FRESH AIR

Time for Australia to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Jan 5, 2023 | Oved Lobel

On January 2, the UK Telegraph reported that London may soon join the US in declaring Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organisation, primarily because of ten IRGC plots to kidnap or assassinate British residents in 2022. Germany and the European Union are considering listing the organisation, as well.

Canada, while it hasn’t yet officially listed the IRGC in its entirety under its Criminal Code, has listed the IRGC’s Qods Force and has imposed sweeping measures against the organisation. Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland declared in October that “The IRGC leadership are terrorists, the IRGC is a terrorist organisation.”

It is time, as AIJAC and others argued in submissions to the Government’s Inquiry into the Human Rights Implications of Recent Violence in Iran last year, that Australia joined the party and began laying the groundwork for the designation of the IRGC in its entirety under the Criminal Code.

That the IRGC merits designation under Division 102 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 is beyond dispute. In terms of the legislative criteria, any organisation that “is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or advocates the doing of a terrorist act” can be listed under the Criminal Code.

Furthermore, “Australian Government policy is that non-legislative factors should also be taken into account where possible in determining whether an organisation should be listed.” The primary non-legislative factors considered are:

  • the organisation’s engagement in terrorism
  • the organisation’s ideology
  • links to other terrorist groups
  • links to Australia
  • threats to Australian interests
  • listing by the United Nations or like-minded countries
  • engagement in peace or mediation processes.

The IRGC checks every one of these boxes. It has directly engaged in terrorism across the world and its ideology is explicitly jihadist. It also has strong, decades-long operational links to several groups listed by Australia as terrorist organisations, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah; indeed, in the case of Hezbollah and even PIJ, it’s unclear whether they should even be considered separate groups from the IRGC.

Moreover, both directly and via Hezbollah, the IRGC has links to Australia and is a direct threat to Australian interests, be it non-proliferation goals; attacks on maritime shipping; regional destabilisation and aggression; terrorism promotion regionally and globally; kidnapping or assassinating regime opponents across the world; piracy and hostage-taking; material support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; human rights atrocities and many, many others.

Additionally, the IRGC is intimidating, threatening and surveilling regime opponents inside Australia itself. Given that the IRGC has attempted to kidnap or assassinate regime opponents in the UK, US, Canada and across the world, and occasionally succeeded, the idea that the same is not happening in Australia is inconceivable. The IRGC poses a direct threat to the lives of Australian citizens and residents, particularly those of Iranian background.

As for listing by like-minded nations, as noted above,  the US has listed the organisation; the UK is reportedly about to do so; and both Canada and the Europeans are actively considering it, with Canada already having listed the Qods Force.

Finally, and for obvious reasons, there are no peace or mediation processes involving the IRGC.

Predictably, the main objection coming from certain quarters is that Australia cannot legally list the IRGC, despite it fulfilling all legislative and non-legislative criteria for listing, because it is a state entity. This is not a legitimate objection for two reasons.

First, the IRGC is emphatically not a state entity, as former IRGC hostage and Australian academic expert Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert has pointed out. Despite being subordinated on paper to Iran’s Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces Logistics, it has no real relation to any of the official ministries or politicians of Iran and was founded as and remains the guardian of the explicitly supranational Islamic revolution. It obeys only Iran’s Supreme Leader, has no other real relationship with the Government of Iran as a state and finances itself to a substantial degree outside the official Iranian state budget.

There is a reason it is called the Islamic, rather than the Iranian, Revolutionary Guard. Its own indoctrination materials don’t mention Iran at all, and its history, rhetoric and actions make clear it is not a state entity and indeed, like all jihadist groups, does not recognise the existence of states. Nearly two years ago, I described the IRGC in relation to its creation of Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis, in Yemen as follows:

The IRGC and the revolution it was created to guard is fundamentally, existentially opposed to the entire concept of nation-states and borders, viewing Iran as merely a springboard for the perpetual expansion of a supranational revolution. The IRGC’s primary driver is an Islamic Manifest Destiny revolving around the divine mandate of the al-Wali al-Faqih, Iran’s Supreme Leader, to lead the entire Islamic world. Remaining and Expanding (Baqiya Wa Tatamadad) — the slogan of the Islamic State — is no less applicable to the IRGC, which is conducting a proactive, constant jihad no less vicious and no less expansionist.

But even if the Australian Government were, for some reason, to refuse to recognise these basic facts, the second reason the “state entity” objection is irrelevant is that it is the responsibility of the Government and relevant agencies and officials to amend legislation to ensure Australia is capable of effective action. Australia’s current statutes are not gospel: if the law truly prevents Australia from designating the IRGC under the Criminal Code, then the legislation is not fulfilling its intended purpose and clearly requires amendment, and the Parliament should urgently make the required changes.

The symbolic and practical impacts of listing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation far outweigh any possible downsides, assuming there are any. Meanwhile, any legalistic excuses for inaction can be easily circumvented, in the worst case through legislative amendments. There is no serious argument not to list the group.

Moreover, even if the Government were, for the time being, to decline to make the allegedly necessary amendments to officially list the IRGC under the Criminal Code, it could at the very least immediately impose the same crushing measures as Canada, and begin using the same rhetoric when describing the IRGC.

Australia has done too little when it comes to Iran – acting later than our allies and even then only after mounting domestic and external pressure – apparently out of the misguided belief that Iran is far away and not our problem. The Government’s belated and limited autonomous sanctions, imposed on December 10, were welcome, yet there have been no new sanctions packages or statements nearly a month later, even as Canada, the US, UK and the Europeans continuously impose new tranches of sanctions and release constant condemnations of both Iran’s egregious violations of the rights of its own citizens and as well as its aggression against Ukraine.

As AIJAC argued in its submission, “The Australian Government should, at the very least, immediately enact measures similar to those hitherto imposed by its allies and partners.”

But instead of simply playing catch-up with our allies, Australia should take the proactive step of listing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code. As slow as the process may be, it is highly likely that both Canada and the Europeans will eventually follow the reportedly forthcoming UK listing and designate the IRGC in its entirety. There is no reason for Australia to isolate itself once again from its allies on such a straightforward issue.

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