Uniting for Freedom, Democracy & Equality

Kumi Naidoo’s Remarks to the International Conference on the 1988 Massacre — August 27, 2021

Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International (2018-2020), addressed at the International Conference on the 1988 Massacre, attended by 1,000 Former Political Prisoners — 27 August 2021.

Dear brothers and sisters, I bring you greetings from Africa and on behalf of the Africans Rising for justice, peace and dignity and social movement, were I serve as … and as some of you might know, I have served as the Secretary-General of Amnesty International during which time the report was brought out on this terrible tragedy and terrible injustice that we saw take place in Iran in 1988.

So let us be very clear, what happened in 1988 was a totally brutal … massacre of political prisoners, which is a crime against humanity. And if you go with the definition given by our previous speaker, notwithstanding the technicalities it amounts to genocide.

Now as an African, where we have had many tragedies on our continent, including in my own country, South Africa. I have to say that this particular act by a state, by a government, murdering people that were in their care. Because, when you are a prisoner you are in the care of the authority that is holding you, and they have a responsibility in terms of international law to provide you with food and healthcare and so on.

They do not have the right to take you out at night and hang you. I would like to pay tribute to the political prisoners that are here with us today. It is very moving for me to see the strength and the courage of people who have been through so much and suffered so much of personal tragedies, as well as seeing friends and comrades who have had to endure some of the worst atrocities that humanity have ever seen. So, I would like to pay a tribute to all the political prisoners, the PMOI members and supporters for their steadfastness and the sacrifices their have made.

I would like to applaud you in this event that you and other speakers have taken care to say that stand for all the political prisoners that lost their lives, including those that were from smaller political parties and including those that might have had different views and those that might have been dismissed as leftists and so on.

It is critically important that in this moment of world history where we are seeing many governments running out of legitimacy to actually govern in the way that the citizens expect that we look for a new source of inspiration that is coming out from the new generation of young people across the world, from Iran to Afghanistan to the United States to Europe.

We are seeing that young people are standing up with such courage with such motivation and that is something people like myself who are older human rights activists and so on must now fully encourage and support and it has been very inspirational to see that there have been a significant number of young people in the last decade in Iran were standing up and who have been putting their lives at risk and many of whom have paid the price.

I want to stop here to make a point about how we understand how governments get away with the kind of brutality that happened in 1988. Often we think that governments control us, primarily through the use of what you could call the repressive state apparatus, Army, police …laws and prison systems and so on. Of course, that is very powerful and the tragedy of 1988 tells us about them, however, it is critically important that we understand that equally important, if not even more important, is how unjust governments use the ideological state apparatus, which is framework for Education, the framework for religion, social norms, and customs, and critically important the framework for media and communications.

So if we are to turn things around in Iran, we need to consciously think about how we are able to try to break through the control that the regime has on how it can manage the information and how it can keep so many people unaware of some of the tragedies that they have inflicted.

It is important therefore, that the European Union and the broader International Community who I must say are very selective in how they apply the commitment to democracy and human rights and that makes it difficult for them to play the role that they need to play. But not withstanding that they need to be taking the leadership given the work that has been done, the evidence and the research that is clear about what has happened now, to set up an international inquiry into the massacre and to all the perpetrators to account for committing crimes against humanity.

The EU policy in Iran need to be revised and take into consideration that this current government and has a higher level of culpability, given the particular role that played by president Raisi in the crimes committed in 1988.

I would like to conclude by saying that Governments who behave like this must recognize that their behavior is not an expression of strength. It is an admission of weakness. When you have to kill your own people with such brutality, with such impunity and with such an unaccountability, all you are saying to the world is that we are weak. Strong governments do not need to do the kind of atrocity that was committed in 1988.

But let me conclude by saying that notwithstanding all the media manipulation and control that we see by many governments, unjust governments around the world and as we have been seeing it in Iran. I would say humbly to the Iranian government as has been said before.

You can fool all the people, some of the time, some of the people all of the time. But you can never fool all the people all the time. If justice is to be served and if human rights is to be respected, let us hope that that recognition is coming soon, and I would like to just end with the word of thanks to all the prisoners that are here for reminding us that the struggle for justice is a marathon, and not a sprint and from the bottom of my heart I like to add my word of appreciation for all the political prisoners that are with us, with their courage, the commitment and for the inspiration … Not only to the people of Iran, but for the people who are fighting for justice all over the world.

Thank you very much.