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Ahmadinejad and the UN General Assembly

Early today, I came across an on-line petition entitled, ” Deny Ahmadinejad the visa to attend the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York!” The petition reads, in part:

The Islamic Republic regime has ruled Iran for over 30 years. During this period hundreds of thousands of human lives have perished. A country has been ruined and a region totally destabilized. Many around the world have suffered from the consequences of State sponsored terrorism and above all, the world has been witnessing that this regime does not represent the Iranian people and hence, can not be regarded as legitimate.
At the same time, the Islamic regime in Iran and its supporters abroad are trying to emerge from the current crisis and seek international recognition and legitimacy for the rulers of the Islamic Republic.

On the verge of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in September, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reportedly planning to visit New York to attend the next UN General Assembly.

The Iranian community worldwide firmly believes that:

1- President Obama and his administration should decisively side with the people of Iran and deny Ahmadinejad (or any other Islamic Republic delegations for that matter) the right to obtain an entry visa to the United States for the purpose of “representing” the Iranian nation during the 64th United Nations General Assembly on September 15, 2009.

2- Neither Ahmadinejad nor any of the members of his cabinet have any legitimacy to be recognized as the president or be regarded as the representatives of the Iranian nation.

3- This is the least the civilized world can do for the Iranian people during these decisive times.

Such decision taken by the United States and President Obama will bear an enormous impact on the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom and democracy in Iran and the prevalence of peace worldwide.

While I am certainly no fan of the Iranian President, it is clear to me that action by the United States proposed in this petition would violate America’s obligations under international law.  Article IV, Section 11 of the Agreement Between the United Nations and the United States Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations (the “Headquarters Agreement”) provides:

The federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of (1) representatives of Members or officials of the United Nations, or of specialized agencies as defined in Article 57, paragraph 2, of the Charter, or the families of such representatives or officials; (2) experts performing missions for the United Nations or for such specialized agencies; (3) representatives of the press, or of radio, film or other information agencies, who have been accredited by the United Nations (or by such a specialized agency) in its discretion after consultation with the United States; (4) representatives of nongovernmental organizations recognized by the United Nations for the purpose of consultation under Article 71 of the Charter; or (5) other persons invited to the headquarters district by the United Nations or by such specialized agency on official business. The appropriate American authorities shall afford any necessary protection to such persons while in transit to or from the headquarters district. This section does not apply to general interruptions of transportation which are to be dealt with as provided in Section 17, and does not impair the effectiveness of generally applicable laws and regulations as to the operation of means of transportation. (links supplied by reprinting site)

And Section 12 provides:

The provisions of Section 11 shall be. applicable irrespective of the relations existing between the Governments of the persons referred to in that section and the Government of the United States.

Whether  Ahmadinejad has “legitimacy” is irrelevant. He is the de facto representative of Iran and thus under the Headquarters Agreement cannot be denied access to the General Assembly is he decides to come to the United Nations.

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  • Ben Miller says:

    This petition is the kind of grandstanding I really don’t like.

    As the host country of the UN we have a responsibility to allow equal access — this responsibility is not only legally defined but seems to me to be morally defined as well, in some way.

  • Seyed Mirmiran says:

    If you search the internet, you will find at least 3 other sites posting an electronic petition to deny Ahmadinejad visa to attend UN General Assembly this year (i.e.2009)

    These electronic petitions are created and posted by Iranian-Americans. I believe they are fully aware that legally-speaking, in terms of international laws, United States cannot deny any world leader, elected or not, legitimate or not, visa to attend the U.N. meetings.

    The posting of such electronic-petitions are merely symbolic. Even those who sign it, I believe, are aware of that, as signatures on such electronic petitions would be very hard to verify since:

    1. It cannot include hand-signatures but only names are typed in.
    2. Any name can by typed by anyone.
    3. Often no other identification information, such as residence address, phone number, social security number, are required.

    Yet, Iran is and has been the most flagrant violater of international laws for the past 30 years, beginning with the U.S. Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980. The leaders of the current Iranian regime have been indicted in various courts for crimes committed against their opposition or other world citizens. For example, the assassination of Kurdish leaders in Austria and Germany, the assassination of Iran’s former Prime Minister, Bakhtiar, in France,…
    Some of the current leaders of Iran are on the Interpol wanted list. Iran has repeatedly ignored several U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

    That advances the question of how effective international laws and organizations are. What would happen if other governments in the world would follow suit and pay no heed to international laws. Has not Iran’s actions in the past 30 years undermined international laws and the ability of UN to enforce them?

    Could we then conclude the the UN authority and international laws are also effectively symbolic? By all appearance, at least in how the Iranian government has behaved in the past 30 years, it seems so. So, if the UN authority and international laws are only a symbolic gesture, would the proposing of such petitions be in line with those as another symbolic gesture?

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.