The eruption of protests across Iran in November 2019, described by observers as a nationwide uprising, was brutally suppressed by the security forces killing more than 1,500 unarmed protesters, including 19 children, in only three days. In addition, thousands of protesters were arrested, many of whom still in detention undergoing physical and mental torture. A number of the detainees have been sentenced to death in the absence of recognized judicial procedures and some have already been executed.
The November carnage is not a unique incident in Iran under the absolute rule of the clergy as the system can in no way tolerate any opposition and people’s basic rights are not recognized.
The brutality experienced by Iranians over the past four decades is to a great extent the result of international silence and inaction, which have been interpreted by the authorities as a green light. Those involved in major crimes against humanity have enjoyed impunity over this period and are part of the ruling structure of the regime.
One of the most heinous crimes that haunted Iranians was the massacre of more than 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988. At the time, then-regime supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to purge all prisons of the regime’s opponents. In a matter of weeks, Iranian authorities tried and executed more than 30,000 prisoners across Iran, most of whom were affiliated with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). The bodies of the victims were buried in mass, unmarked graves to hide evidence of the brutal act.
The massacre was never investigated by the international community, and the perpetrators were never brought to justice. This lack of interest by the international community to hold the regime to account for its crime against humanity has only spurred Iranian officials to further use suppression, torture, and execution as the main tool to keep their hold on power.
Perpetrators of the 1988 Massacre
The Justice for Victims of 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) which has collected relevant information regarding the perpetrators, has named 96 individuals who were members of ‘Death Commissions’ in 1988 and at least 87 of them continue to hold key positions in various branches of the Iranian regime’s establishment.
Death Commissions, comprised of Three-members, were formed across Iran to send political prisoners who refused to abandon their beliefs to gallows.
Key among the above individuals is Ebrahim Raisi, the current head of the clerical judiciary. In 1988, he was Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor and a key member of Tehran’s Death Commission. Alireza Avail, a member of the Death Commission in Khuzestan, was a justice minister under current regime president Hassan Rouhani until August 2017; His two predecessors, who held office in the previous eight years, Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi and Morteza Bakhtiari, were also members of the Death Commissions. Also, Mohammad Esmail Shushtari, justice minister from 1989 until 2005, headed the state Prisons Organization in 1988 and was another active member of the Death Commission in Tehran.
Many other members of Death Commissions have held positions such as Supreme Court judges, members of the parliament, heads of largest financial and trade institutions, members of the Assembly of the Experts and State Expediency Discernment Council. Ali Khamenei, the current Supreme Leader of the regime, was also directly involved in the 1988 massacre as the president of the Islamic Republic at the time.
On August 28, 2016, Mostafa Pourmohammadi was quoted by the state-run Tasnim news agency as saying: “We are proud to have carried out God’s commandment with regard to the [PMOI/MEK] and to have stood with strength and fought against the enemies of God and the people.”
The Call for Justice Campaign
Geoffrey Robertson, QC and renowned human rights barrister in the UK explain that as part of his investigation into the 1988 massacre he interviewed 40 survivors and he was, in his own words, “staggered” by his findings. “I describe it as the worst crime against humanity since the concentration camps of the Second World War,” he said during the Call for Justice online conference on July 19.
“The crime committed against political prisoners in 1988 has been well established and documented. The UN and relevant institutions have been informed and received documents on this issue,” says Tahar Boumedra, former head of the Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and a member of the advisory board of the JVMI.
“In 2018, the former human rights commissioner Zeid Hussein said the UN has informed the regime to investigate the crime. Two years later, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran is asking the same thing. We know the mullahs’ regime will not investigate. It is naïve to believe the mullahs would investigate themselves. Let’s warn the UN that enough is enough. The regime will not investigate its own crimes and impunity has emboldened the Iranian authorities. They continue to commit crimes. It is time to think about a coalition of civil society and NGOs to lobby all together and make sure we find a way to take this crime to national courts across the world who accept universal jurisdiction.” Boumedra urged
Tahar Boumedra, a former UN official, author of report Inquiry into the 1988 mass executions in Iran
The Call for Justice Campaign seeks the arrests and prosecution in any court that accepts international jurisdiction with the trial in the ICC as the ultimate goal.
On July 17, Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson of the United States State Department, in a video message on Twitter. “July 19th marks the anniversary of the start of Iran. So-called death commissions on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini. These commissions reportedly forcibly disappeared and extra-judicially executed thousands of political dissident prisoners. The current head of the Iranian judiciary and current minister of justice have both been identified as former members of these death commissions. The Iranian judiciary is widely perceived to lack independence and fair trial guarantees. And the revolutionary courts are particularly egregious in ordering violations of human rights. All Iranian officials who commit human rights violations or abuses should be held accountable. The United States calls on the international community to conduct independent investigations and do provide accountability and justice for the victims of these horrendous violations of human rights, organized by the Iranian regime.”
Today, the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses have become an issue of international concern. Four decades of impunity have enabled the Iranian regime to establish a reign of terror inside Iran and to expand its violent ideology to neighboring countries and nations across the world. The situation will not change if the regime’s crimes against humanity remain unpunished. It is upon the international community to investigate and try Iranian authorities for the 1988 massacre, the massacre of protesters in 2019, and their crimes against humanity during their brutal four-decade rule.