This promise was made Pre-Election

Assuring equal rights for all Iranian ethnicities


On numerous occasions, president Hassan Rouhani has emphasized his campaign promise to eliminate ethnic discrimination across the country. He released a ‘ten-point’ statement on ethnic and religious groups, outlining his concern for the current situation of minorities. During his first visit to the Sistan and Baluchistan province, he said “There is no difference between ethnic groups and under the Constitution, all citizens have equal rights. There are no second class citizens in this country.”

In the opening paragraph of his ‘ten-point’ statement, Rouhani promises to eliminate discrimination laws that contradict the Constitution, especially articles 3, 12, 15, 19 and 22 on minority rights. In the eighth paragraph of his statement, he acknowledges the minorities recognized in the Constitution, namely the Kurdish, Sunni, Turkmen and Turkish groups, and promises to eliminate any unfair discrimination against them.

Given that president Rouhani’s promise to eliminate discrimination is based on rights laid out in the Constitution, we need to examine actions he has taken within the legal system in order to properly evaluate whether or not he has kept his word.

During his first year, Rouhani appointed Ali Younsei as his advisor for Ethnic and Religious Affairs, a new position he created after taking office. By selecting Younesi, a former Minister of Intelligence, Rouhani generated controversy among experts. Many perceived it as a largely ceremonial move without the kind of structural impact he promised in his statement.

During his first two years in the position, Younesi generated significant discussion and debates in the media regarding the status of ethnic minorities and different religious groups across the country. But he gradually became less active in his advocacy after facing criticism from his opponents at the Parliament.

Rouhani’s government has made little headway in appointing ministers and high ranking officials with minority background. His record at the provincial level is somewhat better, with some governing positions going to minorities in different parts of the country. In Sistan and Baluchistan, a Sunni majority province, there are now three Sunni governors in office. These are minor steps towards eliminating discrimination against religious minorities.

Additionally, in Kurdistan province, minor steps have been taken to fulfill Rouhani’s campaign promises. Measures taken to create equal rights and opportunity for ethnic minorities include the launching of a university programme on Kurdish language and literature, allowing the Kurdish language teaching in an elementary school in Saqqez, and a potential Kurdish language network on the official news agency (IRNA). Even though these measures have not been fully implemented, they are minor steps towards the right direction.

The government also chose an ambassador from the Kurdish community to represent Iran. This marked the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic that a member of an ethnic minority was appointed as ambassador.

One of the biggest criticisms against Rouhani’s actions on discrimination is their limited scope, as they have so far been confined to only two provinces. Article 15 of the Constitutions has only been partially implemented in Kurdistan. This is despite the fact that Iran’s Turkish, Arab and Turkmen minorities are deprived of their linguistic and cultural rights. In a statement to Rouhani, Turkish activists demanded that Article 15 be implemented in their province. Yet no concrete steps have been taken to fulfill their demand or the demand of other ethnic minorities in different provinces.

Despite all such criticisms, Rouhani Meter believes that president Rouhani has made progress on his campaign promise to reduce ethnic and religious discrimination. Developments in Kurdistan, Sistan, and Baluchistan are in many respects groundbreaking. While it is important to track the durability of Rouhani’s efforts, these recent developments genuinely mark a new chapter in Iran’s engagement with its ethnic and religious minorities. We mark this promise as “In Progress.”