top of page

The Karun Basin: Environmental Injustice, Human Rights Violations, and the Destruction of a River

*First edition- December 2023 The Octopus’ Arms, from Izeh to Europe

Kambiz Ghafouri, Shahram Kholdi and Nik Kowsar Report in Persian


In any functioning democracy, any individual or entity that, in pursuit of advancing their corrupt interest and power, intentionally undermines other citizens’ rights shall be subject to, depending on the type of abuse, prosecution, and/or civil litigation to the letter of the law. Over the past forty-four years, the Islamic Republic regime of Iran has engaged in systematic anti-environmental industrial and agricultural development schemes that have affected millions of Iranians to the point that it has literally made large regions of the country unlivable, displaced many communities and violated their fundamental human rights. Thus, over the past four decades, the Islamic Republic’s corrupt and authoritarian rule has been a major cause of a humanitarian catastrophe across the Iranian plateau with profound implications for a multitude of communities in the neighboring countries. In this investigative report, we recount the regime’s mad dash to build dams and dig wells across that largely arid Iranian plateau. It all started by a group of amateurish engineers under the umbrella of “the Construction Jihad” in the 1980s, that is, the founding decade of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran. The “Construction Jihad” fever marked the beginning of one of the most blatant state-sponsored destruction of the environment in modern memory, in both Iran and the Middle East, as the Construction Jihad engineers were sent to as far places as Lebanon and Africa to bring about “a Shia Islamic vision of development” to “millions of oppressed masses.” Yet, as we discuss in this report, the zenith of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s assault on the environment was in the late 1990s and the 2000s. The government of the time, with the blessing of the Supreme Leader, accorded all the “development building- projects” through which the assault against the Iranian environment and livelihood of millions would be accomplished to the Khatam-al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters (KCHQ) of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).” At the core of the grand multi-billion projects lay hundreds of dam construction projects that KCHQ procured from the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Authoritarian regimes, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, typically rule by turning the state into a fief. The ruling echelon has the ultimate say over all state affairs in all economic sectors. The regime’s misgovernance is conducted through its total control of the state’s natural and human resources, that it treats as “a grand rent” that is to be apportioned to its most loyal individual, institutional, or corporate clients by licensing all economic and financial operations and transactions in the country. In this kleptocratic order, institutions that have a tight grip over the state’s security and military-industrial complex often enjoy the rewards of the lion-share of all the contracts tendered for the exploitation of the state resources.

In this imperium of exploitation, proximity to the ruling echelon of the state avails the abusers of power immunity from prosecution for any infraction and violation they may commit against any individual citizen and/or community. They thus enjoy immunity from any prosecution and/or litigation, for they thrive in an infested pool of statewide corruption wherein their parasitic existence is akin to that of organized crime networks, affords them much unaccountability, and allows them to do as they wish with “impunity.”  In international human rights laws, impunity signifies an outright systematic (and not “systemic”) abuse of power by the power-wielders in total disregard for the rights of the citizens and communities. It is in this sense that the abusers of power are practically immune from civil and administrative liability and criminal responsibility. The tall tale of “the development fiefdoms” that have caused the ruin of the environment in the Iranian plateau is one that belongs to the annals of international humanitarian rights, and its many aspects are worthy of many detailed and meticulous studies.


In view of the magnitude of the mass environmental catastrophe inflicted upon millions of Iranians by irresponsible and corrupt governance under the Islamic Republic of Iran’s rule, and by way of the present investigative report, we seek to lay bare the crimes committed by a complex network of state-sponsored patrons and clients against the people of the Karun Basin. The commission of these crimes, for which we shall present detailed evidentiary facts, is facilitated through an often-contradictory amalgam of legislations, executive branch decrees, as well as arbitrary actions of the top brass elite commanders of the military-industrial complex power wielders. All the said state actors have at their disposal a complex network of “ostensibly” private sector enterprises, corporations, and consulting engineering companies that do their bidding with equal impunity.  The policies of the state actors and their affiliates in the Karun Basin serve as a textbook case of flagrant and systematic violation of human rights in a multitude of sectors and geographical areas.


The report distinguishes itself from a typical international human rights inquiry in three different respects. It first offers a genealogy of the KCHQ’s activities and operations and its historical evolution into a giant that has become a sovereign entity within the Islamic Republic regime. It, second, accounts for how KCHQ has been functioning as a cash cow that funds many of the unsavory and financially criminal operations of the IRGC within and without Iranian borders into the heart of Western European and North American jurisdictions. Third, our report, most importantly, documents core instances of environmental rights violations against the Karun Basin’s communities. For want of transparency, public and private sector documents are hitherto out of our reach. Yet, as the contours of the regime’s security and intelligence network and the national economy show signs of severe strain since the autumn 2022 nationwide uprising, it is likely that whistleblowers from within the regime begin, sooner or later, to leak many official documents that attest to the state’s direct involvement in sanctioning such violations. For the time being, we base our report on available public statements, academic reports and statements, newspaper reports, satellite imagery, and witness statements as they provide adequate evidence for environmental crimes committed in this region. The instances presented below thus only reveal the tip of the iceberg of corruption, identify a plethora of environmental injustices, and catalog a wide range of human rights violations.

Order of Presentation

Our investigation is presented through three major sections. We first discuss the present context and the historical background that has placed the many communities in and around the Karun Basin in the present environmental predicament. We shall then, in the second section, expand upon the post-war “construction era” and its ambitious, and as it turns out today, catastrophic mass dam-building projects that were largely awarded to the Khatam-al-AnbiyaConstruction Headquarters of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.  In so offering a historical context to our readers, we seek to show how a combination of intentionally ignorant approaches to the fundamental principles of sustainable development and environmental justice, greed, and crude lust for costly development plans have played a central role in the present tragic situation in the Karun Basin. Upon offering a clear picture of the dam construction racket as a major component of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ monstrous economic grip over Iran, we illustrate how their tentacles reach the depth of EU and other Western jurisdictions and their economy, whereby they seek to reinforce their power and further exacerbate the ecological tragedy that has embroiled Iran in general and the Karun Basin communities in particular. In the final section, we detail the human rights and environmental catastrophe in the Karun Basin on a case-by-case basis. We shall conclude the report with a summary of our findings.

What is happening in the Karun Basin?

Historically, the Karun Basin maintained over 20% of the country's surface waters. It was in effect, a primary reservoir of fresh water in the Iranian plateau comparable to that of the south Caspian region. In the past 20 years, however, five billion cubic meters of water have been taken from the Great Karun River. Experts agree that extensive dam building and interbasin water transfer to central Iran is the primary cause of the reduction in Karun’s flow. One of the main reasons for this reduction is reckless dam construction in the Karun Basin. According to Ali-Mohammad Akhondali, the founder of the Hydrology and Water Resources Group (HWRG) at the Faculty of Water Sciences, Chamran University of Ahvaz, a total of 170 dams have been constructed in the Karun Basin, with only 70 of them being on the Karun itself.


Why Dam Construction?

Before we embark upon our report on how the dam construction mafia became a major state-sponsored racket in Iranian politics and economy, we must account for the reader’s genesis of this racket all the way to the late 1980s. The Islamic Republic of Iran officials often dub the 1989-1997 period “the Construction Era,” for this is a period. This period begins with the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the summer of 1988. As the founder of the theocratic republic and its first supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini decided to drink from the “poisoned chalice” and submitted to the UN Security Council resolution 598 in the summer of 1988, the revolutionary slogans of "War, war until victory" and "War, war until the removal of discord in the world," sank in the damning echo of Iran-Iraq war cease-fire and fell into silence once and for all. The regime was now desperate to repackage and repurpose itself in the uncertain post-war era when it no longer could justify any repression in the name of preserving the state and excuse any mis-governance and corruption on the account of war effort against Iraq.

Khomeini’s abrupt decision to end the war thus caused a great deal of disgruntlement among the senior and mid-ranking commanders of the regime’s ideological armed force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who found themselves in the lurch with little to no raison d'être. The IRGC’s discontent was felt even greater after the war’s end as its uneasy troops were loath to simply withdraw to the barracks and craved to find a niche for themselves in the new post-war order. The genesis of the dam-building racket monster that would rise to control all the major critical facets of the Iranian economy today indeed goes back to how the regime’s ruling clerics sought to co-opt the IRGC at the end of the war and attempted vigorously to find a new place for the IRGC in the post-war era. The regime was nonetheless due for another paradigmatic shift, more in degree rather in kind, towards the anniversary of the war’s end.

By late 1988, it became clear that Khomeini was seriously ill, and the ruling clerics set themselves to change the constitution in anticipation of his death. In May 1989, with a change in the constitution, the position of Prime Minister was abolished, and all the powers of the Prime Minister were transferred to the President. Khomeini’s death in June 1989 was to usher in a new era wherein the ruling clerics would help the IRGC redefine itself in a new light. A new supreme leader, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, who was the president until this point for much of the 1980s, and a new President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who led the war effort as Khomeini’s deputy-commander-in-chief during the war and led the parliament as its speaker until 1989, took the helm of the theocratic republic. 


The immediate post-Khomeini and post-war periods marked a highly unstable economic and politically volatile phase for the ruling clerics. Khomeini’s death had left both a power and legitimacy vacuum that both Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani sought to fill. To consolidate his legitimacy, Khamenei appealed to the radical and ultra-right factions of the ruling establishment, including the IRGC rank-and-file members. Rafsanjani, in contrast to Khamenei, sought to win the support of the technocratic and pragmatic conservative establishment and the traditional bazaar merchants (who had become quite wealthy thanks to the war economy) and the middle class. By virtue of the extensive 1989  constitutional amendments, the new president Rafsanjani was now vested with powers that allowed him to embark upon an ambitious “state reconstruction” program in the aftermath of the eight-year costly and destructive war with Iraq. However, Rafsanjani’s position was not exactly assured as his control of the executive branch needed the blessing of supreme leader Khamenei, who by virtue of the same 1989 amendments, now enjoyed extensive, extra-constitutional powers to interfere with the legislative and executive branches’ operations, complete controlled the judiciary, and was now the constitutionally indomitable commander-in-chief of the all the armed forces and the security and intelligence apparatuses of the state, including the IRGC.  

Hashemi Rafsanjani’s administration, with some political support in the parliament and much support from many state industries’ senior management officials, proclaimed its ambitious “reconstruction” agenda for the 1990s and 2000s. With much reluctance, Khamenei lent his support to Rafsanjani at the outset. Still, the weakest link in their competition to wield power over Iran was the regime’s praetorian guard, the IRGC. In this milieu, Khamenei and Rafsanjani would, for the time being, co-rule the Islamic Republic until one or the other would rise as the ultimate unquestionable master. The power struggle between the two ruling clerics was now game, set, match. 

The Executives of Construction: The Midwives of the Dam Building Racket

The senior officials that were the brains and enforcers of the Rafsanjani administration’s new agenda were a mixture of engineering and economics school alumni from the Pahlavi era universities as well as graduate cohorts of accredited Western European and North American universities. The core of Rafsanjani's' 'technocratic elite'' now dubbed themselves as “the Executives of Construction” (ECs). The ECs, under Rafsanjani’s leadership, set in place two major “Seven Year Development Plans” for the following two decades. From the outset, it was abundantly clear that Rafsanjani’s administration was in dire need of human resources to fulfill its ambitious national infrastructure agenda, at whose core were multibillion-dollar projects for the construction of the national transportation infrastructure network (roads, airports, seaports), dams, and telecommunication infrastructure. 

With the fall of the Soviet Union and its European satellites, strained relations with the European Community, no relations with the US, a less than economically strong China, and economically wary Japan and South Korea in the 1990s, the critical question before the ECs was: who would be able to supply the engineering knowledge base, supply the labor, and fulfill the regime’s massive multibillion-dollar infrastructure undertaking? To many, the only solution was to tap into the resources that had sustained the eight-year war against Iraq, i.e., the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the regular army. 

Many hardline clerics opposed enlisting  the regular army engineering corps in the state’s mass infrastructure plans, for some of the regular army had tried to overthrow the Islamic Republic at least twice in the early 1980s, and the remaining regular army top brass had always opposed rash and suicidal operations of the IRGC during the war struggle against Iraq. Moreover, the regular army’s size and budget had been massively cut even under Hashemi Rafsanjani’s administration as the unrequited loyalty of many cohorts of its Pahlavi era trained officers and sergeants to the Islamic Republic was suspect. 

However, neither pro-Supreme Leader Khamenei nor pro-President Rafsanjani factions trusted the IRGC wholeheartedly. To them, IRGC’s fealty to the Islamic Republic was unquestionable. The IRGC had brutally suppressed many of the regime’s civilian and armed opponents from its founding in 1979. Throughout the Iran-Iraq war, the IRGC carried out many suicide operations into the Iraqi fortified trenches and lost in action tens of thousands of their troops. On the one hand, the ruling clerics thus believed that the IRGC was zealously committed to the regime’s survival whatever the cost and were owed as much material reward, concession, and compensation as the regime could muster to repay them for their fealty and sacrifice.  On the other hand, Rafsanjani’s mantra of “post-war reconstruction” did hold great promises for the IRGC commanders who believed the regime was indebted to them and sought to assert their righteous place in the post-Khomeini order.

In this context, many members of the IRGC top brass demanded a share in Rafsanjani’s ostensible economic liberalization bonanza and its “promises'' of a plentiful and prosperous Iran through rapid “development.” Furthermore, the ruling clerics wanted to win back the wholehearted support of the disgruntled IRGC, who were frustrated by the ruling clerics’ abrupt ending of the war. To address all these demands of entitlement to the resources and riches of the state, shared by many ruling echelon clerics and technocrats, Rafsanjani’s administration could only promise progressively lucrative construction projects, namely, the mass of dam construction projects. 

To the upper echelons of the regime, from the ruling clerics and the ECs to the IRGC top brass and the state’s senior mandarins, dams were both symbols of modernization and development as well as a beacon of lasting prosperity with a sustainable revenue translatable to the sweet tasting greenback.

No one did at the time that awarding the entirety of the dam construction projects to the IRGC’s KCHQ would act as a harbinger of the creation of the economically monstrous and politically powerful IRGC dam-building racket. The IRGC dam construction racket genie that Rafsanjani brought out of the bottle was to become a monster that would eventually devour him and many of his disciple executives of construction and turn them into IRGC’s underlings in the post-2006 order.

Four years before his death in 2013, Rafsanjani recalled his part in elevating the IRGC into a monster with much reservation and resignation in so many words:

The engineering division of the IRGC Revolutionary Guards had gained much expertise and experience and trained cohorts of skilled human resources during the war that could be harnessed for the development of the country. Thus, at that time, we granted projects like major infrastructure projects road construction to them in the post-war era of “reconstruction.” [What we did] was beneficial for both the country and for the IRGC. But now [the IRGC] have a tight grip over the pulse of the country in every sense of the term: they control the economic pulse and have taken control of both foreign and domestic policies and are not satisfied with less than controlling the whole country.


It is against the backdrop of this often-untold tale of the rise of the IRGC as the total master of the Islamic Republic that we can now present our readers with our case study of the Karun Basin. 

The destruction of the Karun Basin’s fertile plains by the many dams built upstream offers a glimpse, and a perfect textbook example, into how the IRGC’s dam-building racket managed to unravel Iran’s water resources and has contributed to the turning of the whole Iranian plateau literally into a dustbowl over the past thirty years.

Khātam al-Anbiyā Construction Headquarters (KCHQ)


As was discussed earlier, the ruling echelon’s consensus was to put IRGC at work and let them have their “deserved” share of Iran’s riches at the same time. In 1989, President Rafsanjani managed to persuade Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei’s support, and the new Supreme Leader and commander-in-chief issued a leadership directive, decreeing the establishment of a centralized command headquarters dedicated to post-war construction projects. Based at the Khātam al-Anbiyā barracks of the IRGC. The headquarters was dubbed the Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters (KCHQ). It is not surprising that the first commander of KCHQ was none other than General Mohammad Sattari Vafaei. Vafaei had earned his notoriety as an outspoken IRGC commander who never shrank from criticizing the budgeting, logistical handling, and management of the war effort by the regime’s ruling clerics and technocratic mandarins. Now, he and other formerly disgruntled IRGC top brass were co-opted by Rafsanjani’s “reconstruction” administration into an industry that would bring them uninterrupted revenue. Now, not only would they be able to fund their military-industrial complex, but they could also guarantee the welfare of the IRGC rank-and-file members.  


From the First Contract to Today: The Tale of IRGC’s Dam Racket “Genie” Escaping the Bottle 

Recalling his period as the director of KCHQ, 1989-1994 and 1998-2005, retired general Mohammad Sattari Vafaei recounted in an oral history interview: "The first contract I signed in 1989 at KCHQ, the Khātam al-Anbiyā Headquarters, was 30 million tomans (half a million dollars at the time). The last contract I signed in 2005 at KCHQ before I stepped down due to illness was 2 billion dollars."


Since 1989, the bulwark of KCHQ projects has been dam construction. The KCHQ had every financial incentive to be attracted to the dam construction projects (DCPs). DCP’s budgeting under the Islamic Republic is conducted in such a manner that it becomes a golden egg that keeps giving. First, the government advertises its construction needs, whatsoever, through a tender. All prospective service providers, namely consulting engineering companies, construction conglomerates, consortiums, and the like, respond by trying to outbid one another by submitting their competing construction plans. Upon assessing the feasibility of each bid and its projected costs and asserted expertise, the government grants the construction project to the lowest bidder. In the case of dam construction projects, the stream into the winner’s coffers begins long before the completion of the dam, as billing the government starts at the project’s preliminary stages, i.e., the preliminary geological surveys and geotechnical studies, and continues long after the completion of the dam by charging the government for all the post-construction dam maintenance services. The winning bidder continues to bill the government in the post-construction phase for activities such as reservoir maintenance, sedimentation removal, and other repairs. 


As early 2004, Rafsanjani, who retired from the presidency in 1997, and his successor, President Khatami (1997-2005), and many other members of the ruling elite who had deluded themselves in the belief that the IRGC would forever remain their client and institutional protégé faced a rude awakening: it was too late to put the IRGC genie back in the bottle. The IRGC began to actively defy, challenge, and tear apart any semblance of civilian and clerical authority that it perceived as a threat to its unfettered expansion. The IRGC’s KCHQ had grown into such a giant that it now held all the major and strategic construction contracts in the country, in addition to the biggest slice of the pie, i.e., the hundreds of dam-building projects. Not only had the IRGC’s KCHQ expanded into all major national infrastructure projects, but it has also expanded into building underground public transit railways, harbors and customs docks, and telecommunication infrastructure. Most importantly, from a strategic resource point of view, IRGC’s KCHQ was the state’s major contractor in oil and gas exploration and extraction and petrochemical development projects across the country. 

The momentous occasion that marked IRGC becoming an extra-constitutional sovereign entity over and above all other state institutions, government ministries, and all the non-military ruling elite was the presidential inauguration of Iran’s largest airport, the Imam Khomeini International Airport, in 2004. Matters came to a head between the government and the IRGC when the government granted the contract for Imam Khomeini Airport’s catering and handling services to an Austro-Turkish company. The enraged IRGC top brass, true to form, took action on the airport’s inauguration day, 15 May 2004, and flew a handful of fighter jets around the airport, causing half a dozen inbound international flights to be diverted to other cities and thus successfully brought the inauguration to an abrupt halt. Later, in 2011, then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a vague, though incendiary comment about "our smuggler brothers" and said: "Each one makes a hole somewhere, takes something, and brings it back." Ahmadinejad’s comments were widely understood to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the IRGC and their illegal, extra-legal, and extra-constitutional activities in all sectors of the economy and all affairs of the state. During his presidency, Ahmadinejad himself inaugurated 69 dams, many of which were initiated during the time of Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, and all built by IRGC’s dam-building racket.

It should come as no surprise that by 2012, KCHQ, and indeed the IRGC construction oligarchy, had become so powerful that they sidelined a Chinese company that was ready to take upon the Bakhtiari Dam construction project in Lorestan province. The IRGC’s KCHQ by trampling over all the existing rules, i.e., forced out the Chinese competition and won the Bakhtiari Dam project without even bidding for the legally required competitive tender. The Bakhtiari Dam was thus completed by IRGC’s KCHQ from A to Z.


The administration of former President Hassan Rouhani (2013-2021), widely regarded by the Iranian public as the Second Hashemi Rafsanjani administration, indeed ushered in a Hashemi Rafsanjani style Reconstruction 2.0 era. A renowned conservative, though with some pragmatic stripes, Rouhani hailed the support of the same “executives of construction,” aka ECs, establishment who were the chief mandarins of Rafsanjani’s administration. Yet, Rouhani was also a veteran supporter and, to a degree, patron of the IRGC. In the 1980s, Rouhani earned his reputation as a supporter of the IRGC in his various positions as a chief administrative and logistical director of the war effort. Rouhani was also a chief coordinator in the Khatam al-Anbiya Headquarters. He was on record to have said in 1980 that “the IRGC must be equipped with various [lethal] weapons.” Three decades later, in 2013, he was asked whether the ruling clerics’ decision to award so many multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects to the IRGC to the point of making them a master and commander of the national economy was, in fact, privatizing the whole state to the IRGC. He unabashedly countered: "[At the time of our decision] A substantive part of the economy was controlled by the civilian government. All we did was to hand over that part [to the capable hands] of the military, which is the armed arm of the government [i.e., IRGC]. This is not privatization."


And where does all the revenue from dam building go?


Over the past thirty years, IRGC has grown into a multi-headed giant, with each head overseeing and controlling a specific sector of the national economy. It generates revenues from every sector, and KCHQ acts as the major artery that directs this revenue according to the wishes of the IRGC’s top brass. The revenue generated by IRGC’s KCHQ does not get reinvested into the broader national economy as envisioned by the government three decades ago. The generated revenue is consistently allocated to IRGC’s many activities and operations. A major beneficiary of such projects is the IRGC’s Special Forces Branch, the Quds Force. The Quds Force itself has many sub-branches. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Quds Force’s overseas branch has grown into an international racket with proxy militia groups that include traditional clients such as the Hezbollah of Lebanon, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad of Palestine, as well as the Iraqi Shia militias and the Yemeni Houthis. Domestically, the Quds Force works in tandem with the Special Police Force Unit, the IRGC’s own Saberin Unit, and the various security and intelligence sections of the government to suppress dissent in the country as effectively and as brutally as possible. The Quds Force is believed to have played a key role in suppressing the nationwide uprisings in Iran in recent years, chiefly the November-December 2019 and the autumn of 2022 uprisings.


Due to Khatam al-Anbiya’s role as IRGC’s engineering arm “that serves to help the IRGC generate income and fund its operations,” the US Treasury Department placed KCHQ on its sanctions list on February 9, 2010. The US Treasury cited the KCHQ’s allocating profits from its [economic] projects to "support the nuclear program, missile production, and terrorism” as the primary reasons for its designation. Stuart Levey, the then-Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, stated that these sanctions aimed to restrict the role of the KCHQ on the international stage.


However, KCHQ continues evading these sanctions by utilizing various shell companies outside Iran. In the course of our investigation, a European security source who wished to remain anonymous stated in an interview: 

The reality is that we cannot Arbitrarily investigate companies that are registered in the name of European citizens to see whether the claims about their financial dealings and trade with countries outside Europe are true or not. There are some random checks, but we cannot investigate all companies in the EU era... unless we have a report. We believe that the number of such companies is quite significant. For instance, assume that a company in Sweden is doing business with a company in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is not under the EU or the US sanctions. Why should our security apparatus become suspicious and run an investigation? But in reality, the mentioned Emirati company could be a cover company of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The same source also mentioned, “While many U.S. sanctions are not enforceable in the EU, we are obliged only to enforce the sanctions imposed by the EU or, at the request of our counterparts, enforceable at the national level by individual EU member states.

When asked about certain members of KCHQ and their possible transactions with companies in the EU, our source, who specializes in financial and enterprise corruption, further points out that:

There are companies without a single Iranian citizen in them. The owners could be citizens of India, Malaysia, Singapore, or Indonesia or any other country. They don't raise suspicion. But in reality, the said Indian citizen has received some money, registered a company in his name, then handed over everything to a member of the IRGC and went back to his village doing his own business! Now, the non-Iranian company is in the hands of the very same Khatam Headquarters that you are asking me about.  Noting that “tracking down each of these cases individually is practically quite difficult," our source elaborated further by way of an example: 

Let me give you an example. According to the expert reports from international investigations that we have seen, the engine used in the cruise missiles that attacked Saudi Arabian oil facilities in 2019 was a small turbojet engine called the TJ-100. The PBS factory in the Czech Republic produces this engine. However, we are sure that this factory did not directly sell it to the Revolutionary Guards or the Houthi rebels in Yemen. How did it end up in their hands? The answer lies in the net of intermediary companies working like a cobweb.

In 2020, the PBS corporation announced in a press release that it has never sold jet engines to Iran, Yemen, or other countries supporting these political regimes. According to the claim in this statement, the TJ-100 engine mentioned in the report by United Nations experts is an unauthorized copy. The question then is, how did the Islamic Republic gain access to the original version for reverse engineering and the production of unauthorized copies? Once again, the "answer lies in the cobweb of aforementioned companies."

The image below, provided in the Panel of Experts Report on Yemen to the UN Security Council S/2020/326, clearly indicates that the "unauthorized version" included "original PBS components."

According to a leaked document titled 'Summary Report on the Performance of the KCHQ' with the number SG-PC-PR-MR-0022-00 dated 19 February 2023, the KCHQ has extensive activities in Syria. The production and export of phosphate soil from Al-Sawana mines, oil exploration and extraction operations in the provinces of Homs and Deir ez-Zor, and the establishment of commercial zones in the port of Latakia are among them. Considering the extensive economic sanctions against both governments and given the fact that the IRGC’s Quds Force incurs heavy expenses in Syria, it can be estimated that a portion of KCHQ’s revenues in Syria directly fund the Quds Force.

How does the Islamic Republic of Iran’s money laundering system work?  

The Iranian regime has been historically under various sanctions since its US diplomats’ hostage-taking crisis in 1979. The regime has been quintessentially involved in all manners of supporting paramilitary groups across the world that have been the subject of sanctions at one point or another, each of the US, the EU, or the UN. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2023, the Islamic Republic has also become a sanctions-evasion trick master for Russia, teaching Russian financial and banking officials how to evade sanctions as of March 2023. To say that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a master of sanctions evasion is thus no exaggeration. 

Since 2006, when the international community became fully aware of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program “unreported” operations, per its international nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations, the pressure to force the Iranian regime has increased. A consistent manifestation of such pressure has been the various sanctions that the EU and the US have imposed on the Islamic Republic independently or through the UN over the past 17 years. In response, the regime publicly introduced sanction evasion measures, and the Islamic Republic's international financial exchanges underwent significant changes. Since the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1696, 31 July 2006, specifically targeting the Islamic Republic’s international financial transactions, the regime has drastically changed its methods of receipt, fund transfers, and payments drastically, delegating a large portion of such transactions to “the private sector.”

Another European source, who also spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, informs us further of how sophisticated the Islamic Republic’s evasion tactics have become: Let me give you an example. In 2006, Bijan Farrokhzadeh, an Iranian-British citizen, registered a company in the British Virgin Islands with his British passport for an initial cost of $2! Money related to Iran would pass through Farrokhzadeh's company on this island and also through two other companies in the UAE named AlSAMAA LTD and GLS Services LTD, reaching the NLB Bank in Slovenia.

Subsequent UNSCR resolutions 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), and 1835 (2008) led to the extension of the sanctions to the financial accounts of ostensibly private sector companies that conducted transactions through smaller European countries. In the aftermath of the adoption of the said resolutions, our source observes:

From 2008, for two consecutive years, Farrokhzadeh had 30,000 bank transactions across 9,500 different bank accounts. The transactions averaged 70 million euros per month. This means just in two years, Mr. Farrokhzadeh, along with his network, moved around over one billion euros. This amount of transaction is so enticing for any small country's economy, like, say, Slovenia, that even the Prime Minister, President, Foreign Minister, and Finance Minister of the said country at the time ignored French security services’ warnings sent to them on the subject in 2010. Not until 2017, when a European Parliament Commission looked into the matter, it became clear what had actually happened to these funds floating around.


Our source, citing documents also reviewed by the European Parliament, offers further insights into how sophisticated these operations have become:

Imagine that each person, say, someone named Hossein, withdrew 990 euros daily from various ATMs. According to the European Parliament's report, Hussein did this 501 times, which means approximately half a million euros in cash ended up in the European Union's black market just through Hossein. Imagine that some of this money could have been laundered through buying expensive cars or houses later and then could have been sold after some time, allowing the cash to be washed and transferred to various bank accounts. The mafia did the same thing. I admit our system is flawed concerning the Iranians' money laundering. But fixing this flaw requires a very strong political will. Until then, we'll witness the purchase of dual-usage material for military manufacturing purposes, and we’ll see the continuation of stealing our technologies and Iran’s efforts in order to reverse engineer our strategic products.


In addition to owning companies in Britain, Slovenia, and the UAE, Iraj Farrokhzadeh also owns companies in Turkey. The Slovenian Democratic Party, amid a new round of investigations in 2017, declared:

[The Iranian government] has used laundered money in Slovenia to purchase materials needed to produce nuclear and chemical weapons, and have also paid to pay their agents to facilitate these purchases and have also recruited spies that have infiltrated;  and introduce Iranian spies into the security, defense, and nuclear institutions of the European Union and the United States.  

It is only the IRGC and its revenue KCHQ that can afford such operations, for the government barely has sufficient monetary and human resources to conduct them itself.  Based on other overseas activities of the IRGC that we discuss below, the IRGC’s agents, especially its overseas’ Quds Force operators, are actively engaged in all of the said operations. As the dam-building projects constitute the lion share of the IRGC’s revenue, the funds for such operations must partly come from the revenue generated by KCHQ’s dam-building racket. 


One burning question is: how can the regime afford to fund the IRGC’s dam construction racket? The response lies in Iran’s natural resources.  Iran’s major source of revenue is oil and gas. Indeed, it is the revenue from the Iranian natural resources that pays the share of the infrastructure construction projects awarded to KCHQ, money that must be dedicated to all Iranians’ welfare and the sustainable development of the country.  Of course, these funds do not just violate the rights of Iranian citizens by way of impoverishing them and enriching the ruling elite, but they are used to fund the state’s instruments of repression. 

Such an unaccountable and un-transparent manner of siphoning the state’s resources, moreover, violates the fundamental rights of all Iranians. In fact, the operations funded by the ostensibly “legally obtained” revenues of the KCHQ directly fund repressive operations against Iranian citizens within and without the Iranian borders. A significant component of the IRGC’s raison d’être is its duty to preserve and protect the Islamic Republic regime. The IRGC thus functions as a major instrument for the brutal suppression of Iranian dissidents based within and without the Iranian borders. In 2018, a major terror plot against Iranian dissident groups intended to be executed in Paris was thwarted with the collaboration of security services from Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France.


The primary culprit behind the terror plot was Mr. Assadollah Asadi, the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s “third secretary” in Vienna, the capital of Austria. Before he arrived in Austria, A member of the Ministry of Intelligence (the Islamic Republic’s main security agency), Asadi was given a cover appointment as a diplomat by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, Asadi was a tandem member of the intelligence and operations unit of IRGC’s Quds Force. Between 2004 and 2008, he was involved in sabotage and terror operations, such as roadside bomb explosions in Iraq, targeting both American soldiers and members of the anti-Islamic Republic Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, who were, at the time, based in Iraq.


Even though Asadi did not accomplish his mission, all phases of his operation on European soil were criminal. First, he smuggled a TATP-filled bomb in a diplomatic suitcase to Austria, and then, he spent significant funds on other aspects of the operation.


He paid 120,000 euros to an Iranian-Belgian citizen named Amir Saadouni and 106,000 euros to his wife, Nasimeh Naami. Another Iranian-Belgian citizen, Mehrdad Arefani, received 226,000 euros. Portions of these amounts were gradually deposited through 120 intermediary accounts and reached their hands.


Upon Asadi's arrest, a ledger was retrieved from his car. The ledger showed that he had made cash payments to individuals in Europe 289 times. Security officials in 11 countries, including France, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy, were tasked to identify these recipients. The highest sum (with a payment frequency of 144 instances) was paid in Germany. Most importantly, and notably, one of the addresses listed in this notebook was the address of the Islamic Centre in Hamburg. All the funds were transferred through the Islamic Republic of Iran's intricate banking networks.


Keeping up with the times, the IRGC has further diversified its undercover transactions and has been conducting some of its financial transactions via dabbling in cryptocurrencies. In June 2023, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant announced the discovery and seizure of millions in digital currency dollars in accounts connected to the IRGC’s Quds Force and Hezbollah of Lebanon. The Times of Israel reported that this was the first operation against cryptocurrencies linked to the IRGC and Hezbollah of Lebanon. However, tracking funds exchanged in cryptocurrency, primarily USDT, is no less challenging than tracing individual bank accounts and/or shell companies many individuals operate under.

In closing, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s natural resources are a major funding source for all the infrastructure projects awarded to KCHQ and, in turn, the IRGC. Not only do none of these entities and their subsidiary corporations and enterprises pay a nickel in taxes to the government or contribute to the betterment of the communities in which they operate, but they also divert the revenues generated to tighten the regime’s grip over the very civilians and citizens from whom these riches are rubbed. From campaigns of state suppression and brutal crackdown of peaceful protests, protests that are sometimes staged against the water resources management of the regime in places like Isfahan in the winter of 2021, to the usage of the same funds to develop weapon scale nuclear enrichment, destabilizing support for paramilitary proxies in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen, to staging terrorist plots against Iranian-EU and Iranian-American/Canadian citizens who oppose the regime. 

The Karun Basin: A Case Study of Human Rights Violations by the Dam Construction Racket

The regime’s record of the dam construction and surface water resource management over the past thirty years establishes that the environmental rights and the stemming human rights of the communities affected by these projects are not a cause of concern for the dam building racket and their state sponsors. Through the manipulation of springs and surface and groundwater sources amid a twenty-year-long drought that has affected the Middle East, the regime’s corrupt management of water resources has forced many communities across the country to queue in long lines for water transported by tankers from other regions every week. Case in point, the residents of villages in the Dehdez region, effectively trapped between the reservoirs of the Karun-3 and Karun-4 dams, are considered among the most water-deprived areas in Iran.

The country, according to Kaveh Madani, the Director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), has reached such a state of “Water Bankruptcy” that even some of the municipalities of the capital of Tehran suffer from chronic water shortage in the middle of the winter when seasonal precipitation used to delay the presently dire shortages into the middle of the spring at the earliest. 


Yet, unlike most other places in the Iranian plateau, the Karun basin used to be historically rich in water resources, comparable only to the Caspian Sea coastal regions. Whereas the government promises of mass dam building projects held that prosperity, cheap electricity, and employment would soon flow to downstream communities, in the years following the construction of major dams in this basin, some lost their lives due to the lack of infrastructure that the government had committed to building.


For example, the Iran Water & Power Resources Development Company (IWPC) had promised to build a bridge shortly after the construction of the Karun-3 Dam and the filling of its reservoir, allowing the residents on both sides of the lake that had replaced the Karun River to move more easily.  However, the government's reneging on its promise of building overpass bridges to connect various communities divided by the new developments was laid bare when a backup boat ferrying a minibus full of local women capsized, losing at least 12 lives.

Instead of improving the living conditions of all the people in the downstream communities in provinces, such as Khuzestan, the mass structural water management projects have pushed the communities from the edge of subsistence to a struggle for survival. In short, the province’s people are now grappling with impoverishment and frustration. A significant portion of the population has been dealing with water shortages, salinization of agricultural lands, and widespread pollution for over a decade. 


In the shadow of the tall crest of Karun 4 (commencement of construction 2002) and Karun-3 (date of inauguration 2005) dams, the development in the Karun watershed has destroyed the lives of the lesser-off communities at the expense of significant benefits for a privileged few primarily affiliated with the ruling oligarchy. Moreover, government officials’ empty promises and misleading statements about the advantages of the dams for the downstream communities were used to justify unlawful actions on the part of the dam construction racket and their government patrons, which caused much harm to the people and violated a broad array of their fundamental human rights. Environmental justice, defined as the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and risks, has never been acknowledged by the designers and planners of dams in the Karun basin. In other words, due to the imposition of these dams by the Islamic Republic, the people in these regions have been subjected to systematic discrimination. Yet, the main contours of any rights framework can only be understood through a mutually inclusive analysis that accounts for all economic, social, political, and civil rights at once.

First, “the right to access to water” is clearly mentioned in the "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women," the "Convention on the Rights of the Child," and the "Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities." In November 2002, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 regarding the right to water, defining it as "the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic use."

Second, UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292 in July of 2010 declared water and sanitation have been recognized as human rights since 2010. Accordingly, the unequal distribution of water, deliberate shortcomings, and any deliberate planning that causes clean drinking water and sanitation to become scarce for any community of citizens are considered human rights violations. Access to water is a right deserving of legal protection. One of these protections is “non-discrimination in access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities (especially based on land and housing status).”


Government policies, in short, have resulted in water poverty in various parts of this previously water-rich basin, and the interventions of governmental institutions have led to a decline in water quality and even groundwater salinization around the Arvand River. Consequently, the Islamic Republic's government must be investigated and scrutinized on the grounds of its deliberate violation of the fundamental right to access clean and sanitary water.


When it comes to investigating and reporting the human rights violations incurred by the dam construction racket in the Karun Basin region, the global civil society’s record is, at best, mixed. This is primarily because most human rights activists and experts are traditionally drawn to violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The regime’s violation of the provisions and clauses of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights regarding environmental justice and the fundamental right of access to clean water and sanitation in tandem with traditional civil and political rights has indeed reached such a critical scale in the Karun Basin region that it merits serious action on the part of global civil society activists, experts, and jurists.

Izeh, a clear example


According to leaked government documents, the regime’s security apparatus is fully aware of the role of governmental institutions in the destruction of the region’s water resources. The regime’s security agencies’ assessment warns that misgovernance and mismanagement of water resources could lead to widespread migration and riots. In effect, the regime is acutely aware that water scarcity will be a major cause of civil strife in Iran in the coming years. 


In recent years, some of the bloodiest protests in the country occurred in the Karun basin, including in the city of Izeh. The city's predominant demographic is the Bakhtiari people. On 22 May 2021, Qasem Soleimani Dashtaki, then the governor of Khuzestan, announced during a Khuzestan employment council meeting that the unemployment rate in the province was between 45 to 50 percent at the time- and it is fair to assume that in view of the worsening economic circumstances in Iran, the unemployment rate in the region could have worsened since then. Consequently, many have lost their jobs. Based on the regime’s promises, dams and the ensuing agricultural and industrial development over the past twenty years were not only supposed to have prevented such mass unemployment rates but were supposed to have created so many jobs that they would turn the province into a most prosperous region of the country. 


In 2017 (1396 Persian calendar), the suicide rate in the region surged to unexpected heights. The high wave of suicide rates in Khuzestan, however, drew the attention of many public health researchers as to the causes of this astonishing surge. The numbers were described as "shocking" but were never publicly released. Published academic research shows that between the years 1391 to 1395 (2012 to 2016), 1,159 people committed suicide in Khuzestan. Among them, the cities of Izeh (75 people), Masjed Soleyman (62 people), Bagh-Malek (42 people), and Andika (25 people) had the highest numbers.


In 2020, the ILNA news agency reported that the construction of the Karun-3 Dam displaced the people of 63 villages and settlements in the region. "Migrant villagers who were evicted from their homes during the filling of the Karun-3 Dam’s reservoir have settled on the outskirts of the cities of Izeh and Dehdez, left without any shelter or alternative livelihood," the news agency wrote. "People who were forced to migrate now have neither jobs nor any source of income, nor any land, nor any cattle nor any sheep for sustenance. It's an unprecedented, forced migration in modern history, imposed by dam builders who neither acknowledged the catastrophic magnitude of this event nor did ever take the responsibility for it."


People who once believed that the Karun River would continue to sustain their social lives, agriculture, and livestock are now forced to secure their drinking water from dug wells and flowing springs in the region, mostly depending on the government water tankers for their clean water needs. World Health Organization guidelines clearly state: “In order to have basic access to 20 liters per day, the water source has to be within 1,000 meters of the home, and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.”Many people from Izeh have been forced to migrate temporarily for a quasi-nomadic lifestyle as they move around from city to city in Khuzestan for low-paying temporary jobs. Some have gone to  Asaluyeh, Mahshahr, and other areas where oil and gas projects are prominently the favorite destinations for these migrant workers, separating them from their families as they endeavor to provide for them. The dams’ destruction of the environment has caused the breadwinners of the families to seek low-paying jobs in the distant parts of the province. The traces of Izeh's migrant workers are the most visible, especially during the oil and gas project workers’ strikes and industrial action.


In all nationwide protests in Iran, especially from 1396 (2017) onwards, including in the years '96 (2017), '98 (2019), 1400 (2021), and 1401 (2022), Izeh has played a prominent role. The world may never forget Kian Pirfalak, a 9-year-old boy from Izeh, a victim of a police shooting of security forces. 

According to various studies conducted by security experts, the continued and intensified water tensions induced by water scarcity are bound to lead to an equal surge in social tensions in the region. The poor economic conditions of the communities that have been impoverished by the construction of large water structures over the past few decades have caused mass population displacement and regional instability across the province. The people who have been incredibly impoverished and displaced are the communities in the general vicinity of the Karun-3 and Karun-4 dams. These communities are at risk of heightened tension and confrontation with government agents and security forces.

Forced Displacement and the Violation of the Right to Adequate Housing


With the construction of large dams and the implementation of inter-basin water transfer projects to Central Iran, the homes, farms, and orchards of many residents of the Karun Basin drowned in the reservoirs. The government was initially committed to paying the actual value of the properties and assets of the people who were losing everything. However, in reality, a large group of these villagers, especially residents near the reservoirs of the Karun-3, Karun-4, and Gotvand dams, were never properly compensated. They were forced to migrate to areas where they were strangers, and many of them were yet to be able to attain their previous standard of living.


The Islamic Republic has systematically deprived them of their "right to adequate housing" as it has failed to provide them with corresponding lands in size and quality as well as basic housing and shelter. They are displaced people in their very own homeland. The Islamic Republic regime’s failure in this regard is yet another blatant violation of the Karun Basin communities’ basic rights to shelter. The fact sheet on the right to health, jointly developed by the World Health Organization(WHO) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, defines the key aspects of adequate housing as follows: The right to adequate housing involves both freedoms and protections. Some examples include the right to be protected against forced evictions or the illegal demolition of one's home, the freedom to choose one's residence, and the freedom to move. Adequate housing must be more than four walls and a roof. There are several conditions that make a shelter "adequate." For instance, a house is not deemed suitable if it lacks clean drinking water, proper sanitation, energy for cooking, warmth, light, food storage, and sewage disposal. A house is not considered adequate if it does not provide physical security or enough space for its residents or if it doesn't protect against cold, heat, rain, wind, humidity, and other health-threatening factors. Adequate housing should at least have the necessary facilities for disabled people, the unemployed, and other vulnerable individuals (such as easy access to wheelchairs); otherwise, it is not deemed suitable. A house is not suitable if it's too far from job opportunities, health and medical services, schools, or nurseries.


Moreover, protection from forced eviction is one of the key elements of the right to adequate housing. Forced eviction is the permanent or temporary removal of individuals, families, or communities from their homes or land without legal justification or access to appropriate legal protection.


Forced evictions might occur in various situations for various reasons. A common example is development projects, urban or rural beautification, or construction. In some cases, land ownership disputes escalate into violence and even armed conflict. The United Nations considers forced evictions a gross violation of human rights. 


Violation of Human Rights in the Water Management Sector

Over the past thirty-four years, the KCHQ and its affiliated companies have played a significant role in the environmental degradation and socio-economic catastrophe in violation of the fundamental rights of the communities living in the Karun Basin. Most of these projects lacked environmental impact assessments and permits. In fact, wherever there has been any such “impact assessment,” it has been conducted by the same consultants that were awarded the project in the first place, namely, Mahab Ghodss and other partners of KCHQ and its affiliates. Decisions to build dams or establish inter-basin water transfer systems from the larger Karun region were aligned with the interests of specific areas and groups, harming the basin, its people, and its environment. Ironically, such actions disregard Article 50 of the Islamic Republic's constitution, which stipulates the protection of the environment as “an intergenerational trust,” also violating environmental justice per the Islamic Republic’s own constitution.


Top-down decision-making, without any consultation, consent, or approval of the Karun Basin communities whose whole region was later turned into dam reservoirs, has resulted in the forced displacement of thousands, the depletion of downstream groundwater resources, decline in water quality, loss of forests, mass destruction of trees, flooding of farmlands, groves, and orchards, and broad unilateral ecosystemic disturbance changes. 

On the one hand, implementing many of these changes under the guise of river management and electricity supply has adversely affected various generations. Due to the loss of farms, the extinction of palm groves, salinization of water and aquifers, lack of safe drinking water, and unemployment, the communities that relied on subsistence farming for centuries now are in an environmental apocalyptical struggle for survival. 

On the other hand, the implementation of expensive projects like the Gotvand Dam, which had significant discrepancies between preliminary assessments and actual costs, made some experts question the real reasons behind its completion by the IRGC. Whereas, in the 1960s, Harza, an American consulting firm, opposed building a dam downstream of Mount Anbal(with its salt mines consisting of evaporites of the Gachsaran geologic formation), in the 2000s, IWPC handed over the construction of the dam to government-sponsored consultants, and contractors of the IRGC against the advice of many independent experts.


According to experts involved in the Gotvand project, when the potential contact of salt with the river and the possibility of its dissolution could have halted the dam's construction and completion, the IRGC contractors, under the leadership of Commander Saeed Mohammad, insisted on covering this area with a clay blanket. Despite the objections of some experts warning of the imminent collapse of this earthen layer, the dam's construction continued from the mid-2000s to its completion. However, just three days after the dam's reservoir was filled, large portions of the clay blanket collapsed, initiating salt dissolution and reservoirs’ salination.


A former member of IWPC reports that: "The claim that officials were unaware [of the salt present in the Anbal mountain] is not true. The managers were convinced that covering the large salt mass with a clay blanket would solve the problem and there was no need to create a media sensation."

However, the KCHQ is not the only violator of human rights in the Gotvand Dam construction.  An Iranian source familiar with the construction of the Gotvand Dam and the presence of Anbal Salt Ridge says: It's not like a salt ridge was suddenly discovered, and a clay blanket was needed to solve the problem. Decades before the dam became operational, both in Mahab (the sanctioned Mahab Ghodss Consulting Engineering Company) and Moshanir (Power Engineering Service Co), everyone was aware of  the salt source. Everyone knew that they would face this issue someday. But the fee of consultation for overseeing Gotvand for Mahab was half of its budget to pay the personnel, and Mahab was highly dependent on this money. Our source considers this an obvious conflict of interest. He adds: Any violation of rules and regulations is initially the consultant's responsibility, not the contractor. The consultant is the public's trustee. They have violated human rights, first and foremost. They are at a stage prior to Khatam Headquarters in the violation of human rights.

Moreover, the filling of the Gotvand Dam with Karun’s water caused many villages and the region’s cultural heritage to be submerged. Given the region's historical significance, in our opinion, this matter should be thoroughly investigated by UNESCO.

Legislation concerning water in Iran's hot and arid climate has a long history. In modern Iran, the 1928 Civil Code stipulated that individual ownership and use of water resources were conditional upon the "no harm" rule. This rule, derived from Islamic jurisprudence, means that causing harm to oneself and others is prohibited. Thus, citizens may use water as long as their usage does not harm others. In other words, one person's right to use water should not deprive their downstream neighbors. Section 150 clearly stipulates: “If several individuals are partners in the digging of a channel or a well, they become the co-owners of the water in proportion to partaking in labor and expenses that are required to ensure the maintenance of the said structure. The water must accordingly be divided amongst them according to the aforementioned proportional share.  Section 151 of the Civil Code stipulates: “None of the partners can open up another channel from a common channel, or broaden or narrow the mouth of a stream or build a bridge or a mill over, or plant trees beside it, or make any use of it, except with the permission of other partners.” Section 159 further stipulates: “If a person wishes to cultivate for the first time a piece of land bordering a river, and there is a surplus of water, and the owners of the existing plots will not be hampered, he can irrigate the new land with the water from the said river; otherwise, he has no right to draw water from the said river, even if his land is on an upper plain relative to all other lands."

The Pahlavi state developed the legal superstructure governing the management of the water infrastructure as rapidly as it was developing and constructing the water management across the country. Such a massive and rapid development led to the establishment of the Ministry of Water and Electricity in 1963. A fundamental objective of establishing the new ministry was stated in section 1 of its founding law, that is, "maximizing the efficacious use of water resources and ensuring the supply of sufficient electricity for urban and rural consumption and the agricultural and industrial needs of the country."


The Iranian parliament passed the laws for conserving and protecting groundwater resources in 1966. In 1968, all water resources were "nationalized" by Imperial Decree, and the parliament passed the law regulating their exploitation, which received royal assent the same year. Usage of the water became subject to government approval and licensing, and the law for groundwater conservation and protection was approved in 1966. Section 2 of this law states: "In areas where technical and scientific studies show that the groundwater level is dropping due to increased consumption or other reasons, or in areas where government irrigation projects are to be implemented, the Ministry of Water and Electricity is authorized to prohibit the drilling of deep and semi-deep wells and qanats (aqueducts) from the date of project implementation for a specified period." Subsequently, the Ministry of Water and Electricity was mandated to "take necessary measures to enrich groundwater resources." One of these measures was to regulate the drilling of deep and semi-deep wells in areas specified by the ministry.


Under the current regime, article 150 of the Constitution states: "In the Islamic Republic, protecting the environment in which today's generation and future generations must have a growing social life is considered a public duty. Therefore, economic and other activities that result in environmental pollution or irreparable destruction are prohibited." The regime has blatantly violated all the rights and regulations passed over the past 44 years. All these rights have been taken away from the Iranian people, depriving them of their rights and good governance of the nation’s water resources.

Based on contemporary international conventions, in protecting people’s right to access clean and sanitary water, the government's intervention in ensuring the people's right to water has two aspects: a negative one and a positive one. The negative obligation of the government is its duty of "non-interference and not creating obstacles." In other words, governments do not have the right to prevent or impede the utilization of water rights. Based on the emphasis of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, governments must refrain from direct or indirect interventions that prevent the realization of water rights.

Moreover, governments are obliged to take appropriate legislative, judicial, and executive measures to prevent the violation or undermining of the people's right to water. Although the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights does not directly refer to the right to water, the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights emphasized in November 2002 that the right to water is part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and should be considered equal to the rights to adequate food, housing, and clothing. This committee also states that the right to access water is inextricably linked to the rights associated with health.

We cannot reiterate enough that the right to water is mentioned in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). The Islamic Republic government has not fulfilled its obligations under these international agreements in any of these cases.

Human rights violations continue; Khersan-3 Dam

The Khersan-3 Dam, being built on the Khersan River near the Lordegan county of the Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, is one of the 25 dams under construction atop the Karun tributaries in the Zagros mountains. Construction of this structure began without obtaining the necessary environmental impact assessments and despite many experts’ warnings of the catastrophic consequences of its construction. The Khersan-3 dam serves as a poignant reminder of the mass displacement that occurred near Izeh in the early 2000s during the construction of the Karun-3 dam, which uprooted thousands of people from their homes. 

According to ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency) "With the construction of the Khersan-3 dam, more than 2,400 hectares of forests and shrublands in the Zagros region in the Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces will be submerged, destroying thousands of rare forest reserves of Iranian oak, beech, and wild almond species along the border of the protected Dena region." ISNA also cites Dena county’s governor Kourosh Derakhshanzadeh:

With the construction of this dam, 24 villages with more than 800 households in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces will be submerged, causing income losses in many sectors, including billions of tomans of income from agriculture, horticulture, livestock, beekeeping, and aquaculture in the billions to be lost. In addition, twenty-six historical and natural sites will be affected by the construction of this dam, including the Monj waterfall and Atashgah waterfall, the country's longest waterfall.

Environmental activists have warned that "if this dam is completed, we will witness an increase in temperature, deterioration of air quality, and air pollution over time," and "a significant part of our ecosystem will be seriously damaged as the increase in humidity will make the environment sick."

What should be done?

For years, environmental activists, water experts, lawyers, and researchers on government corruption have warned about the irreparable damage of reckless dam constructions to Iran's climate and region and widespread human rights violations. The IRGC’s dam construction racket has not only violated all core environmental and human rights of the Karun Basin region’s communities. It has rendered millions of hectares of land in the region literally “unlivable.” Blatant disregard for the rule of law, endemic and pervasive corruption across all levels of government, nepotism, money laundering, and funding terrorism have turned the IRGC into a multi-headed racket that not only endangers natural and human resources of Iran but also thrives in the violation of all Iranians’ fundamental human rights.  The IRGC, as a sovereign entity within a state that is bereft of any semblance of good governance, parasitically exploits all state resources whilst expanding its racket and military-industrial complex’s arsenal across the Middle East region into Ukraine and around the globe. In so doing, the IRGC is a present and clear threat to the stability of the Middle East and Black Sea regions, a principal violator of human rights, a transnational rogue actor, and a violator of global human rights. Experience has shown that corrupt government agencies, especially those with a tight grip over a state’s resources, such as the IRGC, are unaccountable to any oversight, nationally or internationally. 

To contain this monster and its multi-pronged tentacles, there is no alternative but to resort to international human rights mechanisms to stop its parasitical and destabilizing global expansion. To restore Iranians to their fundamental rights, an important leverage is international pressure. The constituent elements of such pressure are major world governments, especially Western governments, and the world public opinion. Awareness raising on a global scale about the plight of the many communities of the Karun Basin may appear to be a formidable task. Yet, the cause of Karun Basin and campaigns to save its communities are as critical as the decades-long campaigns to save the Amazon forest and the like. To recover Iranians’ fundamental human rights, the first and perhaps most crucial step is prioritizing human rights in any negotiations and interactions with the Islamic Republic.

The Karun Basin_ Environmental Injustice, Human Rights Violations, and the Destruction of
Download • 4.81MB

____________ * This report represents the inaugural edition of Abangan's research on the infringement of human rights related to water, sanitation, and a clean environment. The authors plan to revise and enhance this report as additional research is conducted and more credible documents become available.


Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page