A parliamentary session convened in London on November 14 to address accountability for the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran. Senior representatives from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords participated and delivered remarks.
During the session, Professor Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran, strongly criticized the pervasive culture of impunity and the international community’s failure to bring those responsible for the mass executions to justice.
According to Prof. Rehman, this tragedy has allowed the perpetrators to assume influential roles in the current Iranian regime, contributing to ongoing mass killings of protesters in recent uprisings.
Professor Javaid Rehman’s complete statement follows:
So colleagues, and friends, I begin by thanking our good friend Leila Jazeri for this generous invitation for me and for the Chair’s comments. I’m thankful to the esteemed colleagues, members of Parliament, lawyers, and academics for joining us this morning and examining this highly critical and important subject that we’re going to look at today.
Ever since I took over the mandate as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in July 2018, one of my principal concerns has been the almost complete absence of accountability and the prevailing culture of impunity in the Iranian constitutional, legislative and administrative framework. This is evidenced in my most recent report to the UN General Assembly, which I presented to the Assembly in New York just last month.
While in New York, I also spoke at a side event on the subject of the 1988 massacres and the continuing impunity, which is the subject of our discussion today. I have addressed the subject of the absence of accountability in significant detail on various occasions and in my many previous reports.
For example, in my report to the UN Human Rights Council of March 2022, after having examined the absence of accountability, I informed the UN Human Rights Council that while accountability for serious human rights violations represents a core obligation of states under international law, that was unfortunately not the case in Iran.
I wrote in my report, and I quote here, I said that institutional impunity and the absence of a system for accountability for violations of human rights permeate the political and legal system of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The absence of accountability derives from various deficiencies within state structures, including the negation of the principles of the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers, and that you can find in my report last year, paragraph 48.
My deep concerns as regards institutional impunity and the absence of a system of accountability were sadly once again proven correct with the tragic death in custody of the morality police of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini last year. And more recently, it was shocking to note the death of 16-year-old Armita Geravand, who was hospitalized after collapsing on a subway in Tehran on the 1st of October just last month, allegedly following an altercation about failing to wear the headdress or hijab.
There have been no investigations, and unfortunately and tragically, there’s been no accountability, and it is unlikely that there will be any accountability for her death as well. Now, the death in the police custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, who was a Kurdish woman, and her death place in Tehran on the 16th of September last year, three days after her arrest for allegedly failing to comply with Iran’s strict rules on women’s dress by wearing what the Iranian regime calls an improper hijab.
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) November 23, 2023
Now, her death led to large-scale and nationwide protests under the banner of women, life, and freedom. Instead of recognizing the legitimate demands of protesters, including ending the practice of enforced hijab and ensuring accountability for those involved in the killing of Ms. Amini, tragically, unfortunately, the state authorities characteristically reacted in the most repressive manner.
Iranian police and security forces violently cracked down on protesters, revealing a widespread pattern of unlawful, lethal use of force. I am alarmed at the level of violence used against protesters, particularly targeting religious and ethnic minorities. Kurds and the Balochis, which are ethnic, and linguistic, as well as primarily Sunni minorities in a Shia-dominated regime, have been particularly damaged and affected by this violence.
In one of the reported incidents on the 30th of September last year, also called Black Friday, in the city of Zahedan in Sistan, Balochistan province, according to verified reports, the Iranian security forces shot and killed at least 95 persons, including nine children, with 400 persons injured.
A majority of these victims were shot in the head, heart, neck, and torso, demonstrating a clear intent to kill or to seriously harm these people. Since September of last year, when protests started, at least 537 persons, including 68 children and 48 women, have been killed.
At least seven protesters have been executed on charges, including those of Muharrabeh, which means enmity against God, and they have been executed just on that basis.
The continuing violence against women and girls has also been shocking. This includes cases of deliberate killings, as well as sexual and physical violence. In addition, the state has weaponized the death penalty, as Laila was just mentioning. The weaponization has become an instrument of fear and repression.
This was evident through the execution of well over 500 persons last year, of which less than 60 were made public. At least three persons sentenced to death were children who were executed last year. In light of the evidence available to me, I had taken the view that very serious and grave human rights violations had taken place in the aftermath of the protests in September 2022, and I reported to the Council earlier this year, and I said, and this is a quotation, the scale and gravity of these violations point to the possible commission of international crimes, notably the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment and forced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual violence and persecution.
And now, colleagues, I turn to the subject of the absence of accountability and the prevalent culture of impunity. It was tragic, but not surprising that the Iranian authorities have completely denied any responsibility for the tragic events that have taken place in Iran since September of last year, instead blaming the so-called foreign enemies of the country.
No steps have been taken to establish the accountability framework in law or policy to allow effective channels for obtaining truth, justice, and non-occurrence of serious human rights violations, including the arbitrary deprecation of life, mass arrest, torture, physical and sexual violence of girls and women.
State authorities have failed to conduct any independent, impartial, and transparent investigations into the death of Jina Mahsa Amini and have consistently denied any misconduct or wrongdoing on their part.
I am extremely disturbed at the absence of any independent, impartial, and transparent investigations into the reported deaths of protesters, in particular women and children, in the context of protests and, of course, in the context of the current poisoning of girls in schools.
The arrests, attacks, and targeting of protesters are aimed at punishing and silencing human rights defenders and civil rights activists, particularly in relation to women’s rights, and calling for accountability and ending the culture of impunity. And you would note that the Nobel laureate, Nargis Mohammadi, is currently in prison. That is the punishment for human rights defenders.
— Laila Jazayeri (@LJazayeri) November 25, 2023
Indeed, knowing the culture of impunity and the absence of any domestic avenues of accountability, I have strongly advocated the establishment of an independent international fact-finding mission, which was established by the Human Rights Council after its historic resolution on 24 November 2022.
The absence of accountability and the culture of impunity prevalent in the Iranian legal, judicial, and administrative system has a deeply unfortunate and painful history going back to at least the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Laila has already made reference to that. Since 1979, we have witnessed that the form of government known as the Vilayet-e-Faqih, the so-called guardianship of Islamic jurists, has consolidated executive, legislative, and judicial authority in the position of the Supreme Leader, which is not a popularly elected position.
Such absolute power negates the constitutional principles of separation of powers and the rule of law. The current incumbent, Ali Hussein Khamenei, has assumed office as the Supreme Leader for over 33 years. The mass executions of 1981, the repression and executions of religious minorities, including the Baha’is, the policy of enforced hijab, the use of revolutionary courts to eradicate political opponents, the deployment of terminology including Muharrabe, that is enmity against God, and Afsad fil-Ad, which is corruption on earth.
Extensive torture and summary executions of hundreds of children remain a part of the painful legacy of Iran. However, the gravest tragedy in the history of Iran is the enforced disappearances and summary and arbitrary executions of thousands of individuals in 1988.
In 1988, thousands of these prisoners were extrajudicially executed pursuant to a fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran and implemented across prisons in the country. There are extreme concerns about the very serious and grave crimes under international law and under international human rights and humanitarian law having been committed at that time.
These crimes include crimes against humanity, including torture, genocide, persecution, murder, extermination, as well as enforced disappearances. This massacre and the totality of the massacres in 1988 have been followed by the state authorities refusing to publicly acknowledge the killings and disclosing the fate of those killed and the location of the remains to victims’ families and subjecting families to threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks.
There has been a determination on the part of the Iranian authorities to hide these massacres through false narratives and statements, distortion of historical data, and active harassment of survivors and family members of the victims, as well as by hiding evidence such as the destruction of mass graves.
Systematic concealment of the fate of the victims, not providing the location of their remains, or not providing family members information about the causes of death is deeply troubling. Such concealment, in my view, constitutes enforced disappearances and a crime against humanity.
The massacres resulting in the summary and arbitrary executions, as well as the enforced disappearances, have been a source of very serious concern for my mandate and other UN special procedures, as I just mentioned.
In 2017, my predecessor, the late, great Asma Jahangir, noted in her report to the UN General Assembly, writing that, and I quote her, overwhelming evidence shows that thousands of persons were summarily killed and highlighted the right to remedy, including, and I again quote her, the right to an effective investigation of the facts and public disclosure of the truth and the right to reparations, end of quotation.
In a 2020 communication to Iran, a number of United Nations special procedures, including my own mandate, expressed strong concerns, and I quote here, at the alleged continuing refusal to disclose the fate and whereabouts of thousands of individuals who were reportedly forcibly disappeared and then extra judicially executed in 1988, end of quotation.
The communication goes on to note that enforced disappearances continue until the end until the fate and whereabouts of the individual concern are established irrespective of the time past, and that the family members have a right to truth. So what about ending impunity and ensuring accountability?
After the massacres of 1988, Khomeini, the then Supreme Leader, and his willing executioners were promoted to higher positions in politics and the judiciary, where many remain today, including serious concerns over the role of the current president, Mr. Ibrahim Raisi, who acted as a member of the death committee.
One possibility is the use of universal jurisdiction to try individuals for serious crimes, including crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations.
In July of 2022, as many of you would know, a Swedish court convicted Hamid Nouri for his role in the torture and mass executions in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1988, as the court found him guilty of war crimes and murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
The other is obviously setting up an international tribunal or investigative mechanism to hold accountable all those individuals who have committed grave crimes against the Iranian people.
I have consistently called for accountability with respect to long-standing emblematic events that have been met with persistent impunities, including the enforced disappearances and summary and arbitrary executions of 1988 and the protests of November 2019.
As an international community, we must demand an end to the culture of impunity for the Iranian regime, demanding justice and accountability for the victims.
I thank you.