The Islamic Republic has taken the initial step to join the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC).
The bill for joining UNTOC was passed by Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, with 132 votes in favor, eighty against, and ten abstentions in a public session January 24.
During the debates on the bill, Iran’s Deputy President for Parliamentary Affairs Hossein Ali Amiri described joining UNTOC as an “inevitable necessity.”
UNTOC is a UN-sponsored treaty against transnational organized crime, including terrorism, adopted by a resolution of the UN General Assembly in November 2000. So far 183 of the 193 UN member states, including countries neighboring Iran, have joined the convention.
According to the Iranian state-run Mehr News Agency, Amiri stated that Iran is increasingly dealing with transnational organized crime because of its geographical location. He added that the criminal groups that plot against Iran operate outside the country, “so it is almost impossible to confront them without collaboration with other countries.”
He went on to add that Iran was among the countries that played an active role in the process of drafting the UN convention.
The ratified bill highlights money laundering, human trafficking, and drug smuggling as some of the most egregious transnational crimes that will be addressed by UNTOC.
The convention’s treatment of terrorist organizations and how they are defined, however, triggered a heated debate among the legislators.
Those who voted against the bill argued that the convention is a tool of U.S. hegemony since Washington has listed groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas, both allies of Tehran, as terrorists.
Conservative MP Mohammad Javad Abtahi cautioned his fellow legislators, saying, “Iran’s decision to join UNTOC contradicts the [Islamic Republic’s] Constitutional Article rejecting hegemony and forbidding any commitment to hegemonic states such as the United States.”
Defending the bill, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said, “Iran maintains that groups fighting against colonialism, like Hezbollah and Hamas, are not terrorists, despite U.S. allegations.”
Furthermore, Larijani maintained that the Islamic Republic has drawn a line that clearly distinguishes anti-colonialist organizations from terrorist groups.
“We have made it clear that fighting terrorists only means combating IS [so-called Islamic State],” he said.
The ratification of the bill is tied to a January 31 deadline set for Tehran by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The internationally influential and powerful FATF was established to fight money laundering and later to block terrorists’ financial resources.
FATF places Iran beside North Korea at the top of the list of countries with the highest economic and financial risks.
During its last session November 2017 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, FATF urged Tehran to “proceed swiftly on the reform path,” which is understood to include joining UNTOC.
While FATF has currently suspended its countermeasures against The Islamic Republic, it has not removed the country from its blacklist of countries accused of violating international financial regulations and being involved in money laundering.
The passage of the bill to join UNTOC will, at the very least, serve to improve Iran’s standing with international organizations like FATF.