impunity of torturers, or worse still, torture itself?
Why condemn the government of Iran at the UN in December, when no practical consequences flow from such resolutions, while you refuse to take a concrete step before March which would make a real difference?
Your Minister of Foreign Affairs has repeated the demand to repatriate the body of my mother to Canada on innumerable occasions. Why would the Iranian government listen this time, when it has for so long turned a deaf ear and mocked Canada before the world? What kind of diplomacy is this? Haven’t Canadians and your ministers had enough of being insulted, threatened, lied to and manipulated?
Mr. the Prime Minister, it is never too late to do good and assume your duty:
1. Adopt the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture and modify the State Immunity Act to exempt torture, genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity;
2. Demand the immediate repatriation of Ziba’s body by expelling the Iranian Ambassador in Ottawa by way of demonstrating that you are serious; and
3. Issue international arrest warrants against the criminals who are responsible for the death of my mother.
It is a matter of your responsibility as the Prime Minister of Canada to respect the right of all citizens of this country, including my mother, to have access to justice. If your predecessors or you had done as you should have, I could have celebrated the life of Ziba instead of dwelling on her death; I could have made her heritage known to more people, through the Ziba Kazemi Foundation, rather than having to confront this scandalous government myself and incur important legal fees in the process.
The spirit of the Iranian people is now awakening. It is everywhere. It is this which drove my mother to act with honour and dignity, integrity, bravery and love, not only in the last moments of her life, but throughout her whole journey. I am Ziba Kazemi, like all who so generously support us. I will always be there; we have always been, we the people, the innocents, in their simple and benign journey.
Hoping to convince you to act as duty requires,
From the bottom of my heart,