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Iran: Ebrahim Raisi’s Planned Speech to UN is a Threat to Human Rights

Since the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader chose Ebrahim Raisi as president, they have been mounting calls for his prosecution and preventing him from state visits. So far, however, those appeals have largely fallen on deaf ears. Raisi is now scheduled to address the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on September 21, and his remarks will supposedly deal with themes of justice and freedom – terms that are far removed from the daily experience of Iranian citizens and the core identity of Iran’s regime.

That identity has been reinforced in recent weeks by the appointment and legislative confirmation of a number of high-level officials whose terrorist bona fides match those of the president himself. Raisi’s cabinet includes an unprecedented number of officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, several individuals who are presently under sanction by the United States and the European Union, and one who is subject to an Interpol warrant for his involvement in a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires which killed 85 people.

Raisi, too, was sanctioned by the US in 2019. There is no warrant for his arrest in any country, but the reason for the sanctions against him could also be grounds for his arrest by authorities in practically any country in the world. This was explained last month by multiple scholars of human rights and international law, in a virtual conference organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran to serve as a venue for discussion of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners.

The conference focused on the role that Raisi played in those killings. For the families of victims, for other Iranian regime officials, and for the Resistance Movement working to overturn the system that has supported the massacre’s perpetrators for more than three decades, Raisi’s prosecution would be a powerful sign that the regime’s impunity in such matters is finally at an end.

Raisi, Butcher of 1988 Massacre in Iran

That impunity has been reinforced by weak and conciliatory policies toward the regime, especially with respect to its human rights situation. This, too, was a focus of the recent NCRI conference, which featured remarks from a number of European lawmakers who urged their governments to take a more assertive stance with the Iranian regime and to consider measures that would actively support the Iranian people and their protests movements.

Those protests began in earnest at the end of 2017 and coalesced into a nationwide uprising that comprised well over 100 cities and towns by mid-January 2018. In November of the following year, another uprising broke out spontaneously across nearly 200 localities, featuring similar anti-regime slogans and calls for regime change and “death to the dictator.”

The Iranian regime brutally suppressed these protests and Raisi played a key role in this oppression as he was in charge of the regime’s judiciary at the time of the mass shootings, indiscriminate arrests, and systematic torture. Public condemnation of his role in that crackdown soon mingled with the longstanding condemnation of his role as one of four officials who served on the Tehran “death commission” in the summer of 1988. That body set into motion the process whereby prisoners of conscience were re-tried in order to ascertain their political views and affiliations, then summarily executed they refused to bow to the theocratic system.

Over the course of about three months, this process killed over 30,000 individuals including teenagers, pregnant women, and many prisoners who had already completed their original sentences before being placed in the crosshairs by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa declaring that any affiliation to the main opposition, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, MEK is considered  “enmity against God” and are sentenced to death. That criminal charge continues to be used to this day as justification for capital punishment. Raisi’s promotion from the head of the judicial branch to the head of the executive branch means such politically motivated killings will be accelerated.

Who is Ebrahim Raisi, a candidate in Iran presidential election and an executioner in 1988 massacre

The overall rate of execution in Iran climbed for the more than two months Raisi served as judiciary chief, and it is climbing even more quickly while his presidential administration is taking shape. There can be little doubt that this overall growth coincides with a growth in the execution of political prisoners, in particular. Iran has always led the world in both metrics, as a function of its population, and its commitment to the abusive use of the death penalty has surely been reinforced by the inaction of foreign powers with regard to human rights issues in Iran, especially the 1988 massacre.

Last year, seven United Nations human rights experts published an open letter to the Iranian regime authorities in which they lamented that inaction and noted that the UN had an opportunity to demand accountability for the killings in the same year they occurred. In December 1988, a resolution on Iran’s human rights record identified the upsurge in politically motivated executions but was not followed up on by any UN body.

“The failure of these bodies to act,” the experts wrote, “had a devastating impact on the survivors and families as well as on the general situation of human rights in Iran.” In other words, inaction provided Tehran with a sense of impunity at the time, and subsequent inaction has only reinforced that impunity. Raisi’s presence at the UN General Assembly will be the greatest affirmation of that impunity to date. In allowing him to speak, the international community will be turning a blind eye to three decades of accumulated knowledge about the massacre and Raisi’s role in it.

Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights barrister from the United Kingdom, stated in the NCRI’s conference that nations that have ratified the Genocide Convention are obligated to take action against those who are implicated in such a crime. This they can do, he explained, by applying the principle of universal jurisdiction in order to arrest and prosecute Raisi or any other known perpetrators anytime they set foot on the territory of any nation that is committed to the universal defense of human rights.