The Iranian regime inaugurated its new president on Thursday, in a ceremony that was attended by a few international figures including the Deputy Political Director of the European External Action Service, Enrique Mora. The presence of an EU official at the inauguration was promptly criticized by Western policymakers, international human rights groups, and Iranian activists who are keenly aware of Raisi’s history of human rights abuses, spanning from the 1980s all the way through his recent two years as Iran’s judiciary chief.
Amnesty International pointed to Mora’s attendance in order to question whether the international community was prepared to demonstrate “commitment to fight against systematic impunity in Iran for extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.” On June 19, a day after the sham election that brought Raisi to power, Amnesty lamented that he had been elevated to Iran’s second highest political office instead of being investigated and put on trial for his role in those same crimes.
The int’l community, including the #EU, which is sending @enriquemora_ to Raisi’s inauguration, must publicly demonstrate its commitment to fight against systematic impunity in #Iran for extrajudicial executions & other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances & torture.
— Amnesty EU (@AmnestyEU) August 4, 2021
In 1988, near the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Raisi was serving as deputy public prosecutor in Tehran. When the opportunity presented itself, he willingly stepped into the role of the mass executioner by contributing to the operation of a “death commission” that was empaneled to implement a recent fatwa from the regime’s Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. The fatwa declared all members of the opposition group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) to be guilty of “enmity against God,” and directed that anyone who still harbored sympathies for MEK should be executed with haste.
The Tehran death commission, together with similar panels scattered across the country, could cite anything as justification for concluding that political prisoners were “holding onto their beliefs” and should be executed. In at least one documented case, a death commission member compelled a prisoner to declare that he would fight against Iraq but then went on to insist that he also agree to walk over minefields in service of the theocratic regime. When the prisoner merely questioned that order, the judge passed a capital sentence immediately.
Survivors of the massacre report Raisi imposing capital sentences casually, mechanically, and acting as if the commission was pressed for time and inconvenienced by any defendant’s effort to save their own life. Accordingly, many of the “trials” conducted by that panel lasted only two minutes before it was determined that the prisoner was insufficiently loyal to the ruling system.
It is estimated that across Iran, over 30,000 Iranians were executed by the death panels. Some key details of the killings were revealed to the Iranian people and the international community in 2016 with the online release of an audio recording made at the time of the massacre by Hossein Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s former heir, to object to the death commissions’ actions. But other details remain to be revealed, and many never be revealed in light of the fact that Tehran has repeatedly made efforts to destroy and build upon the sites of secret mass graves where many victims were interred.
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have warned that as time goes by, the prospects for a thorough investigation into the massacre diminish. Such statements underscore the fact that the international community failed to address the crime against humanity while it was still going on, and has compounded that failure over the years by ignoring new calls to action and legitimizing some of the main perpetrators of the killings. Never has that latter phenomenon been more obvious than with the attendance of an EU official at Raisi’s ignominious swearing-in ceremony.
In a panel discussion hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran on Thursday, British barrister and human rights expert Geoffrey Robertson observed that by sending a delegation to Tehran, the EU demonstrated that its actual human rights policies still fall far short of its “human rights aspirations.” In October 2020, the body introduced its new “Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime” and foreign policy chief Josep Borrell spoke publicly about the need for stronger action in this area than mere legislative resolutions from member states. Since then, however, he has failed to apply this sentiment to the EU’s dealings with the Islamic Republic, even as the latter has continued its long pattern of rewarding officials for their past involvement in violations of human rights.
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AUG 5 – 11 AM EDT 5:00 PM CEST#Iran #ProsecuteRaisiNOW https://t.co/REzFFAkiBU
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) August 5, 2021
Yet many lawmakers and foreign policy experts have urged Borrell and all EU member states, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom, to intensify their pressure on Iran over its human rights record in the wake of Raisi’s appointment as president. Referring to the sanctions tools that are now available to more than 30 nations, Robertson said that there is “no individual whose name should be higher on every country’s Magnitsky list than Raisi.
The host of Thursday’s panel discussion, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has variously warned that unless Raisi is placed under serious pressure by the international community, his administration is sure to oversee a new escalation of Iran’s crackdown on dissent. In the weeks leading up to his inauguration, Iranian authorities killed at least a dozen peaceful protesters, and likely many more. But this pales in comparison to more shocking incidents from recent years, as well as from the early days of the Islamic Republic.
In November 2019, when Raisi was serving as judiciary chief, roughly 1,500 people were killed within days of that month’s nationwide uprising beginning. At least 12,000 people were arrested and systematically tortured for months afterward, raising serious concerns about a repeat of the 1988 massacre. Although nothing has yet approached such a dramatic death toll, the international community’s silence on the historic massacre and subsequent crackdowns can only have the effect of making it more likely that Raisi and Tehran will test their impunity via worse crimes against humanity.