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Guy Verhofstadt’s Remarks to the Conference, “Holding the Mullahs’ Regime Accountable for Genocide, Terrorism, and Nuclear Defiance.” —January 17, 2022

Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, and Former Prime Minister of Belgium
Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, and Former Prime Minister of Belgium

Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, and Former Prime Minister of Belgium, addressed at the International Conference entitled, “Holding the Mullahs’ Regime Accountable for Genocide, Terrorism, and Nuclear Defiance.”

This conference hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris, on Monday, January 17, 2022.

These are excerpts from the original remarks:

A climate of impunity exists today in Iran. We have to continue to denounce the systematic impunity of the regime in Iran and to defend the enormous courage of the defenders of human rights and also those who are doing that in difficult circumstances in exile. Because I think it’s our common duty to denounce violations of democracy, violations of human rights everywhere in the world. And it is our duty to undo injustice and end the suffering of people who stand up for democracy and fundamental freedoms.

The uprising of the thirsty residents in the southern province of Khuzestan, who took to the streets against the water shortage, or a simple request of concerned men and women to tackle the pandemic. The authorities’ response remains unchanged. They strike back. They don’t solve the problem. Citizens who advocate the right to access water, to advocate the right for good health or better living standards were arrested and are now serving time behind bars. The impunity crisis in Iran reached a peak last year in June, when another major event in Iran attracted worldwide attention. This was the appointment of Raisi as the president of the regime. We all know that Raisi is one of the main perpetrators of the 1988 mass murder of more than 30,000 political prisoners. But instead of being tried and convicted of crimes against humanity, he was promoted to the position of president of Iran. And I think that his appointment is a stark reminder that impunity is rampant in Iran.

Crimes against humanity can never go unpunished. We are all still shocked, in fact, by the genocide that took place in the summer of 1988 in Iran. It was of an unprecedented horror and scale, as up to 30,000 innocent men and women died a terrible death only because they were striving for a free and a prosperous Iran. And as long as the guilty are not brought to justice, are not punished, it must, it is our duty to take every opportunity to express our outrage at the atrocities and the lack of justice.

In 1988, the international community massively turned a blind eye on the killings, despite repeated calls from the Iranian Resistance for a proper investigation. This passivity continues to this day. As long as we remain blind to the terrible crimes committed by that regime, we remain also blind to the endless grief of the affected families and the many Iranian citizens who are living in exile.

And drawing up an official report on the horrific events of 1988 is also of a major importance for those who suffered and who survived, because only when justice is done, then they will finally find peace also. It is high time for the United Nations to launch an official inquiry, as not launching such an inquiry also creates a dangerous precedent to the atrocities and continued gross violations of human rights not only in Iran, but with respect to all authoritarian regimes where human rights are trampled, as authorities think that they get away with it in the long run.

Failure to investigate the atrocities of 1988 by the international community gives the regime a green light to continue its brutal practices against its own population. It is not only a question of the past. It’s mainly a question of what is happening today and what will happen in the future in Iran, and of why this investigation is needed. In fact, the detention, torture, killing of union delegates, of environmentalists, of lawyers, of children rights activists, has reached frightening proportions since Raisi came to power.

People are bullied, or locked up, receive outrageous and ridiculous punishments because they peacefully raised their voices for a free and a fair Iran.  The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran also expressed his concerns on the increase of violence and terrifying number of executions, especially in 2021. It’s time to give these acts of aggression against the people of Iran the highest priority now in the international community. And that is why we should put Iran and the fight against impunity high on the political agenda. And instead of being silent witnesses of the deteriorating state of Iran, it is of the utmost importance to shape our strategy and foreign policy with Iran by putting our concerns about human rights violations at the forefront. The well-being of the people of Iran shall be a red line. We are talking about red lines every day in international politics. Well, this is a red line at all times, in bilateral talks and in negotiations. And I think that this firm policy, this red line should also concern the nuclear deal with Iran. Then ongoing talks on the denuclearisation of Iran cannot be a simple smokescreen not to tackle the human rights issue in Iran.

Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial to open in these talks a specific chapter on the human rights situation, as well as the rule of law and the lack of democracy in Iran.

The situation of human rights and its defenders in Iran is critical. It’s worse than it has ever been over the last 40 years. Conditions in prisons are more and more disgraceful. Justice is completely nonexistent and as a result of intensified repression. Anyone who stands up for his fellow citizens risks being tortured and killed. Urgent international action is needed to turn change this situation. And for that, I reiterate the need to make progress for an official and a profound report on the killings of 1988 as it all started there. Finally, investigating the massacre of ’88 and holding the guilty responsible will open the way for all Iranian people to design a new future for their beloved country. And in my quest for an official investigation under the auspices of the United Nations, I will continue to urge Josep Borrell, our high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to take the necessary steps to obtain it.

So please allow me, please allow me also to say a few words, especially to you, to the tireless work done by the Iranian people in exile, because I know that leaving your hearts and relatives in a country one left behind to continue to struggle for a better Iran deserves more than our appreciation. I can imagine that the conditions in which you, as a victim of repression, continue your mission are often precarious. There is always the risk that your relatives who stayed behind can be physically attacked or can be silenced because of your commitment. But it is thanks to the people in exile that’s important to tell you that we have a clear window, also a clear view on what is really happening in Iran today. Thank you very much.

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