Arseh Sevom http://www.arsehsevom.net Promoting vibrant civil society Sun, 02 Nov 2014 06:48:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The First Day of School in Iran: You Can’t Say “That” http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/11/first-day-school-iran/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/11/first-day-school-iran/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2014 06:48:50 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9203 At the end of September, children all over Iran begin their first day of school. It's an exciting time, filled with hope and the promise of new friends and new experiences. For many children it's also about learning how different the world of the family is from the world outside the family. Many people were interviewed for this article. Some had come of age during the darkest days after the revolution, during the war with Iraq. Some had children who had recently begun school.

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At the end of September, children all over Iran begin their first day of school. It’s an exciting time, filled with hope and the promise of new friends and new experiences. For many children it’s also about learning how different the world of the family is from the world outside the family. Many people were interviewed for this article. Some had come of age during the darkest days after the revolution, during the war with Iraq. Some had children who had recently begun school.

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Screenshot from the 1989 documentary Homework by Abbas Kiarostami

My daughter begged us to move back to Iran,” a woman I met at a party in north Tehran told me. “For her life in Iran was all about cousins and family and staying up late. What could be more fun for a five year-old?” The woman had recently moved back with her husband and daughter after several years of living and studying in the United States. She had four sisters still living in Iran and two others living in North America. Like many others, she thought raising a child would be easier in Iran with family all around her than it had been in the US with one sister more than 2000 miles away and the other not much closer.Everything changed after her daughter’s first week of school. In kindergarten she was already hearing chants of “Down with America” as part of the morning school assembly. After the first week, she was coming home crying, asking her mother why her schoolmates were chanting against her. “Why do they hate me?” she wept. For most children her age, the words were meaningless. They were just words strung together like misheard lyrics. Still, this one little girl understood them and took them personally. She felt scared and hurt. A few months later, for a number of reasons, the family moved back to the U.S. The girl is now sixteen and an Iranian-American. I often find myself wondering if she experienced anti-Iranian sentiment at her school in Virginia like so many immigrant children did in years past. If she did, how did she deal with it?

First Day of School

The first of the Iranian month of Mehr, which in 2014 fell on September 23, is the first day of school in Iran. For children and their families all over the world, the first day of school is a big step. Everywhere, children learn that the world of their home and of their family is very different from that of school. They can be confused by all the new rules and norms they encounter. For many families in Iran, that normal process is exaggerated. Preparing children for school in Iran involves more than buying pencils and notebooks. Many parents are faced with the challenge of explaining complex rules of behavior to children emotionally incapable of understanding them.

During the first years of the revolution special teachers who were part of the Revolutionary Guards could come to the schools at any time to pry information from the children. This is a special kind of horror for parents and children alike. “It was quite normal for the regime,” Kevan says. “They were ready to kill their own children for the sake of the revolution. They had no shame in trying to get other’s children to inform on their own families. It may be salt on the wound to say this. But it is a wound.

You Have to Conform

Kambiz[1] (31) stated, “From the first day you have to conform.” He went on to discuss his first day of school:

I was so excited to go to school. I want to go to school. I want to go to school. I demanded. The first day I woke up early. After that first day, I wasn’t so excited to wake up and go to school. Before I went, my mother told me, ‘You have to tell people that your father is on a business trip.’ I thought, why should I tell them that when I know he is in prison?

It was three weeks before anyone asked Kambiz about his father. He responded that his father was away on business and did not return until very late. “It made me feel so bad,” he said. “It is such a paradox for a child to know you are lying. I couldn’t understand why I had to do it.

The first years of school for Kambiz corresponded with the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the death of Khomeini. “It was unusual to have a relative who was a political prisoner then,” he said. This was especially true in his neighborhood where many of his schoolmates had relatives who had gained power after the revolution. “I could not talk about it with anyone.

Politicized Religion

Maryam lived in the United States until she was nine, where she went to a predominantly African-American Sunni mosque and attended weekly Shia discussion circles. She describes her family as “religious intellectuals,” explaining that as a result they had fewer taboos than many other families.

… I learned to draw a line between the religion we had and the state religion/religious propaganda. Frankly that’s the only way that any religion can be saved in Iran if you are not brainwashed. I learned to be suspicious of whatever religious and historic education we got at school.

She was suspicious of the “ultra-Shia stuff” they were taught in school but rarely discussed this with her teachers.

Later, in college, I would sometimes argue with religious teachers and even the lady at the door telling us we were not dressed appropriately from a ‘fellow Muslim’ perspective. I tried to convince them that their lifestyle is not the only Muslim lifestyle out there. However I wouldn’t mention my unconventional-for-a-Shia beliefs. About politics, there was always a line not to cross publicly. I think I was very aware of it from 11 or 12 years, if not earlier.

Don’t Talk About the VCR

The first time Payam (31) understood that he could not talk about things that happened inside the house, outside the house was the day before his first day of school.

Before my first day of school, my father told me not to talk about our VCR. We exchanged videos in the neighborhood and had family movie nights with neighbors. Of course, this was forbidden when I was a child. My father told me that teachers might draw pictures of the VCR and ask if anyone in the class knows what it is. He warned me not to volunteer that I knew. ‘I don’t want you to lie,’ he told me. ‘Just remain silent. If they know, they will come to take away the VCR,’ my father told me. ‘And they might take me away as well.’ I had a hard time understanding why there were things we couldn’t talk about outside the house, but I didn’t want my father to be taken away.

A year later, special teachers assigned by the Revolutionary Guards did come to the school to try to get information from the students, now six and seven years old. Payam was silent, but other children in the class did volunteer information. “I was very quiet in school. Even though I participated in discussions, I did not easily make friends, and I did not talk very much outside of structured discussions.

For many of the people I spoke with for this article, especially those in their thirties, the need to hide information was tied to a sense of fear. Mostafa explains, “For me it was about danger, not lying.

The Way We Live

On Aida’s first day of pre-school in Tehran just two years ago, she lifted a glass of water to toast the health of her new friends. “Salam-a-ti,” she said happily. “To your health.” Alcohol is illegal in Iran and some could connect her toast to her family’s private actions. That afternoon, Aida’s mother was forced to explain that there were things that could be said at home that absolutely could not be repeated in public. At just three-and-a-half years of age, Aida could not understand why she had to keep some things quiet, just that she needed to. Her father laughed when he recounted the story and then added, “She was upset, but that is the way we live in Iran.

Things have changed a great deal in thirty years. Rooftops all over Iran are covered with illegal satellite dishes. The regime continues its fruitless battle to isolate the population from the outside world, currently doing battle with messaging apps and arresting people for spreading jokes or making videos.

Even with all the changes, Payam cannot imagine raising a child in Iran today. “I don’t know how I could protect my child or explain why some things are okay to talk about and why some things are not. It’s hard for me to imagine.

They say that a mark of intelligence is the ability to hold contradictory ideas without having your head explode. For many of Iran’s youth, this is the only way to stay sane and safe every single day.

 


[1] All names have been changed to protect identities

By Tori Egherman (@ETori).

This content is available in:  Farsi. Originally published on Article 19’s Azad Tribune Read her previous piece for Azad Tribune: The Speech Squeeze.

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Newsletter http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/newsletter/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/newsletter/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:00:45 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9213 In this newsletter, Arseh Sevom provides a quick summary of just a few of its activities over the past two months.

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The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a human.

— Saadi, Eighth century Persian poet

Arseh Sevom — On October 31, 2014, from 9:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon, the human rights record of The Islamic Republic of Iran will be under scrutiny at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for human rights in Geneva. Four years ago, recommendations were made to Iran to improve its situation. Promises were made. Promises were broken.

This newsletter highlights some of the work Arseh Sevom has done recently.

Acid Attacks in Esfahan (fa)

Over the past few months, several young women have been attacked with acid in the Esfahan region. Arseh Sevom Persian has been following the story.

The violence against women in the Esfahan region has a terrifying precedent. In 2011, Amnesty International reported on gang rapes in the region. In one incident, fourteen men broke into a private home during a party, locked the men in one room, and raped the women. Instead of of speaking against this crime, Colonel Hossein Hosseinzadeh, the Chief of the Police Detectives Bureau in Esfahan, said: “If the women at the party had worn their hijab properly, they might not have been sexually assaulted.”[1] His comments appeared to justify and encourage violence against women.

In a 2013 statement, the UN Office for the High Commission on Human Rights called on nations to do more to protect women from violence. They noted that “extreme forms of violence” against women are present on every continent. They stated that “these manifestations of violence are culturally and socially embedded, and continue to be accepted, tolerated or justified – with impunity as the norm,” adding: “The failure of States to guarantee women’s right to a life free from violence allows for a continuum of violence which can end in their death.”[2]

The Islamic Republic of Iran should actively protect women from terror in public spaces, as it should protect all of its citizens. Acid attacks, gang rapes, and other forms of violence are directed specifically at women. They are barbaric. The Islamic Republic needs to end such brutality immediately. Hojatoleslam Mohammad Taghi Rahbar correctly said, “Such an act under any pretext is reprehensible. Even if a woman goes out into the street in the worst way, no one has the right to do such a thing.”


[1]: Amnesty International.  Iranian Women Call for Action on Gang Rapes. August, 2011. http://livewire.amnesty.org/2011/08/01/iranian-women-call-for-action-on-gang-rapes/ (accessed October 20, 2014)

[2] UN OHCHR “Commitments for women’s rights: time to turn empty promises into concrete changes for women.” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13097&LangID=E#sthash.gZUQZOmi.dpuf (Accessed October 20, 2014)

#UPRIran

Iran faces its UPR on October 31, 2014. Many activists are calling on international support to hold Iran accountable for the promises its made at its last UPR four years ago. Read more…

The Iran Human Rights Review has issued its most recent issue on the topic of the United Nations.In her introduction to this issue, Tahirih Danesh writes:

For all the flaws of the UN system set out here and by other contributors, the UN remains the only international body that is able to exercise direct influence on human rights issues that maintains the, if sometimes grudging, participation of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore it provides an important mechanism for civil society, be it international, diasporan and, where possible, based in Iran, to hold the IRI government to account against its international commitments and domestic constitutional obligations.

You can find a piece from Arseh Sevom’s Tori Egherman in the current issue:A rising tide lifts all boats: Human rights in Iran, cooperating for change.

She also wrote a piece in Article 19’s Azad Tribune, which we have republished: The First Day of School in Iran: You Can’t Say “That”.

Mahsa Shekarloo: Women’s Rights Activist, Internet Pioneer

This past September, we said goodbye to Mahsa Shekarloo who died from an aggressive form of cancer. She is missed by all who knew her. Mahsa was thoughtful, skeptical, and insightful. In life she would not have wanted to be the center of so much attention. Her passion and work were not done to fulfill a personal ambition or to place her front and center in the public spotlight. She worked because of her great curiosity, her dedication to human rights and the women’s movement, and her belief in the possibility of change.

Work on the Civil Society Cookbook continues…

Here’s a preview:

“You want to do something about injustice, because if you think ok, I am angry, or I am disappointed, or people are bad and that is never going to change, then that anger and disappointment can translate itself into frustration and even into hypocrisy. But I try to translate my anger into positive action. I think, what can I do about it? What can I change?”

— Farah Karimi, Executive Director Oxfam-Novib,  Farah Karimi on Leadership, Change, and Compromise

Please share…

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Iran Human Rights Review: United Nations http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/iran-human-rights-review-united-nations/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/iran-human-rights-review-united-nations/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:25:29 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9209 The current issue of the Iran Human Rights Review focuses on the United Nations. The universal periodic review of Iran's efforts to address human rights abuses will occur at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights just a few hours later. It's a good time to remember that Iran not only endorsed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but helped to shape it.

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Arseh Sevom — Iran faces its 4-year universal periodic review (UPR) of its efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country. On October 31, in Geneva, Iran will be reviewed. The UPR will be held from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm, Central Europe Time. Human rights groups have noted that Iran has not kept the promises it made at its last review. For years now, Iran has come second only to China in the sheer number of executions. That number has only increased over the past few years. The day before the meeting, Iran Human Rights Review released its most recent issue on the UN.

In her introduction to this issue, Tahirih Danesh writes:

For all the flaws of the UN system set out here and by other contributors, the UN remains the only international body that is able to exercise direct influence on human rights issues that maintains the, if sometimes grudging, participation of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore it provides an important mechanism for civil society, be it international, diasporan and, where possible, based in Iran, to hold the IRI government to account against its international commitments and domestic constitutional obligations.

The table of contents of this issue is as follows:
The question that my interrogator asked by Hossein Rassam

Iran: Human rights and cultural wrongs by Ali Ansari

Iranian minority rights: A case study of the UN human rights machinery by Daniel Wheatley

Iran and human rights organs of the United Nations by Raha Shadan

A rising tide lifts all boats: Human rights in Iran, cooperating for change by Tori Egherman

The Iran Tribunal: Establishing an alternative history of human rights abuses by Pardis Shafafi

Equality for women means progress for all by Elahe Amani

Iran: The use of the death penalty for drug-related offences as a tool of political control by Taimoor Aliassi

Human rights in Iran and at the United Nations by Hassan Nayeb Hashem

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Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh Stages Sit-In http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-stages-sit/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/lawyer-nasrin-sotoudeh-stages-sit/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 13:46:37 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9196 Arseh Sevom--Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is protesting her three-year suspension from practicing law with a protest in front of the Iran Bar Association. She has been joined by a number of other dissidents, including Mohammad Nourizad and Mohammad Maleki. Sotoudeh explains the reasons for her protest beginning with this point: "The Iranian government has been depriving dissidents from the right to life, education and work for many years."

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Arseh Sevom–Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is protesting her three-year suspension from practicing law with a protest in front of the Iran Bar Association. She has been joined by a number of other dissidents, including Mohammad Nourizad and Mohammad Maleki.

In September 2013, Sotoudeh was released from prison after serving three years of a six year prison sentence for “spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security.”

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, reminds us that the board of Iran’s Bar Association is no longer representative of its members, but appointed by the government. In the following open letter, Sotoudeh explains the reasons for her protest beginning with this point: “The Iranian government has been depriving dissidents from the right to life, education and work for many years.”

Iran: Human Rights Lawyer Sotoudeh to Stage Sit-In Outside Bar Association

Dear Compatriots and human rights activists,

The 2nd Branch of the Disciplinary Investigation Panel of the Bar has sentenced me, Nasrin Sotoudeh, lawyer, to a three-year ban on practicing law. Thus, I shall begin a sit-in outside the Bar Association on the morning of Tuesday 21 October 2014.

Here are the reasons for my sit-in:

  1. The Iranian government has been depriving dissidents from the right to life, education and work for many years.

I object to such deprivation.

  1. The lamentable state of the Bar Association has prompted the hardliners within the government to target the entire Bar. By drafting the ‘Comprehensive Attorneyship Bill’, which has been prepared without the involvement of independent lawyers, they are planning to put an end to the Bar Association once and for all.

I object to such measures.

  1. Courts of law have deprived dissident defendants from the right to appoint lawyer of their own choice. There was a time when they advised these defendants not to appoint human rights lawyers and occasionally mentioned the names of such lawyers.

Now the breach of the rights of defendants has gone too far: an unidentified person appears from nowhere in court and the judge introduces him to the defendant as the latter’s lawyer.

Meanwhile, prominent lawyers such as Messrs Abdolfattah Soltani, Mohammad Seifzadeh, lawyers of the Dervishes of Gonabadi Order and others have been sentenced to long-term prison terms.

I object to such procedures.

  1. The sentence imposed by the 2nd Branch of the Disciplinary Investigation Panel of the Bar to ban me from practicing law for three years has been issued under pressure from the Ministry of Intelligence and the Prosecutor’s Office.

I object to this sentence.

I shall not file an appeal with the Disciplinary Court of Judges from my home. Rather, I shall stage a sit-in outside the Capital Tehran’s Bar Association at 9 am, Tuesday, 21 October 2014 to protest the mismanagement in the Bar Association and the judges’ partiality, the deprivation of work, the disregard for the rights of dissenters to appoint lawyers of their choice, and efforts to eliminate the independence of the Bar Association.

Hoping for the independence of the Judiciary and the Bar,

Nasrin Sotoudeh

20 October 2014

Originally posted by FIDH: http://www.fidh.org/article16274

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The State of Human Rights in Iran #UPRIran http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/state-human-rights-iran-upriran/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/10/state-human-rights-iran-upriran/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:40:22 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9190 At the end of October 2014, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will be reviewing Iran's record on human rights and its efforts to improve conditions.

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Arseh Sevom – At the end of October, Iran will face a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its efforts to improve human rights in the country. The last review was in 2010. How much has changed? How many promises have been honored?

All UN member states undergo a universal periodic review (UPR) of their efforts to improve human rights in their countries. Iran is facing its UPR at the end of October 2014. Since their last review in 2010, a new president has taken office. Iran made over one hundred promises to improve its human rights situation. Despite this, executions have increased and rights continued to be abused. The October 2014 report of the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran states that there have been at least 852 executions in Iran between June of 2013 and July of 2014. At least eight of those executed in 2014 alone were believed to be under 18 when the crimes they were accused of were committed. Some of those executed were cultural activists.

The report goes on to document psychological and physical torture, further curbing of the rights to free speech and free association, and concerns about early marriage.

Nine persecuted Iranians powerfully tell their stories of repression, harassment, detainment and torture in their own words. While these activists, bloggers, lawyers and students put a face to Iran’s human rights abuses, their stories are shared by many Iranians whose rights are violated every day.

Reports from human rights defenders and organizations:

Data visualization on Iran’s record upholding human rights and its promises to improve conditions from Impact Iran

October 2014 report from the office of Ahmad Shaheed, the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran

An overview of Justice for Iran’s concerns, which will be presented during the UPR. The full report can be downloaded as a pdf

Unfulfilled Promises , detailing Iran’s record since the 2010 UPR. This one is from the Baha’i International Community

The UPR report of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran looks at recommendations from Iran’s 2010 UPR and reports on how they have (not) been implemented

 

Featured photo by Catching.Light, some rights reserved

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Iran: Allow UN Special Procedures to Visit http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/09/un-special-procedures-visit/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/09/un-special-procedures-visit/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 08:50:48 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9184 Arseh Sevom is one of 26 signatories to a letter requesting that Iran honor its promise to host UN Special Procedures visits and protect human rights.

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Arseh Sevom is one of 26 organizations calling on Iran to fulfill its obligations to protect the human rights of its society. The letter requests that Iran honor its promise to host UN Special Procedures visits. It has been nearly a decade since the last visit to the country in 2005. Seven requests for visits have been made since 2005. This includes requests submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions; the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; the Independent Expert on Minority Issues; the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

September 24, 2014

To: Dr. Hassan Rouhani
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Tehran

CC: Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Supreme Leader; Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, Head of the Judiciary; Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Your Excellency,

We write to you as representatives of human rights and civil society groups that seek the protection and promotion of human rights in Iran to urge the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to take steps to open, full, and effective cooperation with the United Nations Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In particular, we urge you to re-affirm the standing invitation to visit Iran that the Iranian authorities issued to the UN’s Special Procedures in 2002 and to promptly give effect to that invitation by allowing and facilitating visits to Iran by relevant UN special rapporteurs, with priority given to the country mandate. We consider that your government has much to gain from meaningful engagement with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Your government can likewise benefit from engaging with other independent experts that the UN has mandated to examine human rights practices in states around the world. UN Special Procedures can advise governments on measures needed to strengthen legal and other safeguards in order to comply with their obligations under international human rights treaties.

Country visits are an essential means for independent experts to directly observe the human rights situation in any state and to facilitate dialogue with all relevant state authorities. Such visits are an opportunity for the government and all relevant domestic authorities, including key ministries and the judiciary, to engage in dialogue directly with the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council. The visits provide opportunities to obtain their views and recommendations regarding measures needed to address abuses and to improve compliance with international law. It is imperative, of course, that these independent experts are allowed open access to visit such locations and hold such meetings as they consider necessary to fulfill their specific mandates. This allows them to assist the government of the Islamic Republic in meeting its human rights obligations.

Despite the standing invitation that Iran issued to all Special Procedures in 2002, we note that the Iranian authorities have not permitted any special procedure to visit Iran since 2005. That is now almost a decade ago. We note too that the Iranian government committed to cooperate with the Special Procedures during the Universal Periodic Review process in 2009 and 2010. The Iranian government has not subsequently honored that commitment. During its dialogue with the Human Rights Council in 2012 and its subsequent interactive dialogue with the UN General Assembly the government of Iran said that it would invite two thematic procedures to visit Iran. No such visits have yet taken place.

As you will be aware, the international community has repeatedly expressed its concern about the human rights situation in Iran. This includes the high rates of arbitrary detention and executions, discrimination against women and minorities, and undue restrictions on expression, the press, and association. In this context, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran fulfills a unique role documenting allegations that relate to broad and diverse categories of human rights. There is an important role for all Special Procedures both to investigate and assess these matters first hand and to advise the Iranian authorities on legal, policy and other reforms necessary to safeguard human rights and remedy abuses. Yet, seven requests for visits to Iran that Special Procedures have made to the Iranian authorities remain outstanding since 2005. This includes requests submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions; the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; the Independent Expert on Minority Issues; the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Iran’s failure to permit and facilitate such visits undermines Iran’s responsibility to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms. This violates its treaty obligations and casts a shadow over statements that you and members of your government have made since you assumed office in 2013 expressing a desire to improve human rights conditions in Iran. If the Iranian government is serious in that intention, it should immediately stop discrediting the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and approve the requests for visits by Special Procedures that are still outstanding. It should move quickly to agree to arrangements for visits or joint-visits by these Special Procedures and provide all appropriate facilitation.

Mr. President, scheduling and organizing early country visits for the country rapporteur and one or more of these independent experts would provide a clear signal to the international community that Iran, under your government, is committed to cooperation and transparency in the protection and promotion of human rights.

Sincerely,

 

Roya Boroumand, Executive Director
Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Middle East North Africa Programme
Amnesty International

Thomas Hughes, Executive Director
ARTICLE 19

Kamran Ashtary, Executive Director
Arseh Sevom

Alirza Quluncu, Representative
The Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran

Taimoor Aliassi, UN Representative
Association pour les Droits Humains au Kurdistan d’Iran-Genève

Diane Ala’i, Representative to the United Nations
Bahá’í International Community

Mansoor Bibak, Co-Director
Balochistan Human Rights Group

Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Founder and President
Center for Supporters of Human Rights

Joel Simon, Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists

Camila Asano, Foreign Policy and Human Rights Coordinator
Conectas Direitos Humanos

Ibrahim Al Arabi, Executive Director
European Ahwazi Human Rights Organisation

Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Executive Director
Ensemble Contre La Peine de Mort

Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

Mani Mostofi, Director
Impact Iran

Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Jessica Stern, Executive Director
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Phil Lynch, Director
International Service for Human Rights

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Executive Director
Iran Human Rights

Rod Sanjabi, Executive Director
Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Saghi Ghahraman, President
Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO)

Mehrangiz Kar, Chairperson
Siamak Pourzand Foundation

Mahmood Enayat, Director
Small Media

Hassan Nayeb Hashem, Representative to the Human Rights Council in Geneva
Südwind: All Human Rights for All in Iran

Firuzeh Mahmoudi, Executive Director
United for Iran

Mohammad Mostafaei, Director
Universal Tolerance Organization

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Mahsa Shekarloo: Women’s Rights Activist, Internet Pioneer http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/09/mahsa_shekarloo/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/09/mahsa_shekarloo/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:13:47 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9173 Arseh Sevom — Mahsa Shekarloo, women’s rights activist, writer and editor, translator and founder of the online feminist journal Bad Jens, died Friday September 5, 2014, surrounded by her family. She had been stricken with an aggressive form of cancer. Arseh Sevom joins others around the world in mourning her ...

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Arseh Sevom — Mahsa Shekarloo, women’s rights activist, writer and editor, translator and founder of the online feminist journal Bad Jens, died Friday September 5, 2014, surrounded by her family. She had been stricken with an aggressive form of cancer. Arseh Sevom joins others around the world in mourning her loss and celebrating her life.

Mahsa was thoughtful, skeptical, and insightful. In life she would not have wanted to be the center of so much attention. Her passion and work were not done to fulfill a personal ambition or to place her front and center in the public spotlight. She worked because of her great curiosity, her dedication to human rights and the women’s movement, and her belief in the possibility of change.

Mahsa was born in Tehran but spent most of her childhood in Chicago. She moved back to Iran in the early 2000s right after graduating from college. It was there that she discovered a place she could love and a society she could contribute to. In an article about Mahsa, The Feminist School wrote [fa]:

She was part of a group of people from the Iranian diaspora who returned to Iran to employ their cultural capital and experience and contribute to the culture. She joined a group of Iranian women who were taking advantage of that moment when there was a small opening in the political system to expand the women’s movement and the discussion of equality of men and women in the culture.

Mahsa also translated two of Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi’s books: Women’s Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and The Story of One Woman.

The streets are our stomping grounds

In February of 2014, Mahsa worked to help promote and organize One Billion Rising-Iran, which was part of a global day using dance to call attention to the issue of women’s rights. This is how the group described itself:

For us in Iran, One Billion Rising is one more way for diverse social groups to unite and demand justice and equality for women in the home and in society. We take to the streets because they form the fabric of our lives. The streets are our stomping grounds. They hold our memories, pain, and joys. They are where we find our allies and friends and where we become aware of dangers. They are where we take refuge when our homes become unsafe. It is on the streets where we have discovered our voices and also have lost our lives. The streets are where we articulate our demands and where we haggle and negotiate, not just with the merchant, but also with the ruler and sovereign. Stomping in the streets is a way for us to arrive at reconciliation, equality and social justice for all. This action is for those who want joy for themselves and for others, and who are willing to stomp for it.

This video is one of several created by participants:

Bad Jens

In a 2007 interview with Qantara.de, Mahsa discussed the online feminist journal she founded: Bad Jens. The objective of the journal was to give a voice to feminists inside Iran, to provide a way to break out of the isolation that they felt, and to challenge Western assumptions.

Mahsa stated:

“…I think most Westerners, when they come to Iran, assume that Iranian women, Muslim women, are among the most oppressed women in the world – which may or may not be true. But the point is that – because they come in with that assumption – everything they see, when they’re here, seems to confirm that.

Recently, since Khatami is president, a different kind of stereotype, a different image is: “the young girl with her veil pulled back and with a lot of make-up and tight clothes” – glamorizing that almost. Well, it’s important what these girls are doing, that is one thing; but making it sound like it’s the best social revolution to occur is something else, this is simply not the case.”

And if Westerners do have positive images of Iranian women, they’re always represented as these heroines. So it’s these two extremes: on the one hand Iranian women are portrayed as very passive and as victims, and one the other they are just an exception, breaking all the rules and social norms. So what gets lost is everything in between.”

Internet Pioneer

The bi-lingual journal Bad Jens was a revelation for many. At the time of its launching, there were few sources for the English writings of people living and working in Iran. Iranians like Mahsa used the internet to create a public forum denied by restrictive policies on other platforms such as printed magazines and newspapers.

The internet was adopted quite early in Iran. It opened a space for challenging governmental doctrine, engaging in debate, and personal expression.

In the early 2000s, Persian was the second most used language on the Internet. Blogging from Iran was a phenomenon. A nation of storytellers had discovered a format for their stories. They used it to talk about everything from Harry Potter to Islamic law to women’s rights. Those first self-published words were a revelation. Iranians had found a way to connect with each other on a personal and political level that had been restricted for a number of years. A study of Iran’s internet done in 2008 showed that people with differing views engaged and overlapped with one another. Commenters on blogs engaged each other in discussion. In their paper, Iran’s reformists and activists: Internet exploiters, Babak Rahimi and Elham Gheytanchi wrote:

The impact of the Internet on Iranian politics resembles the introduction of earlier information technologies, such as the telegraph in the late nineteenth century and the cassette tapes in the 1970s, which also created new individual and social spaces for dissent.

The online journal Bad Jens contributed to the discussion with thoughtful articles, fiction, and poetry.

In a 2005 interview with ABC news Mahsa said:

“You use any available avenues that you have. One reason why the internet is so popular here is precisely for that reason. It’s an independent space, relatively accessible or at least relatively uncontrolled.”

Our Conscience

For many working on issues of human rights and women’s rights, Mahsa was a kind of conscience. She believed in the power of small changes beginning with the family and inside small social groups. Positive change could be more sustainable if it took root in the family and was not imposed from outside.

She lived her life practicing her ideals in all ways: as a friend, a mother, and a colleague. This is why her loss is such a tragedy for so many of us. What we gained from her comradery was more than she herself knew or could imagine. This is because her work as an engaged intellectual and defender of rights went beyond the professional. She showed many that the effects of living a life dedicated to small, changes could have a broad impact and create lasting change.

It should come as no surprise to us that tributes to her are coming in from so many directions and from all over the world. Her sharp intelligence, warmth and generosity of spirit was admired by many. She showed the right mix of skepticism, realism, and optimism when it came to designing projects and taking action.

In a bio of Mahsa available online, we read that

“…when she’s not helping others help Iranian women, she’s secretly sowing post-colonial feminist thought among her unknowing colleagues.”

Mahsa Shekarloo was an internet pioneer, a women’s rights activist, and a friend. She will be missed.

Photo of Mahsa Shekarloo by Kamran Ashtary. You can share it with attribution, but don’t sell it.
A version of this post has been published at Global Voices.

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Iran: Halt Execution of 33 Sunnis http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/06/iran-halt-execution-of-33-sunnis/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/06/iran-halt-execution-of-33-sunnis/#comments Fri, 13 Jun 2014 09:44:17 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9130 Arseh Sevom joins 18 other groups and individuals calling for a halt to the execution of 33 Sunni Muslim men in Iran and a moratorium on all executions.

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Arseh Sevom joins 18 other groups and individuals calling for a halt to the execution of 33 Sunni Muslim men in Iran and a moratorium on all executions.

Iran: Halt Execution of 33 Sunnis

Accounts of Cases Raise Fair Trial Concerns

(June 12, 2014) — The Iranian authorities should quash the death sentences of 33 Sunni Muslim men, including possibly a juvenile offender, convicted of “enmity against God” (moharebeh), and impose an immediate moratorium on all executions, 18 human rights organizations and one prominent human rights lawyer said today. The call comes amid serious concerns about the fairness of the legal proceedings that led to the men’s convictions and the high number of executions reported in Iran during the last year, including the June 1, 2014 hanging of a political dissident, Gholamreza Khosravi Savadjani, on the same charge.

Information the rights groups gathered suggests thatmost of the men werearrested by Intelligence Ministry officials in the western province of Kordestan in 2009 and 2010, and held in solitary confinement during their pretrial detention for several months without access to a lawyer or relatives. They are believed to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during that time.

Thirty one of them were tried by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, while one was tried by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran and another by a branch of the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj. They were sentenced to death after being convicted of vaguely worded national security offenses including “gathering and colluding against national security,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” “membership in Salafist groups,” “corruption on earth,” and “enmity against God.” The latter two charges can carry the death penalty.

These vaguely worded offenses in Iran’s Islamic Penal Codedo not meet the requirements for clarity and precision that international law outlines for criminal law. The authorities, routinely invoke them to arrest and imprison people who have peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of religion, expression, association, and assembly, or to accuse activists of supporting violent or armed opposition groups without evidence, the rights groups said.

Information gathered by the rights groups suggests that all of the men deny any involvement in armed or violent activities and maintain that they were targeted solely because they practiced or promoted their faith, such as taking part in religious seminars and distributing religious reading materials. Sunni Muslims are a minority in Iran, where most Muslims follow the Shia branch of Islam. Most Iranian Sunnis are from the Kurdish and Baluch minorities, and have long complained of state discrimination against them in both law and practice.

Recent changes to Iran’s penal code require the judiciary to review the cases of the 33 men, and vacate their death sentences on the charge of “enmity against God” if they had not personally resorted to the use of arms. The execution of Gholamreza Khosravi Savadjani, despite no evidence being presented to the court that he had used arms, suggests that Iranian authorities appear not to implement new provisions of the penal code that could save the lives of these 33 men, and others on death row on the charge of “enmity against God.”

According to his national identity card, at least one of the defendants, Borzan Nasrollahzadeh, is believed to have been under 18 at the time of his alleged offense, which would prohibit his execution under international law, including under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a party.

Among the group are four men — Hamed Ahmadi, Jahangir Dehghani, Jamshid Dehghani and Kamal Molaee — accused of killing Mullah Mohammad Sheikh al-Islam, a senior Sunni cleric with ties to the Iranian authorities. The men have denied the accusation, saying that they were arrested between June and July 2009, several months before the sheikh’s killing, in September. The Supreme Court upheld the death sentences in September 2013, and the sentences have been sent to the Office for the Implementation of Sentences, the official body in charge of carrying out executions. The men are considered to be at imminent risk of execution.

The Supreme Court also confirmed the death sentences of four other members of the group — Seyed Jamal Mousavi, Abdorahman Sangani, Sedigh Mohammadi and Seyed Hadi Hosseini, the rights groups reported. The other 25 men remain on death row pending review by the Supreme Court. Most of them are believed to be held in the Raja’i Shahr and Ghezel Hesar prisons in the city of Karaj. One, Seyed Jamal Mousavi, is reportedly in Sanandaj Prison in Kordestan province.

The rights groups are concerned that authorities sentenced the 33 men to death after trials during which basic safeguards, such as rights of defense, were disregarded, in contravention of international fair trial standards. Information gathered by the groups indicates that at least some of the men were denied access to a lawyer of their own choosing before and during their trials, in breach of Article 35 of the Iranian Constitution, which guarantees the right to counsel.

Their court­-appointed lawyers were not allowed to see them in prison and did not have access to their files, according to information gathered by the groups. A few of the men have alleged that they met their lawyers for the first time a few minutes before the start of their trials. The court proceedings were held behind closed doors and reportedly lasted only between 10 to 30 minutes.

Some of the men also alleged that the judiciary handed down their death sentences based on incriminating statements they were forced to sign under torture and other ill-treatment, in violation of Article 38 of the Iranian Constitution, which prohibits all forms of torture “for the purpose of obtaining confessions.” Several alleged in open letters that they were physically and psychologically abused during their detention. One of the men, Shahram Ahmadi, wrote:

 “Officers of the Revolutionary Guards kicked me in the head and face, causing my nose and head to break…I did not receive any treatment for my broken nose…and I currently have breathing difficulties as a result… [My] interrogator knew that I had been injured [in a previous incident of mistreatment]. He purposely punched me in my stomach and I began bleeding heavily from my old wounds. I was hospitalized in Sanandaj Hospital under a fake name… later my wounds became infected but they refused to give me medication.”

The rights groups have found no information indicating that there was any investigation into these allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, contrary to Iran’s domestic law and international law. Article 578 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code provides for the punishment of officials who torture people to obtain confessions. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, prohibits the use of torture and other ill-treatment.

The irregularities reported in the men’s trials would also violate the fair trial provisions of Article 14 of the ICCPR, which include the presumption of innocence, adequate time and facilities to prepare one’s defense and to communicate with a lawyer of one’s choosing, and not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess guilt. The UN Human Rights Committee has stated that: “In cases of trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty scrupulous respect of the guarantees of fair trial is particularly important.”

In view of the apparently flawed legal proceedings, these 18 human rights groups and one prominent human rights lawyer urge the Iranian authorities to immediately halt the execution of these men and quash their sentences. Authorities should, at the very least, grant these men retrials in proceedings that comply with international standards of fair trial, without recourse to the death penalty.

The 33 men are, in an alphabetical order: Hamed Ahmadi, Shahram Ahmadi, Alam Barmashti, Jahangir Dehghani, Jamshid Dehghani, Seyed Shaho Ebrahimi, Varia Ghaderifard, Mohammad Gharibi, Seyed Abdol Hadi Hosseini, Farzad Honarjo, Mohammad Keyvan Karimi, Taleb Maleki, Kamal Molaee, Pouria Mohammadi, Keyvan Momenifard, Sedigh Mohammadi, Seyed Jamal Mousavi, Teymour Naderizadeh, Farshid Naseri, Ahmad Nasiri, Borzan Nasrollahzadeh, Idris Nemati, Omid Peyvand, Bahman Rahimi, Mokhtar Rahimi, Mohammadyavar Rahimi, Abdorahman Sangani, Amjad Salehi, Behrouz Shahnazari, Arash Sharifi, Kaveh Sharifi, Farzad Shahnazari, and Kaveh Veysi.

Iran remains the second largest executioner in the world, after China. In 2013, according to Amnesty International figures, the Iranian authorities officially acknowledged 369 executions. However, reliable sources have reported that hundreds of additional executions took place in 2013, bringing the total to over 700. According to Amnesty International, as of May 25, 151 executions during 2014 have been acknowledged by the authorities or state-sanctioned media, while reliable sources have reported at least 180 additional executions, for a total of 331.

The rights groups are:

 Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

Justice for Iran

Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation

Arseh Sevom

Association for Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran

Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva (KMMK-G)

Baloch Human Rights Organization

Center for Combating Racism & Discrimination against Arabs in Iran

Centre for Supporters of Human Rights

Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM)

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Iran Human Rights

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center

Step by Step to Stop Death Penalty (LEGAM)

Mehrangiz Kar

Nobel Women’s Initiative

Siamak Pourzand Foundation

United for Iran

 

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Kamran Ashtary, Executive Director Arseh Sevom
kamran.ashtary@arsehsevom.net
+31 6 4659 3979

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Highlights from Arseh Sevom, June 2014 http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/06/highlights-from-arseh-sevom-june-2014/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/06/highlights-from-arseh-sevom-june-2014/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 14:41:14 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9089 Arseh Sevom's monthly newsletter presents some highlights from our site, plus news about the organization. The June version comes on the heels of an honorary mention for the Prix Ars Electronica and the publication of our 2013 annual report.

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Arseh Sevom — UPDATE October 31: If you are looking for the October newsletter, click here. It’s been a busy time at Arseh Sevom. We received an honorable mention for the Ars Electronica Digital Communities award. We redesigned our website to make it easier to find content. We issued the 2013 annual report. Despite some setbacks, everyone at Arseh Sevom has put in extra volunteer time to make sure we can continue to grow and flourish. The team kept writing, working on projects, and building our networks.

Annual Report 2013

2013 Annual Report

Board President Bert Taken had this to say in the opening letter for Arseh Sevom’s 2013 Annual Report:

“Civil society is pushing the door open wider. Every day people in Iran are working for a better society. They are raising their voices against environmental degradation, forced hijab, and poverty. They are working to make sure medication reaches people in need. They are fighting for justice and demanding their rights.”

In 2013, Arseh Sevom saw a 125% increase in website visitors. We created 4 important publications in Persian covering elections, the Cyrus Cylinder and the origin of human rights, writing and style, and 100 Iranian NGOs.

Arseh Sevom is pleased to announce that we have received an honorary mention from Ars Electronica for our digital work. Arseh Sevom was one of 2,703 projects from 77 countries nominated for consideration for a Prix Ars Electronica prize in 2014.

http://prix2014.aec.at/prixwinner/13533/

Prix Ars Electronica: Honorable Mention for Arseh Sevom

Ars Electronica Golden Nicas

Ars Electronica Golden Nicas

Prix Ars Electronica is the oldest and most well-known competition for media art in the world. Awards are issued for several categories. Arseh Sevom was nominated for the Digital Communities award. In that category, the Golden Nica (the name of the award for the top winners), two awards of distinction, and twelve honorary mentions were given. Arseh Sevom was given an honorary mention.

It was a great honor for Arseh Sevom to receive a nomination, and an even greater honor to be recognized with an honorary mention. We were especially honored to be in such good company for the Digital Communities award. Other honorary mentions in our category include Global Voices and Syria Untold. The Golden Nica award was given to Project Fumbaro Eastern Japan, a grassroots volunteer platform in Japan, designed to deal with the needs that arose after the 2011 earthquake.

Our New Site

Over the past few months, Arseh Sevom worked on creating a site that would be easy to use, responsive, and highlight content in a way that made it more useful and accessible. In June, we launched the new site. Make sure to take a look and let us know what you think.

This month, we urge you to read an archived interview with Antonia Bertschinger. At the time of the interview, she was working with the Swiss section of Amnesty International. She had this to say about human rights work and why it attracted her:

“I always knew I wanted to work in an international environment and had some vague notion of humanitarian or human rights work. My studies were quite idealistic and humanist and removed from political reality. One thing that has really shaped me in all these years is a kind of intellectual strictness, the ability to find a principle and think it through to the end. I think this is really important in human rights work. This developed in my thinking and even in my personality removed from actual human rights work.

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Iran is Not Done Surprising Us http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/06/iran-is-not-done-surprising-us/ http://www.arsehsevom.net/2014/06/iran-is-not-done-surprising-us/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 07:03:50 +0000 http://www.arsehsevom.net/?p=9026 2013 was a busy year for Arseh Sevom. It was a year of collaboration, partnerships, and exploration. In 2013, we brought eighteen people together to discuss civil society in Iran and create a strategy for moving forward as an organization more effectively. We did this by spending a significant amount of time mapping out Iran’s civil society, identifying strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, talking to civil society actors and organizations inside as well as outside Iran.

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Dear Readers,

A year ago I wrote, “Iran is not done surprising us, of that I am sure.” I am sure many of you would agree that those words are still true.

The door that was closed to civil society opened just a crack with the surprising first round election of Hassan Rouhani. His election raised the hopes of many and echoed the widespread aspiration of people in Iran to meaningfully engage with the world community.

Civil society is pushing the door open wider. Every day people in Iran are working for a better society. They are raising their voices against environmental degradation, forced hijab, and poverty. They are working to make sure medication reaches people in need. They are fighting for justice and demanding their rights.

The new administration was quick to put forward a citizen’s rights document. Even so, executions proceeded at a rapid pace and minorities continued to feel the brunt of the government’s oppressive policies. The work of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran has never been more important than it is now. The work done by the Special Rapporteur supports that of rights activists inside the country who are risking their freedom to challenge violations and defend the vulnerable. Without domestic efforts, the international community can do little.

2013 was a busy year for Arseh Sevom. It was a year of collaboration, partnerships, and exploration. In 2013, we brought eighteen people together to discuss civil society in Iran and create a strategy for moving forward as an organization more effectively. We did this by spending a significant amount of time mapping out Iran’s civil society, identifying strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, talking to civil society actors and organizations inside as well as outside Iran.

In 2014 and 2015, we want to hear more from you, our readers. Talk to us. Let us know what help you need and what we can do better. We’re listening.

Bert Taken
Board President, Arseh Sevom

Download the full report [pdf]
Amsterdam, May 2014

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