The Situation of Human Rights in Ahwaz

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Civil and Political Rights
3. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
4. Violations against Women and Girls
5. Land Confiscation and Forced Displacement
6. Environmental Pollution
1. Introduction
The Ahwazi territory is located in the eastern coast of Arabian Gulf, starting from the eastern bank of Shatt Al-Arab in the north to Jaghin River in the south which is a natural border with Baluchistan territory. Spreading on an area of 210 thousand square kilometres, it is 20 times bigger than Lebanon. This land is separated from Iranian territory by the natural barriers of Zagros Mountains. [1] However, Ahwaz is still officially part of the Iranian state.

Ahwaz is considered one of the wealthiest parts in the world in terms of natural resources including oil (85% of Iran’s oil wells are in northern Ahwaz) [2] and gas (100% of Iran’s gas is in Ahwaz). With more than 155.65 billion barrels of crude oil (12.8% of the world’s crude oil reserves), it is the third- biggest reserves in the world. [3] In addition, comprising 34 billion cubic metres of gas, Ahwaz is ranked second globally [4] (about 18% of the world’s total reserves exists in Ahwaz region according to 2016 BP report). [5]

Ahwazi people as the owner of this rich land suffer from human rights violations and discrimination by the Iranian state. These abuses include restrictions on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

However, Iran’s Constitution reiterates equality between all peoples in Iran including ethnic groups. On the ground, the rights provided by the United Nations human rights treaties to Ahwazis are far from reality, causing huge gap between the legal texts in Iran and the enforcement of these rights.

Since Iran has adopted International Bill of Human Rights, it must incorporate various socio-economic and other fundamental human rights under the Bill into its domestic law and take effective measures to realize the individual and collective privileges for all peoples including Ahwazis.


2. Civil and Political Rights
Freedoms of expression, association and assembly are completely banned in Ahwaz. Hundreds of Ahwazis have been arrested for peacefully protesting against insulting and denying the existence of millions of Arabs by the Iranian national TV in March 2018. Some of these detainees have been released on heavy financial bails. Others are still in detention facilities pending trials. [6]

Between June and July 2018, hundreds of Arabs in Mohammarah and Abadan city staged protests against the salinity and shortages of drinking water. The government was reluctant to release the water behind dams into the Karun River of Ahwaz. Instead, it has channelled this water to central provinces in Iran for agricultural and industrial exploitations. The security forces and Revolutionary Guard clamped down heavily on these peaceful demonstrators, arrested hundreds and fabricated charges against them to suppress any movement in Ahwaz. The unfounded charges are including spreading terrorism and having links with foreign countries. [7]

Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are the systematic practices against Ahwazi detainees in security forces and Intelligence detention facilities. However, these behaviours are banned according to Iran’s Constitution [8] and the Iran’s Islamic Penal Code [9] in which the perpetrators are expected to be punished accordingly. In practice, criminal personnel are protected by impunity system. These crimes are left unpunished and victims are denied access to justice to seek legal redress. Dozens of Ahwazi detainees died under severe torture in the past. Their families have not been able to initiate proceedings against Intelligence or security personnel.

No independent enquiries were carried out, no findings were provided for families as to the cause of the death, and no compensation were given to the family of the victims, depriving them of living in peace and moving on with their life.

There is also extrajudicial killing of Ahwazi civilians in streets by the police and security forces with full impunity in which these crimes go unpunished. [10] In addition, with the second place in the world in terms of upholding death penalty, the Iranian regime continues executing the Ahwazi political activists for undefined and vague offences including ‘enmity against God and ‘spreading corruption on earth’. [11]

Unfair trial is the common discontent of Ahwazi prisoners who are serving life sentences or long-term imprisonment in jails. The judicial system in Iran in particular the Revolutionary Court is not independent in its decisions and charges against Ahwazi Arab activists. The ready-made accusations by the Intelligence service and the confessions taken under duress in detention centres are treated as evidence to prosecute civil, political, social, cultural and religious activists in Ahwaz. Many Ahwazis were executed based on the influenced verdict of the court which violated the right to life of the detainees and had caused irreparable damage to human existence. [12]

When it comes to freedom of religion and belief, the Iranian regime places various restrictions on religious groups in Ahwaz. The Mandaean (Sabian) one of the oldest religions in Ahwaz has not been recognised by law. As a result of the state persecution, many of the Mandaeans have immigrated to different part of the world. [13] In addition, Sunni Muslims face harassment by authorities and are not able to promote or practice their belief freely. And when an Ahwazi converts to Sunni Islam, he often receives harsh prison sentences and even death penalty for baseless accusations such as acting against the state religion, working for foreign agenda, promoting Wahhabism and being a member of separatist groups. [14]

There are no measures to realize the right to self-rule in Ahwaz and Ahwazis are deprived of engaging freely in the public and political life and have no say about their destiny. The Iranian rules place impossible conditions on people who are interested in taking part in decision-making positions, building barriers before Ahwazi Arabs that bar them from getting to such positions.


3. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The right to work for Ahwazis is defective since Arabs are banned from occupying senior positions even in their own territory, with less than 20 percent of these posts going to Arabs. More than 80 percent are guaranteed to non-Arabs who have settled in Ahwaz. [15] Also, only small percentage of Ahwazi workers is able to get jobs in oil, gas and petrochemical industries as the primary sources of revenue for Iranian state.

Persian employees are predominantly monopolizing these industries, leaving Ahwaz with harsh living conditions and maximum unemployment and poverty rate across the country, although the latter have the wealthiest land on the planet.

Ahwazis are deprived of the profit the Iranian state is making out of their natural wealth and resources. The government does not even consult with Ahwazis before exploiting oil, and gas and tunnelling water from Ahwazi rivers to central cities in Iran despite the fact the local Arabs are in dire need of clean water for drinking and for their agriculture and livestock.

Although studying in mother tongue is the most basic right for all peoples and recognised by multiple international, regional and domestic constitutions, the use of Arabic language in schools and public life is extremely restricted in Ahwaz, resulting in unprecedented dropouts and increasing illiteracy rate among Arabs in comparison with Persian population.

This is because Farsi is the only official language in Iran. Ethnic people in Iran including Ahwazis have no equal access to employment and adequate housing and suffer from the shortages of water, electricity, schools and health facilities.

The Iranian behaviours in Ahwaz are violating the right to equality and non-discrimination in terms of access to education, the freedom to promote and flourish Arabic music, traditional clothing, theatre, public poetry, books and newspapers and to having TV programmes that promote Ahwazi culture free from government censorship on local TV.


4. Violations against Women and Girls
The dropout rates and illiteracy are reportedly very high in Ahwaz particularly among girls and women since Persian language is the sole official language of the country. Yet Ahwazi woman is treated as third-class citizen firstly for her ethnic background and secondly for her being a woman in this society. [16] In general, the family law in Iran is discriminating against girls when it comes to the age of marriage, allowing young girl at the age of 13 to get married and in some circumstances the father or grandfather of a girl can get permission from the court for her to enter into a married partnership at an even younger age. [17] When women and girls are not protected by law, it can be very hard and dangerous for them to face the family and the society’s expectations. The prosecution of girls starts at the age of 7 when according to law they have to wear veil (hijab), disregarding their childhood and family’s choice of clothing.

In addition, there is lack of equal treatment between men and women in Iran. For example, woman is discriminated against in the choosing her post and certain government positions. They also face restrictions in the public life and barred from free movement, or to involve freely in cultural, artistic and sport activities in schools and outside.


5. Land Confiscation and Forced Displacement
The Iranian state has not recognised the right of Arabs to their land. It continues forced confiscation of farmland and eviction of residents from their villages and homes in order to exploit the underneath oil and gas resources. The government also seizes lands for its national projects such as sugar cane plantations despite the fact that local Arabs have lived in and cultivated these farms for hundreds of years. [18]

As a result of confiscation of agricultural lands, between 200,000 to 250,000 people have been dislodged, leaving behind their homes and livelihood to settle in different location on the outskirts of big cities. [19] The government policy is clearly violating the right to housing and the right to choosing place of residency guaranteed by Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, [20] as well as Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. [21]


6. Environmental Pollution
The oil, gas and sugar cane projects have contributed significantly to the pollution of water in which has caused the death of fish and farm animals and in some cases the poisoning of people living in rural areas. It is worth noting that the confiscation of land is part of a strategic policy of the state to change the demographics of this territory in favour of non-Arabs coming from different parts of Iran to settle in the settlements. [22]

Following the destructive policies, for many years the Iranian regime has been engaging with the construction of large number of dams on the main Ahwazi rivers including Karun, Karkheh, Dez and Jarrahi.

The building of dams as well as the diverting Ahwazi water to central provinces in Iran for agricultural and industrial exploitations has pushed the region to be on the verge of environmental and humanitarian catastrophe. As a result, Elazim Marsh which is one of the largest and oldest marshlands in the region is drying up. This marshland is one of the international wetlands registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The impacts of the shortages of water are including the eradication of this unique ecosystem and wildlife as a source of livelihood for thousands of farmers. In addition, it has increased fires in dried marshland, sand storms and air pollution that affect the health and wellbeing of millions of Ahwazis, causing various cancers, respiratory and heart disease in recent years. [23]



[1] Ahmad Tamimi, Ahwaz B’Ouoon Ahwazia (Ilam Study Centre) 1.

[2] Hussain Heydari member of Ahwaz city council, ‘85% of the county’s oil wells are in Khuzestan’ (Asr Iran, 1 January 2018) <وجود-85-درصد–از–چاه%E2%80%8Cهای–نفت–کل–کشور–در–خوزستان> accessed 23 August 2018.

[3] OPEC, ‘OPEC share of world crude oil reserves, 2017’ <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[4] OPEC, ‘World Proven Natural Gas Reserves by Country’ <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[5] BP, ‘BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2017’ page 28 <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[6] Rahim Hamid, ‘Ahwazi Intifada: March against racism continues spreading’ (Ahwaz Monitor, 31 March 2018) <> accessed 25 August 2018.

[7] Abdulrahman Hetteh, ‘The ‘Uprising of Thirst’ in Mohammarah and Abadan: the causes, facts and consequences’ (AODHR, 15 July 2018) <> accessed 25 August 2018.

[8] Iran (Islamic Republic of)’s Constitution of 1979 with Amendments through 1989, Article 38.

[9] Islamic Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, incorporating all amendments up to January 2012, Adopted by the Legal Affairs Commission of the Islamic Consultative Assembly on Tuesday 30/07/1991, Article 587.

[10] Mostapha Hassan, ‘Could Ahwaz uprising spark partition of Iran?’ (Baghdad Post, 21 February 2017) <> accessed 25 August 2018.

[11] UN Human Rights Council, Compilation prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 and paragraph 5 of the annex to Council resolution 16/21: Islamic Republic of Iran, A/HRC/WG.6/20/IRN/2, 18 August 2014, para 3.

[12] Freeke Heijne, Human Rights in Iran: the right to fair trial for Iranian-Arabs (Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, 2007).

[13] Ahmed Al-Sheati, ‘Iran Mandaeans in Exile Following Persecution’ (Al-Arabiya, 6 December 2011) <> accessed 25 August 2018.

[14] Harana, ‘Dozens Arrested and Summoned in Ahwaz’ (1 November 2017) <> accessed 25 August 2018.

[15] Yousef Azizi Bani Torouf, ‘Discrimination against Arabs in Iran is institutionalised’ (Ahwaz News, 16 May 2013) <> accessed 23 August 2018.

[16] Rahim Hamid, ‘Iran: The oppression of Ahwazi Arab people in Al-Ahwaz’ (Minority Voice, 30 May 2015) <> accessed 25 August 2018.

[17] Iran’s Civil Code of 1928, last amended 31 July 2006, Article 1043.

[18] UN Commission on Human Rights, Addendum to the Report on Adequate Housing as a Component of the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living: Mission to the Islamic Republic of Iran (19-31 July 2005), E/CN.4/2006/41/Add.2, 21 March 2006, para 78-80

[19] Irin News, ‘Interview with Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kothari’ (9 August 2005) <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[20] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966.

[21] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, GA Res 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966.

[22] Abdulrahman Hetteh, ‘River diversions: A tool for ethnic cleansing against the Ahwazis’ (AODHR, 24 July 2018) <> accessed 21 August 2018.

[23] Daniel Brett, ‘Dams: Iran’s Weapons of Marsh Destruction’ (Huffington Post, 13 June 2014) <> accessed 21 August 2018.


Ahwazi Organization for the Defence of Human Rights


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