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Injustice anywhere a threat to justice everywhere

Imagine living in a country where you could be sentenced to death by stoning for your alleged sexual infidelities. The very idea sounds by turns barbaric and incongruous, but for the citizens of Iran, it’s a disturbing reality. According to the Iranian Penal Code, “adultery while being married” carries a mandatory sentence of execution by stoning, with eight people recently sentenced and awaiting execution. Execution by stoning is an unspeakably grotesque and inhumane punishment. According to Amnesty International, Iranian law prescribes that the stones used are “deliberately chosen to be large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately”.

Like most stoning sanctions in Iran, the eight people recently convicted are all women, ranging in age from between 27 to 43 years. It’s no surprise that most of those sentenced are women - the Iranian judicial system is systemically sexist, with women’s testimony worth half that of a man. These women leave behind lives in tatters – families torn apart and destroyed by a brutal punishment overseen by the state. In the past three years, six people have reportedly been stoned to death in Iran, with the latest two incidents occurring in Mashhad in December last year. The practice violates the United Nations’ International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (1966), to which Iran is a signatory. This, in combination with one of the highest execution rates globally, including the highest number of child executions in the world, is a damning indictment on Iran’s already tarnished human rights record.

The violent brutality of state-sanctioned stoning, coupled with the apparent ambivalence of the Iranian government, places the onus on the international community to take action. While working as the South Australian / Northern Territory campaign manager for Amnesty International, I developed an understanding of the significant role the NGO sector can play. Amnesty International’s long-running campaign against the death penalty, in collaboration with Stop Stoning and Killing Women, has shed light on the issue and, crucially, exposed this practice for what it is: a gross human rights violation.

However there is only so much the NGO sector can do. Governments from around the world must come forward, exert strong diplomatic pressure and call for a cessation of execution by stoning in Iran. Australia must be at the forefront of what is now a global movement for human rights and basic human dignity. On Tuesday the 17th of March, I moved the following motion in the Senate, calling for action from our Federal Government in light of the recent executions and sentences.

The motion was supported and passed. The next step is for the Australian Government to work collaboratively with other nations in speaking out wherever and whenever against these types of human rights abuses. Silence in the face of injustice and abuse simply allows the oppressor to keep oppressing. If Australia is serious about a role on the UN Security Council we must start talking straight when it comes to human rights violations.

By Senator Sarah Hanson-Young

The wording of my motion follows, which I moved jointly with Senator for the ACT Gary Humphries.

That the Senate:

(a) expresses deep regret at the two stonings in Mashhad in December 2008;

(b) notes:
(i) reports received by Amnesty International highlighting that as many as eight women are at imminent risk of being stoned to death for adultery in Iran; and
(ii) Iran has one of the highest execution rates in the world;

(c) calls on the Australian Government to immediately urge the Iranian authorities to cease the punishment of death by stoning, and halt all remaining executions of those sentenced to death.

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