Providing an opportunity for young people around the world to listen to each other and to share their understanding of the fundamental concept of human rights, and its relationship with sustainable development is of paramount importance. Gaining a common understanding of the challenges that each of us faces requires collaboration, cooperation, and learning from each other’s experiences to overcome the obstacles.
The umbrella concept of sustainable development includes economic and human development that is connected with the environment, and, in general, the effort to create the best possible future for all.
As a generation of future world leaders comes into their own, I believe their participation must take place through institutions, political parties, and civil society organizations. In Iran, my home country, but from which I am a political exile, the complete absence of civil society institutions and the prohibition on forming rival political parties and non-governmental organizations raises deep concern for me about the young people of my country as it is impossible to even imagine any sort of sustainable development in a place where fundamental freedoms do not exist. In Iran, there is absolutely no logic to begin talking about a more humane and stable future in a country that is under the rule of dictators.
Half of Iran’s 85 million million people are under 30 years old. To better understand the challenges facing the youth of my country, I will focus on two main issues:
1) Encouraging young people to engage in teamwork means strengthening their collective spirit and forming groups and parties that are not connected to the regime. In short, the simple starting points that are needed to work towards sustainable development.
For a young Iranian, however, this carries from the country’s dictatorial rulers the accusation of “gathering illegally and collusion against the system” and the risk of being sentenced to a minimum of six years in prison.
2) Iranian women under the rule of the misogynist government are systematically oppressed. They are humiliated, arrested, tortured, and at times killed for choosing their attire; just like Mahsa Amini, the young girl who was tortured to death in September 2022 after being arrested by the morality police. In circumstances such as these, where practically half of society has been excluded from being an active part of society, it is utterly irrational to consider that Iranian women will be allowed to take part in any sort of development in the country.
I believe that this situation carries lessons for others as well. If young people residing in other continents cast a discerning eye towards their counterparts in Iran, they will see the struggles their peers endure to secure even the most basic rights, freedoms, and future opportunities. This could provide them with a deeper perspective, extending beyond a world where all freedoms are readily available to them, and remind them not to forget that these freedoms are the result of significant struggles and sacrifices that previous generations made. Fundamental rights must be safeguarded and secured.
This is the first step and the cornerstone for building the future.
The situation I’ve just described doesn’t mean that young Iranians have surrendered to the medieval conditions set by Iran’s current regime. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Young Iranians have taken on the great responsibility of changing the course of the country’s history, at times, at the cost of their lives. They have formed an underground nucleus of resistance, and have taken the lead in organizing and being the vanguard of large-scale campaigns against the dictatorship, including taking to the streets in massive numbers.
Some are tightly connected to the organized resistance, even though having any type of contact could carry heavy penalties, including a death sentence. Young Iranians, like Ali Younesi, who won a gold medal in the International Astronomy Olympiad, and Amir Hossein Moradi, who won a silver medal in the National Astronomy Olympiad, both 22 years old, have been in prison for the last three years because of their connecting to the pro-democracy resistance.
They were both sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Theirs is a struggle to reclaim their youth; as the concept of ‘youth’, more than anything, means the right to a freedom of choice. Iran’s youth fight every day to gain this basic. This reality is evident from some figures regarding the recent uprisings that have persisted across the whole of Iran after Amini’s death, the majority of the over 20,000 protesters arrested, and the more than 500 people killed during by the regime in the year-long protests, were under 30. According to human rights organizations, 74 of the protesters killed by the organs of the dictatorship were under the age of 18.
These were young people full of enthusiasm for life, many of whom excelled professionally, artistically, and especially athletically. Among them was a karate champion Mahdi Karami, a 21-year-old who participated in anti-government protests. In a phone call to his father from prison he said: “They have announced the sentences, I have been sentenced to death. Please don’t tell Mom!”.
Mahdi was executed in January.
In some countries, there is an effort to educate young people as the leaders of the future. While various social institutions in other parts of the world work to create opportunities for the young people of their countries to shape their futures, in Iran, young people are trying hard to establish these concepts for both the older generations, as well as for the future. With the end of the dictatorship, Iran’s youth would be able to construct a better future.
We do not live in a separate world, and success cannot be achieved by being forced into isolation by the cruel and evil government that currently rules my country. That means the youth in developed countries need to move on from being self-absorbed by past achievements to another chapter in the history of human rights and human development. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
To Dr. King’s words, I want to respond by saying: “Please add one more chapter to your (the young people of the world) endeavors, which is to create a foundation for supporting the young people of Iran in their struggle against the country’s dictatorship. This strengthens human rights and solidarity around the world. It is the missing link in many development initiatives that go far beyond Iran.”