Experts at the UN discussing human rights conditions in Iran – Palais des Nations, UN – September 20, 2019
International human rights experts participated in a conference at Palais des Nations of the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva on Friday, calling for an end to the impunity enjoyed by Iranian regime officials in regards to ongoing human rights violations in Iran, most specifically those involved in the summer 1988 massacre. Over 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members and supporters of the Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), were sent to the gallows in a matter of a few months.
Kristy Brimelow, QC, international human rights lawyer
“Why should there now be a tribunal on the crime against humanity committed in 1988? First, because lawyers have examined evidence and know beyond doubt that a crime was committed. If Iran disputes that, we have a process for that,” Brimelow said in her opening remarks.
“We’ve had more engagement from those in positions of power in Iran. Defenders should be able to give their testimonies before a tribunal and a judge. The UN should not shy away from it.
“In July 1988, Iran’s supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa against the members and sympathizers of PMOI. Political prisoners were cleansed, as well as apostates, those who had left-winged views.
“The crime was carried out through what Khomeini called the ‘Amnesty Commission.’ They operated in 17 provinces and became known as the ‘Death Commissions.’ They rounded people who had already served their sentences or were in the midst of serving their sentences. There were no trials. There were two-minute hearings. There was no investigation. A series of questions were asked designed to determine whether the person was loyal to Khomeini. If loyalty was not sufficient, the person would be hanged or sent to the death squad.
“There was a people’s tribunal in geneva last February. Some of the families of those who were killed or disappeared gave evidence. One man said he was told to pay for the bullets used to shoot her daughter. One woman sais she is still searching for her child.
“In 2017, Asma Jahangir reported on the mass executions to the General Assembly. She detailed the massacre of 1988 as extrajudicial killing. The new special rapporteur has not followed through with the work of his predecessor.
“In July 2019, Mostafa Pourmohammadi responded to allegations of 1988 executions and defended them as execution of terrorists. But evidence shows the contrary. Many of the people had been arrested for distributing leaflets, many were children.
“It is time that we write the history within the judicial setting as to what happened in 1988, and this crime against humanity must be recognized beyond political goals, but within its judicial context. Otherwise, what’s the point of the UN.”
Laurence Fellman Rielle, a member of the Swiss FederalParliament
“We are witnessing progress in seeing the perpetrators of this crime being brought before a court. Since launching the campaign for justice for the victims of 1988 massacre, many of the perpetrators have been exposed and the crime has been documented,” said Swiss MP Laurence Fellman Rielle.
“Amnesty International has also rallied to expose this crime. It has underlined that if the perpetrators are not held to account before a tribunal, more crimes and massacres will take place. Amnesty called it a crime against humanity. Amnesty has also gathered testimonies from hundreds of witnesses.
“The Iranian regime refuses to declare the fate of the victims, which causes more suffering for their families.
“Moreover, the regime has ratcheted up pressure against the Iranian people, especially against women, which has been the cause of many suicides.
“Political prisoner Maryam Akbari Monfared wrote an open letter in which she criticized the west for its silence on the crime and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
“NGOs and activists have called on Switzerland to not remain silent on this crime and to take concrete actions. I call on the UN Human Rights councilor to launch an investigation on this crime.
“I had the pleasure to visit Ashraf 3 in Albania, where former prisoners and refugees who were persecuted in Iraq are now located. I had the chance to speak to many young women whose family members were killed by the regime and are now leading efforts to bring freedom to Iran and help the world know about what’s happening in Iran right now. I was impressed by the commitment of these women to create a free and secular Iran.
Henrik Hermansson, political scientist and human rights researcher
Henrik Hermansson, a political scientist and human rights researcher, listed a number of reports on the 1988 massacre.
“We also have testimonies from witnesses. Many estimates allude to 30,000 political prisoners in the span of a few months. We have the locations of 60 mass graves.
“These crimes happen on a systematic scale in Iran today. Anyone who questions what happens to their loved ones, whether it was in 1988, 2009 or 2018, will be harrassed by authorities.
“These current human rights abuses are not surprising. The 1988 massacre shaped Iran’s political system. The massacre was carried out by many authorities. Many death commission members now hold important positions in the government.
“Iran’s large financial institutions are controlled by the perpetrators. Iran’s current supreme leader, who was president in 1988, was directly involved. The 1988 massacre became a career-making moment for many Iranian officials.
“When officials are trained on the mass murder of dissidents, mass murder is how they will respond to protests. The continued impunity of this crime contributes to this continued crime.
“We should understand impunity is a cause of human rights violation and a violation of itself. There’s still a role for the UN and international human rights community to end impunity, even if it has political ramifications.
“The UN lacks consistency in addressing human rights issues. On the 1988 massacre, impunity has been dropped between two special rapporteurs. This allows Iran to continue committing crimes.
“I call on member states to discuss the 1988 massacre with the Special Rapporteur to make sure it’s not dropped again. Failure to investigate is also a crime.”
Dr. Alejo Vidal-Quadras, President of the international committee In Search of Justice (ISJ)
“The UN has a process where the human rights situation in different countries is reviewed every four years (UPR). This year is Iran’s turn,” said Dr. Alejo Vidal-Quadras, President of the international committee In Search of Justice (ISJ).
“Human rights has deteriorated in Iran. Some thought Iran would moderate. But it’s obvious that it didn’t.
“In 2018 protests, the regime arrested 7,000 protesters. Most were protesting the economic situation, lack of sanitation, food, environmental problems caused by the regime’s policies. These protests were suppressed by the regime with extreme cruelty.
“To quiet the protests, Iranian authorities have resorted to further suppression and executions. In the past three months, one person has been executed per day. In August of this year, there was a sharp increase in cruel sentences against activists.
“Group execution of prisoners were also reported in August. Eight prisoners were collectively executed in Gohardasht Prison. These facts remind us of the events that took place in 1988. 30,000 prisoners were executed in a few months. Iranian authorities don’t even acknowledge killing these people. Instead, the perpetrators were promoted to positions of power. This is simply appalling. These promotions are to guarantee impunity for the perpetrators.
“Over the past four years, women’s rights have deteriorated even more. Women who have protested to veiloing rules have been arrested and given harsh sentences. There is jurisdiction that prevents women from taking part in normal activities in the society. One case is Sahar Khodayari who died due to self-immolation. She had been arrested after she tried to enter a sport stadium to watch her favorite football team. Iran is the only country where women are banned from entering sport stadiums.
“Journalists were sentenced to six to 18 years in prison for “spreading propaganda against the system” or “spreading lies.” They were working on a publication containing material for public interest. They were sentenced to 18 years in prison for doing their job.
“This is a regime built on human rights violations. I want to emphasize to the civil society and states, and especially to EU Member States and the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to do what they can to change the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran. They have a responsibility to stand with people who simply exercise their right to freedom of speech and association. The Human Rights Council must press to gain access to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
“The human rights work must remain the core and focus of our attention toward Iran. A regime that does not trust human rights can’t be trusted. The most fundamental step is to confront the culture of impunity that human rights abusers shield themselves in.
Behzad Naziri, a member of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)
“I am here not only as an NCRI member, but also as a witness. I escaped Khomeini’s prison, else I would have been one of the victims of the 1988 massacre. I was sentenced to eight years in prison. After the execution of my sister, I managed to escape prison after three years. My father was sent to prison in my place,” said Behzad Naziri, a member of the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
“From 2016 to 2019, great work has been done. For 30 years, this event has been kept silent. But the question has been brought to the surface, thanks to the great work of activists, jurists, politicians, parliamentarians and other personalities. We have managed to force the UN to move on this issue, which has been kept silent.
“Every person who is present in this hall has an important role to play. It’s not a work only for experts, but we need to rally for this cause.
“This regime will only change its human rights behavior when it no longer exists. But we must continue our activities. It’s important that come November, the issue of 1988 masacre be included in the UPR review of the regime’s human rights dossier. If not, the regime will continue to commit its crimes.
The perpetrators of this crime must be tried before a qualified tribunal.
Panel on the human rights situation in Iran
The Iranian regime, facing an increasingly restive society parallel to global isolation, is resorting to more atrocious violations of human rights across the country. This includes an escalating number of executions, arrests and torture in its dungeons. Experts in a UN panel discussed the horrible human rights conditions in and what actions should be taken by the international community.
While questions of oil are important and much discussed, the question of human rights violations remain unaddressed.
Former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi
“Yesterday, the European Parliament condemned the Iranian regime’s human rights violations. The heart and voice of Europe is expressed by human rights. Human rights must be a priority between EU institutions and the outside world. The EU has a fundamental role to promote freedom, rule of law, and protect freedoms.
“The Iranian regime must immediately release all human rights activists and women who have been arbitrarily arrested during the rule of the ‘reformist’ Rouhani. The regime must also release dual nationals who have been incarcerated with no legal justification.
“The [UN] Human Rights Council must discuss this. When we look at the geopolitical situation in the Gulf, there is no doubt that we must focus much more on human rights when we negotiate with Iran. Human rights and fundamental freedoms must come back to the center of this playing field. Making concessions to a religious dictatorship will only provoke it to become more aggressive. The regime has become more aggressive in its terrorism and internal repression.
“The regime’s terrorist plots against the NCRI and MEK have a long history and have continued during Rouhani’s tenure. The regime has carried out 450 terrorist attacks against political dissidents, but the international community has kept a blind eye. The perpetrators must be brought to justice in front of an international tribunal.
As an example, he mentioned the assassination of Mohammad Hossein Naghdi, the representativeof the NCRI in Italy.
“The then-ambassador was involved in this crime and is currently an advisor to Rouhani. The International community and UN should raise this issue constantly. The commitment that we must have must focus more on the 1988 massacre. This is a continuing massacre because the regime continues to hide the evidence. The individuals responsible are in key positions in the regime. The regime continues a policy of denial and Western governments are cooperating by refusing to raise this issue.
“We must render justice for the victims of the 1988 massacre.
Tahar Boumedra, former Director of the Human Rights Office in UNAMI and an expert on the death penalty
“We are facing a philosophy of law based on the safeguard of the Islamic Republic founded by Khomeini. The Iranians are talking about the due process of law. Their legal system is built on violating the fundamentals of human rights. When we build a state that has a philosophy of violating human rights, then this is a serious challenge,” said Tahar Boumedra, former Director of the Human Rights Office in UNAMI and an expert on the death penalty.
“The real solution is a fundamental change in Iran. And the Iranian constitution can’t be amended. It provides for violations of human rights, provides for torture. And no law can change this constitution except for the supreme leader.
“In 2014, we had huge data related to the 1988 massacre. It could fit in tens of volumes. But we focused only on evidence that is beyond doubt. Evidence that any court of law should entertain. We have documented it, and produced a report in 2017. Amnesty International was interested in the report and investigated and confirmed the evidence we gathered.
“The crime is there, the laws are there. The UN has set a framework for investigating these crimes. Hard evidence is here. The civil society, the Iranian civil society has also widely reported the massacre. The UN Special Rapporteur has also compiled a report on this issue. Ms. Jahangir had the courage to file this report.
“The current Special Rapporteur who dropped this issue from his report might have been under some kind of pressure to drop this from his agenda. Why has he abandoned the issue of the 1988 massacre? He must reply to the families of the victims, as well as the massacre survivors.
“I would like to remind the families of the victims that they need to report and write massively that the desk of the Rapporteur is never clear of their letters. He will have to be accountable and bring this in his report. We also need the families to inform the whole system of the UN.”
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, former UN expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order
“30,000 human beings is only the tip of the iceberg. 120,000 of the MEK have been killed. Back then Maurice Capitorn dropped the issue of the massacres because he thought it had already been dealt with by his predecessors,” said Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, former UN expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
“Next week, at the German Parliament, we will have a hearing on impunity at the Human Rights Committee. One of the points I will make is Ashraf. I have shared my comments on this with the High Commissioner.
“The violations are so enormous that they can be dealt with many other rapporteurs. How about a report by the rapporteur on extrajudicial executions on this issue? Other rapporteurs should be flooded by letters.
“This is a matter of the right to truth. What happened to our loved ones? It is a scandal. How many senior Iranian officials today have their hands full of blood and were directly involved in the murders of 1988.
“In July, I was in Ashraf 3, Albania, and I was encouraged by the solidarity I felt there by the feeling of community in Ashraf 3 and the support received by parliamentarians from different countries. But that which was most impressive and saddened me was the museum documenting the persecution of the MEK and the crimes committed during the reign of the mullahs. The assistant of the Human Rights Commissioner must visit this museum.
“The High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council must investigate this crime against humanity. The Special Rapporteur on truth and justice, as well as the rapporteur on torture and arbitrary detention must also look into this. This is a matter for the Human Rights Council and the UPR.
“It is imperative, you owe it to your loved ones, to your people, to your history, to keep sending this information to the UN and all committees where Iran must report to.”
Azadeh Alemi of the Women’s Human Rights International Association (WHRIA)
“Iranian women have been under constant repression for 40 years under the barbaric mullahs.
The segregation and sexual discrimination enshrined in the law make Iranian women’s lives a daily nightmare. They are deprived of rights & freedoms, removed from economic & political life,” said Azadeh Alemi of the Women’s Human Rights International Association (WHRIA).
“With the rise of poverty and economic crisis due to the financing of wars and repression by the regime, and the astronomical corruption of the mullahs, the number of forced marriages of girls is increasing considerably. There are approximately 180,000 forced marriages each year for girls under 18 years of age. These teenagers have had to stop school and then find themselves very often divorced or even widowed. In order to survive, they have to accept hard work with low wages or even prostitution.
“All this suffering and pressure is pushing women to suicide. This puts Iran ahead of the number of women’s suicides in the Middle East.
“The latest victim of these pressures was Sahar Khodayari, a young woman who set herself on fire in protest at the Tehran court that sentenced her to six months in prison. Her only crime was being a woman. She had tried to enter a stadium to watch her favorite team play.
“I would like to recall that this unprecedented hatred of women finds its roots in the misogynistic ideology of the theocratic power in Iran, which has based its entire repressive system on the repression of women in order to better control society.
“Tens of thousands of women have been executed by this regime including in the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
“Under Hassan Rouhani, 94 women have been executed.
“Why? Because women in Iran refuse to submit. On the contrary, they are always at the forefront of protests, hence the horrendous number of executions of political prisoners. They fight bravely for the rights of women, non-existent in this regime, but also the rights of all Iranians. Frightened by the waves of protests, the Iranian regime has arrested in recent months many women’s rights activists, trade unionists and journalists. They were sentenced to long terms of up to 18 years in prison.”
Sima Mirzaee, a family member of 14 individuals executed by the Iranian regime
“I am a victim of crime against humanity. The regime has executed 14 members of my family. Seven of them were executed in the 1988 massacre. The regime did not tell us where they were buried. I have participated in different conferences and I ask that the perpetrators of this crime be brought to justice,” said Sima Mirzaee, a family member of 14 individuals executed by the mullahs’ regime in Iran.
Massoumeh Joushaghani, a former political prisoner in Iran
“I was a victim of the regime’s human rights violations. I want to know what the UN has done. This crime has been buried under the rug for 30 years. I am the voice of all my friends who were executed in 1988. The regime destroyed this brave generation. I want the UN to bring the perpetrators of this crime, who are serving in senior positions in the Iranian government, to justice. The suffering of the families continues,” said Massoumeh Joushaghani, a former political prisoner in Iran.