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Reviewed by:
  • Refugee Rights in Iran
  • Reza Afshari (bio)
Refugee Rights in Iran, by Shirin Ebadi. London, UK and San Francisco: Saqi Books, in association with UNHCR, 2008. 254 pages. Trans. by Banafsheh Keynoush. $19.95.

The Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi [End Page 145] offers a concise exposé of Iran’s domestic laws and by-laws that may affect the status of refugees, presumably setting the conditions under which they temporarily reside in the country. She explains that the book does not address the actual treatments of refugees in the hands of the state authorities that may or may not conform to the existing laws. As such the book has a limited scope. The history of human rights violations of refugees in Iran since the early 1980s is yet to be written. This collection also deals with laws that, though not directly related to refugees, may impact their lives. They address the issues faced by “foreign nationals” or “foreign citizens;” for example, a marriage contract between an Iranian citizen and a foreign national. Thus, in some chapters the term “refugee” replaces the term “foreign nationals” (or “foreign citizens”) who have been the subject of these particular laws in the first place. A number of chapters dealing with “birth registration,” “personal status,” “right to property,” “literary and artistic rights,” and “protection of trade marks and industrial labels,” to name a few, explain laws applicable to all foreign nationals. In most instances, Ebadi offers a summary of the existing laws and draws, wherever she can, some parallels between the principles enunciated in the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and Iranian domestic laws. She also occasionally illustrates the applicability of such laws by providing useful but hypothetical examples.

From time to time, Ebadi offers her own brief commentaries that require further explorations to become fully convincing. Again, many of them address certain issues that may concern both “foreign nationals” residing in Iran as well those who are officially defined as refugees. For example, she makes a distinction between rights to “artistic and literary work” that are protected in domestic laws and the “creator’s intellectual rights.” The latter are, in her opinion, limited only to the specific instance of the creator’s name being mentioned in association with what is created, even though she/ he has no claim to the proceeds deriving from the work if it had originated from outside Iran (pp. 60–61). Ignoring the global controversy about intellectual property protection and the widespread acts of piracy, Ebadi observes that Iran is obligated to protect only those works that originate in Iran. “Otherwise, foreign writers and publisher can demand large sums to grant permission to translate or publish work in Iran” (p. 61). In another chapter that is devoted to “freedom of religion,” Ebadi mentions three recognized religions (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity) and two non-recognized religions (Buddhism and Hinduism). Her own commentary with reference to the followers of the non-recognized religions informs the reader that “as long as they do not conspire against the Islamic Republic of Iran, they are treated respectfully in accordance with the provisions of Article 14, and the Qur’anic verse that says: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error.’” (Italics original, p. 123). This takes the discussion into the realm of somewhat complicated — and far less commendable — practices that she has already stated that she does not cover in this book. The chapter makes no mention of the Baha’i faith, the malevolently unrecognized faith in Iran.

Despite these commentaries that need fuller explanations, Ebadi offers a book that is useful to those who work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UN-HCR). She also offers a brief recommendation to the government of Iran to streamline and strengthen its laws and improve on what she considers to be an already positive record of its treatments of the refugees.

Reza Afshari

Dr. Reza Afshari, Professor of History and Human Rights, Pace University



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pp. 145-146
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