During a great rally held in New York on September 19, 2023, IAGS President Prof. Melanie O’Brien delivered a speech. The rally was held outside the UN in support of uprisings for a democratic republic in Iran and in condemnation of the Iranian regime and its president, Ebrahim Raisi, during the session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The text of Prof. Melanie O’Brien’s speech follows:
What a privilege it is for us all to be here, holding this rally, and speaking at this rally. A privilege that we are free to congregate as a group and raise our voices against the scourge of tyranny in Iran, without fear of violence from the authorities. A privilege that those in Iran do not have, where they take great risks to go out and protest, as they have done over the past year since the death of Mahsa Amini and in the years beforehand.
The Iranian regime is so terrified of free speech that they have locked down cities and towns, they have detained her father, and they have spread the IRGC everywhere to discourage anyone from commemorating the one-year anniversary of her wrongful death.
That is why it is so important for us to use our privilege to stand here today, in the United States and outside the United Nations, where Ebrahim Raisi is today, and raise our voices against the tyranny and human rights abuses of his authoritarian regime.
So let me hear you make some noise against Raisi in the UN!
I know that I am also privileged, as a professor, to stand here and speak with freedom. I know there are many professors out there in this crowd today, and I hope you also feel the importance of being here.
The Iranian regime is targeting professors and universities. This is a typical action from an authoritarian regime. They never want anyone to question them or to question their actions, so they clamp down on the very people who teach critical thinking, who question the regime’s way of doing things.
So, I stand here in solidarity with the professors of Iran who find themselves targeted by Raisi’s regime. I am also privileged, as a woman, to stand here and speak with freedom. It is the death of one young woman, Mahsa Amini, after her arrest by the morality police that has driven this current uprising in the past year.
Women are leading the uprising, so to the women of Iran, I say we stand here in solidarity and encourage you to continue your protests, to grow your numbers, and stand up against this sexist and discriminatory regime. Stand on the streets and protest to bring down Raisi and his corrupt and criminal regime.
So, I get to stand here, we all get to stand here and say that it is unacceptable that Ebrahim Raisi is here today, in front of us, at the United Nations, speaking to the General Assembly. Raisi, a former member of the death commission that oversaw the 1988 massacres of thousands of people detained in Iran, solely because they opposed the regime in power. Raisi, was a perpetrator of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity in 1988, including torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances.
Raisi, who in his current role as president, oversees a regime that continues to violate human rights and target protesters, professors, girls and women, and anyone who dares speak out against the regime’s brutal conduct, which again includes detention for political reasons, torture, rape, and killing, with hundreds of people killed since the protests began a year ago.
Prosecute Raisi for these crimes!
Now, I do want to say that I believe we are better off with the United Nations than without it. The UN has done many good things and it continues to do so. However, it also has its failures. The UN, after all, is only as strong as its member states and the political will of those governments. And here today we see the failure of a system where a man like Ebrahim Raisi is welcomed into the UN to speak, given a platform, because he is a head of state and he has what we call in international law, head of state immunity.
Now that immunity is really important because it allows the leaders of our countries to do their job. However, head-of-state immunity also has its failures. It leads to impunity for leaders who are violating human rights and committing international crimes and this is how Raisi can be here at the United Nations today and not be arrested for the crimes that he has committed and the crimes that continue to be committed in his name while he is here in New York.
However, that immunity disappears when a leader is no longer in charge when he is no longer head of state. We have seen it happen, that former heads of state have been prosecuted for international crimes including torture and enforced disappearances after their time as leaders has finished. Leaders like Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Charles Taylor of Liberia, and Hissène Habré of Chad. This is proof that there is hope of criminal accountability for the crimes committed by Raisi and the members of his regime.
This is why it is so crucial to continue resisting under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi, building numbers and seeking to overthrow this criminal regime so that immunity can no longer be a barrier to the arrest and prosecution of Ibrahim Raisi.
Then, he can be tried in Iran, or if he flees the country by another country that can exercise what we call in law universal jurisdiction over international crimes such as torture and murder. We’ve got countries like Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany who are setting the standards by doing this, arresting members of criminal regimes from Iran, from Syria, and Algeria for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Other countries need to do the same. So today, I urge other countries that are here, that are in that building, in the General Assembly right now to not give Ibrahim Raisi the privilege of talking to him as an equal. Turn your backs on him, whether metaphorical or today, literally turn your backs.
Alternatively, face him, use the platform of the General Assembly to call out the crimes and human rights abuses of his regime, and call for justice for victims of torture, enforced disappearance, and unlawful executions in Iran.
And so I call on General Assembly states today, name and shame Raisi, Raisi out of the UN! Prosecute Raisi!