For the first time, the Obama administration has issued an Executive Order sanctioning a list of individual Iranians on the basis of their alleged participation in Iranian human rights violations. There are eight people who perform various duties for the government on the list and all of whom, said a release from the State Department, “share responsibility for the sustained and severe violation of human rights in Iran since the June 2009 disputed presidential election.”
“This is the first time the United States has imposed sanctions against Iran based on human rights abuses,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a press briefing at Foggy Bottom. “We would like to be able to tell you that it might be the last, but we fear not.”
The sanctions go after high ranking figures like Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); former and current government ministers; and the current and former Prosecutor-Generals of Iran and Tehran, respectively.
Previous sanctions had dealt with companies, institutions and individuals who were involved with Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program or involvement in terrorist activities.
“Rather than relying on the traditional approach of broad-based sanctions on the entire country of Iran, we have tried to focus on specific actors, institutions, and actions that threaten our interests as a whole,” said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking at the presser with Clinton. “And this strategy can be very effective.”
The State Department used tools that were included in a sanctions act passed by Congress this summer. It included a provision to freeze U.S. assets (or those controlled by U.S. persons or companies) of Iranian human rights abusers, as well as place visa restrictions on them. That amendment to the sanctions act was introduced by neoconservative Sens. John McCain and Joe Lieberman.
In a joint statement, the Senators praised the move by the Obama administration. “We are very pleased that the Administration is using this new authority to such strong effect: to put real pressure behind our government’s support for the universal human rights of the people of Iran,” they said.
They struck a distinctly more ominous note than Clinton’s statement that she ‘fears’ more violators will be named: “This is the first time the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Iranian officials for their human rights abuses. It should not be the last,” concluded the statement by McCain and Lieberman.
In his speech today at the Council on Foreign Relations pushing for escalating measures against Iran, Lieberman again applauded the latest move by the Obama administration.
The move was also praised by the National Iranian American Council, a lobby group in Washington that opposes broad-based sanctions and military strikes on Iran’s nuclear program.
“Human rights must be elevated as a top priority in the Obama Administration’s Iran policy and today’s Executive Order is a step in the right direction,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi in a statement. “While NIAC has consistently opposed broad sanctions that punish innocent Iranians, we strongly support targeted measures aimed squarely at those responsible for human rights violations against the Iranian people.”