The 1988 massacre of Iranian political prisoners was discussed at an international conference by jurists and politicians who have led or advised judicial institutions in the United Nations and the European Union. The conference was held under the title “Four Decades of Crime against Humanity and Impunity from Punishment” at the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)’s Headquarters in Paris.
An excerpt of the speeches of jurists, political figures and prominent international judges participating in this conference, follows:
Prof. Chile Eboe-Osuji, President of the International Criminal Court of Hague (2021)
“The story of the 1988 massacre has captured the anxiety of many important voices in the human rights field. Human Rights Watch, an eminent human rights organization, Amnesty International, mandate holders of the United Nations have also worried and expressed concern about the lack of acknowledgment of the 1988 massacre.
The massacre itself amounts to the crime of at least enforced disappearance, and the crime of enforced disappearance is a continuing crime until there is an acknowledgment of what happened to the victims. So, and that is the justice that you call for, Madam President, you and your organization, and I join in that call.”
Referring to a joint letter signed by 152 former United Nations officials and renowned international human rights and legal experts to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet calling for an international Commission of Inquiry into the 1988 massacre, Prof. Eboe-Osuji added, “I hope you can add me to one of the voices who call for the United Nations… that call is actually based on a promise that the United Nations has made to the world in 2005.
The promise of responsibility to protect, and that responsibility to protect, says that every country has a primary obligation to respect the rights and dignity of the people within their borders and also to protect them from serious violations of international law. When they fail to do that, then the international community has a say in the matter, and a critical element of that responsibility to protect doctrine or promise is the element of accountability. It is for that reason that I strongly join the call for a proper, formal investigation of that matter.”
Prof. Leila Nadya Sadat, Special Adviser on Crimes Against Humanity to the ICC Prosecutor (2012-2023)
Commenting on the evidence about the 1988 massacre in Iran Prof. Leila Nadya Sadat said, “I think having read now the reports that have been given to me as well as the Amnesty International report, and some of the other testimonies, these clearly are crimes against humanity under international law.
Widespread, systematic, pursuant to a state policy with an attack against a civilian population that included murder, torture, extermination, enforced disappearances, persecution on many grounds, gender, politics, religion, because of the fatwa, and also, of course, other inhumane acts coming from the desecration of the bodies, the failure to provide information to the families, and the continued cover-up and lack of transparency about the crimes.
I have no doubt that in what I call an atrocity cascade, this is one of the worst instances of crimes against humanity that we have seen. And it may indeed include pockets of genocidal acts because of the ferocity of the crimes and the groups against that which they were directed.”
Applauding the Iranian Resistance for their efforts, Prof. Sadat added, “Calls for accountability like this, I think, can be successful. Largely through the extraordinary efforts that you yourselves have made to document and make the evidence clear so that it can be presented. And I applaud your call for a formal Commission of Inquiry by the United Nations, which could also document the evidence.”
She also stressed, “The Iranian government is a government that’s particularly unrepentant, that has doubled down on the Commission of Atrocities because it has essentially gotten away with them for so long. We see continuous protests in Iran that are met again with rounding up tens of thousands of prisoners, as well as executions without due process.
And these current protests and executions have been extensively documented, not just by you, but even by the United States and its human rights country reports, where you can read an entire list. It’s also been accompanied, as Madam President has said, by a campaign of extraterritorial repression, attacking Iranians and their supporters outside Iran, which has even been accompanied with assassination and other acts of crimes.”
Prof. Wolfgang Schomburg, Judge of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Judge of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
“There must be accountability for those perpetrators of the crimes committed in the prison in 1988, and in particular those in the background, those ordering these crimes, and even if it’s a sitting president, we have now concluded under international law that being a sitting president of a country is not an obstacle to bring cases against them, there is no longer immunity.”
And the good message [news] is that apparently what you have already prepared by compiling evidence and videotaping of hearing of witnesses. I think this is very important, and would it have been possible that in Sweden a person would be brought to justice as we have already heard, when in the case of Hamid Noury, based on the evidence of 26 witnesses, he got life imprisonment.
And I think here is the closed nexus to Ebrahim Raisi, and we shall be aware of this because it becomes a puzzle. The evidence heard there is evidence that can be brought as evidence in a court of justice.”
Prof. William A. Schabas, Chair of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict (2015) and President of the International Association of Genocide (2011)
“We don’t have statistics for all of them because we don’t get the numbers of executions from China and Vietnam and North Korea, but of the rest, Iran sits at the top of the list. In fact, last year, Iran had as many executions as the rest of all the other executing countries combined.
It has a huge predilection for capital punishment. I think that when the time comes to prosecute, to hold trials, there will be useful circumstantial evidence, should the crimes of 1988 be denied, about the fact that since the day it started, since the day it took power, until the present day, this is a government and a regime with a thirst for capital punishment.”
Prof. Vilenas Vadapalas, Judge of the General Court of the European Union (2013)
Prof. Vilenas Vadapalas noted that European Union institutions have taken several actions against the Iranian regime. He expressed his personal view that EU legislation related to the prosecution of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes against peace should be revised.
He mentioned that in January of the same year, a resolution addressing atrocities in Iran was adopted by the European Parliament. Prof. Vadapalas emphasized the significance of the European Parliament urging the Council to implement substantial legislative changes, particularly among the member states of the European Union.
Prof. Vilenas Vadapalas highlighted that his country, Lithuania, has introduced legislation that broadens the definition of genocide to encompass the persecution and eradication of political groups, such as the distressing case of the PMOI. He further explained that, as per their legislation, the concept of genocide now encompasses the prosecution, killing, and extermination of political groups, which holds significant importance.
Prof. Vilenas Vadapalas concluded by noting that in the situation of Iran, the victims and ongoing suffering are confined to Iranian citizens. He pointed out that according to the principles of international state responsibility, all nations within the international community have the right to demand accountability from Iran. He expressed his hope that any potential future democratic government in Iran would take appropriate actions to bring those responsible to justice and ensure reparations for the victims. He emphasized the importance of reparations for victims and the pursuit of justice without external interference.
Prof. Valerius M. Ciucă, Judge of the General Court of the European Union (2010)
Prof. Valerius M. Ciucă expressed his dedication to the event, clarifying that he accepted the invitation, aiming to contribute thoughts that could offer some solace to the memory of the victims and their families affected by the Iranian tragedy.
Prof. Valerius M. Ciucă conveyed his heartfelt message directly to the victims and families impacted by the tragic events of 1988 in Iran. He assured them of his support and the collective support of others, emphasizing their unwavering commitment until justice is achieved through the accountability of those responsible.
He praised their courage, resilience, and determination to uphold their noble cause over 35 years, even in the face of numerous challenges. He highlighted the remarkable unity shown by experts in various fields, judicial authorities, and human rights advocates from across the world, who, like the victims, stand united to champion their cause.
Prof. Valerius M. Ciucă expressed his honor in highlighting the symbolic unity demonstrated by the Iranian diaspora’s movements, which aim to achieve justice for the victims and their families impacted by the tragic events of 1988 and subsequent decades. He underscored the universal significance inherent in every pursuit of justice and emphasized that serving justice for Iranian victims would resonate across the globe.
He connected principles such as equity, justice, freedom, equality, and goodwill, rooted in Roman and Christian ideals, to the bedrock of modern social justice. These enduring values, he noted, constitute the unshakable foundation for the future evolution of human society.
Oleksandra Matviichuk, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2022)
“35 years ago, the Iranian regime executed thousands and thousands of people. The international community is still discussing how many people were killed, but what is obvious is that it is a crime against humanity, which has no statute of limitations. And the problem is that even after 35 years, the relatives of victims are still waiting for justice.
This impunity in the past has clear consequences in the present. The current Iranian regime expands repressions and persecutes even girls in schools. The impunity has a global impact and no surprise that the Iranian regime supports the Russian war against Ukraine.
I live in Kyiv, and my native city, like thousands of other Ukrainian cities, are constantly being shelled by Iranian drones. What I want to tell with this example is that if authoritarian regimes cooperate with each other, we as a people have to support the struggle for justice and for freedom of each other even more.
And that is why I express my sincere solidarity with Iranian people and support the idea of creation of a UN Commission on Inquiry to reveal the truth of what happened in 1988 and to bring perpetrators to justice.”
Sir Geoffrey Nice KC, Lead prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milošević in The Hague
Sir Geoffrey Nice sharing his vast experience about how to prepare evidence and how cases involving crimes against humanity are judged and said, “Hamid Noury, who’s identified in the workings of the tribunal, and in the conclusions it reached, was taken to trial in Sweden and sentenced to life in prison, substantially on the basis of that tribunal. And the Swedish Court would do that because the integrity of the tribunal couldn’t possibly be doubted.
The present president of Iran was also named in a similar way, in that tribunal on the basis of evidence of similar quality. And so, although it’s taken some time, the integrity of the workings of that tribunal, the integrity of the people, I don’t refer to myself, but to the judges and the others involved, is what made it a valuable instrument, implement, for others to use.”
Sir Geoffrey Nice highlighted the importance of presenting well-prepared, evidence-based material with a high standard of proof in a transparent manner. He noted that such an approach equips activists with effective tools to push for action from national and international entities, despite potential political reasons for inaction. He expressed hope for the success of the conference.
Ms. Sheila Paylan, international human rights lawyer and former SGBV Specialist at United Nations Human Rights
“I stand with you to help shed light on a subject that demands our unwavering attention and collective action, the 1988 massacre of Iranian political prisoners. This stark chapter in history, now 35 years ago, serves as a stark reminder of the grave consequences of silence and the rise of authoritarianism in our world.
In the summer of 1988, Iran witnessed one of the most tragic and brutal events in its history. Tens of thousands of political prisoners were forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in a matter of weeks. Victims of a merciless government cracked down on dissidents. The massacres took place based on a fatwa by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini and what has been determined by experts to amount to crimes against humanity and even genocide.”
Referring to the political prisoners murdered during the 1988 massacre, she added, “These prisoners were individuals who dared to raise their voices against oppression, who sought nothing more than the realization of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their lives were tragically and senselessly cut short, leaving families shattered and communities scarred.
We are fortunate that some of those who were incarcerated at the time of the 1988 massacres survived and are living witnesses to these heinous crimes. Having sought refuge in Albania, they must therefore be protected at all costs, as they are critical to any future investigation or inquiry about the massacres.
But while we wait for justice to prevail, it is more than disheartening to have to bear witness to history so predictably repeating itself.
The protests that raged throughout Iran last year and the ensuing and ongoing tens of thousands of imprisonments and executions at the hands of the current regime are a direct continuation and result of the failure to punish the 1988 massacres.
What is even more disheartening is the role of the international community in this unfolding tragedy, among many others. While some nations voice their concerns, many choose silence, turning a blind eye to atrocities being committed. By doing so, they become complicit in the horrors that unfold, betraying the very principles that they espouse to uphold freedom, justice, and human rights.
The lack of decisive action allows impunity to thrive, emboldening authoritarian regimes and undermining the very fabric of international law and justice.”
Highlighting her role in penning the final judgment against the former head of the Khmer Rouge for his crimes, she stated, “To combat impunity in Iran and other oppressive regimes, we need the continued support and involvement of the international community. Silence and inaction are not neutral. They perpetuate the suffering of countless victims and emboldened oppressors.”
Expressed her commitment to helping the Iranian people to achieve justice and change in their country, she concluded, “We must commemorate the victims of the 1988 massacres, as well as all those who have suffered or perished in fighting for freedom.
We must not do so with a heavy heart but with the deepest gratitude and the utmost admiration. These heroes deserve not just to be mourned, but also to be revered and serve as an inspiration to us all to rise against the tide of authoritarianism, advocate for justice, and maintain hope for a world where human rights are fully respected everywhere, where freedom and justice reign, and where impunity has no place.”
Rt. Hon. David Jones, MP and former UK Secretary of State for Wales
David Jones, MP emphasized that Tehran’s regime vehemently despised the PMOI due to fundamental differences between the two. The PMOI emerged as an educated and progressive group committed to liberating their people through democratic and progressive Islam, while the 1979 regime comprised intolerant clerics and corrupt individuals. Threatened by the PMOI’s growth, the regime resorted to brutality, including the 1988 massacre, and continued demonization. The regime’s response highlighted their intolerance and jealousy towards the PMOI’s formidable opposition, even extending to European soil.
Discussing the recent indictment by the regime’s Judiciary of more than a hundred members of the Iranian Resistance, Mr. Jones added that the Mullahs seemed to have overlooked the brutal 1988 massacre, where 30,000 PMOI political prisoners were unlawfully killed based on Khomeini’s unwarranted fatwa, without legal representation or due process.
He also noted the regime’s misinformation to the Albanian government, coupled with apparent cyber threats, aiming to intensify pressure on the brave PMOI members residing at Ashraf 3.
By rejecting the appeasement policy and holding the Iranian regime to account, Mr. Jones concluded, “The unpunished crime that is the 1988 massacre of political prisoners remains an open wound in human history.
The silence and inaction of international bodies and of major nations is tantamount to endorsing that crime and perpetuating the regime’s impunity. It’s the ethical duty of the global community, especially the Western world, to stand resolutely against those atrocities and to support the Iranian people’s quest for justice.
By doing so, we will send a powerful message to the regime in Tehran that its historical and current persecution of the NCRI and the PMOI will not be tolerated and will not go unchallenged.”
Mr. Tahar Boumedra, Director of the Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) and former Chief of UNAMI Human Rights Office in Iraq (2012)
Mr. Tahar Boumedra recounted his observations, stating that he personally witnessed the Iraqi government, politically aligned with the regime in Iran, deliberately starving the Ashraf residents while operating under the United Nations’ supervision. He noted instances where convoys carrying provisions to Camp Ashraf were halted by the Iraqi government before reaching the camp, allowing the provisions to spoil in the scorching sun. He emphasized that this act was a clear crime of depriving people of sustenance.
Additionally, Mr. Boumedra revealed how the same government diverted contaminated water, containing depleted uranium, into the camp. Despite the serious health risks, both the government’s poisoning of the population and the UN’s failure to investigate were evident. He further explained the challenges faced in providing medical care to the sick and the government’s obstruction of access to medical facilities. In doing so, he stressed the grave consequences of these actions on the people’s health and well-being, leading to the death of some Ashraf residents.
Mr. Boumedra concluded, “We must stop this impunity and we must have a procedure in order to make sure that whoever committed such a crime, whether it’s the 1988 massacre or the ongoing crimes from Ashraf all the way to the uprising in 2019, 2023, all these are continuous and ongoing crimes that I personally recommend that we leave it to the court to decide which category they are placed under. But the most important thing is that they are very serious crimes and they are international and they are punishable.”
Prof. Alejo Vidal Quadras, President of the In Search of Justice Committee and Vice President of the European Parliament (1999 to 2014)
Prof. Alejo Vidal Quadras started his speech by pointing out that the Iranian regime’s actions extend beyond concealing the 1988 massacre. Emphasizing the reason for the regime’s demonization campaign against the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MEK/PMOI), he stated that the regime views the MEK as a major opponent and threat, because of a stark contrast that exists between the regime’s intolerant beliefs with Mrs. Rajavi’s commitment to democratic Islam and peaceful coexistence.
Recalling all the legal victories the Iranian Resistance has achieved in the courts of the United Kingdom, the European Parliament, and the United States, Dr. Vidal-Quadras concluded that justice has always bent toward the right of the Resistance.
He went on to cite that the members of the parliaments in numerous countries also do support the Iranian Resistance, and referred to 15 years of his own experience as someone who’s been actively supporting the cause as VP of the European Parliament.
Next, Dr. Vidal-Quadras outlined the governments’ unique stance towards the MEK, influenced by the Iranian regime’s potent leverage. Citing the regime’s endeavors in orchestrating terrorist acts abroad, taking hostages, exploiting economic interests, exploiting the nuclear deal, and employing bribery to sway politicians, journalists, and officials, he said that these so-called “leverages” create a sense of apprehension among governments, prompting them to impede the MEK’s activities and interactions.
Dr. Vidal-Quadras pointed out, “In the demolition that we saw of Gohardasht prison, we can discern a significant truth beyond the mere act of hiding crimes. It indicates that the Iranian people are earnestly and persistently demanding the truth about the 1988 massacre and the injustices committed against the PMOI.
They are concerned about what lies behind these events because they do not trust the regime and have recognized the deceptions and lack of transparency. There are even reports of family members of the authorities involved in the 1988 massacre questioning it within their own homes. The truth inevitably emerges, regardless of the seriousness of attempts to conceal it and the duration of the cover-up.”
Dr. Vidal-Quadras emphasized the need for experts and human rights organizations to unite and demand justice against the Iranian regime’s crimes. Silence condones these acts and tarnishes humanity’s reputation. Condemnation isn’t enough; holding criminals accountable in court is vital, he said, urging a change in Western Iran policy, stressing its ethical implications for all, including politicians, legal experts, and journalists.