In Toronto, on Monday October 18, 2004, the Iran Canada Business Council (ICBC) held its annual general meeting and seminar entitled, “The Bilateral Relationship and its Impact on Your Business with Iran.” Founded in 1992, the goals of the organization are twofold: it promotes and supports trade and investment between Iran and Canada, and serves as an advisory body to the Canadian government on matters related to trade and economic relations with Iran.

On the same day in Iran, news reports began to circulate about a thirteen-year-old Iranian girl, Zhila Izadi, who had been sentenced to death by stoning, upon discovery that she was carrying the child of her fifteen-year-old brother. Izadi is currently in prison, and her brother, also in prison, has received one hundred and fifty lashes as his punishment.

Two months ago on August 15, a 16 year-old girl by the name of Atefeh Rajabi, was executed in the town of Neka, located in the province of Mazandaran, for “engaging in acts incompatible with chastity” (Agence France Presse, Amnesty International). The execution was carried out by the order of Neka’s “judicial administrator” and was approved by both the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic and the chief of the nation’s judiciary branch, Mahmoud Shahroudi.

The Iran Canada Business Council is quite concerned that strained Iran-Canada relations, due in part to the tragic killing of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, will be bad for business. But they need not worry. When everything in our world is measured in dollars and cents, it has become increasingly difficult to situate the abstract and, at times, ambiguous notion of human rights as the new bottom line.

Even as the Islamic Republic of Iran continues to accelerate the number of arrests, executions, tortures, amputations, stonings, and other atrocities and injustices, on May 29, the World Bank awarded it with two loans totaling $369 million.

As justification for granting the loans, the World Bank asserted that they were awarded to help the people of Iran: “In many countries we have enfranchised civil societies,” the bank’s president, James D. Wolfensohn said at a luncheon, “Should we stop doing that and wait until we have perfect countries before we lend?

“The easiest thing for me, for the World Bank, would be to say, just wait until these countries are democratic, but that is impractical. The bank is not the United Nations. Its goal is economic development. Sometimes this must go hand in hand with democratic development.”

This is an argument that is repeatedly invoked; the suggestion being that somehow the personal status laws for women in Iran will shift dramatically because French car manufacturer Renault decides to open up a plant in Tehran, or that the barbarous act of stoning will halt because the French oil conglomerate Total won a 1.2 billion dollar bid to extract Iranian natural gas in the Persian Gulf.

However absurd the argument, organizations such as the Iran Canada Business Council and UK Trade and Investment have no need to be concerned and can rest assured that no action will be taken by the international community in this regard. In fact, quite the opposite has been happening. The commonwealth countries, along with the EU, have for the past decade been heavily pursuing trade with Iran with no checks or balances.

Unfortunately the tragedy of Atefeh Rajabi and Zhila Izadi are not anomalies in Iran. However ambiguous or contested the notion of universal human rights has become, there is nothing abstract about a sixteen year-old girl’s lifeless body hanging from a crane.