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Human Rights Experts: Hold Iran’s Regime Accountable for Crimes Against Humanity

Geneva, February 28, 2022 – Prof. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Lead prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milošević in The Hague, speaking at the online conference organized by WHRIA and four other human rights NGOs.

On Monday, a dozen renowned human rights defenders and organizations attended a virtual conference on the opening day of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 49th session, raising concern over Iran’s critical human rights situation.

Among participants were former UN judges, special rapporteurs, UN officials, and prominent jurists and human rights personalities who called for an independent inquiry by the UN into the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, which amounts to a genocide and crime against humanity.

Simultaneous with the virtual conference, organized by five NGOs, a rally and large photo exhibition was held in Geneva regarding the 1988 massacre and the call to action. Some of the massacre survivors and victims’ families attended this rally at Place des Nations in front of the UN’s European headquarters.

The conference comes weeks after a historic open letter by some 470 prominent former UN judges and special rapporteurs to the Council and Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calling for an investigation into the 1988 genocide, mainly the role of the Iranian regime’s current president Ebrahim Raisi.

Raisi served as a member of Tehran’s “Death Commission.” Formed following a fatwa by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, the “Death Commissions” were tasked to identify supporters of Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and send them to the gallows.

Monday’s conference and its participants also discussed the deteriorating human rights situation, with particular reference to the dramatic increase in executions, including those of women and juvenile offenders, during Raisi’s presidency, as well as the reactions of the international community.

“The 1988 massacre was a premeditated crime,” Tahar Boumedra, the former Director of the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, told the conference, referring to Khomeini’s fatwa in 1988. “That fatwa was a death penalty for all the opposition and the MEK,” Boumedra underlined, adding that the fatwa was intended to “exterminate all those prisoners,” who refused to surrender, and adding that therefore this crime against humanity could be described as a “genocide” as it targeted the MEK supporters who believed in a different interpretation of Islam. Mr. Boumedra quoted Geoffrey Robertson QC, who referred to the 1988 killings as a crime of genocide, underscoring that the International Criminal Court can and must address the 1988 massacre.

The next speaker was Prof. Annalisa Ciampi, Ad hoc Judge of the European Court of Human Rights and former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association. Prof. Ciampi called for investigation and accountability about what happened in 1988 and other crimes against humanity, such as the cold-blooded killing of protesters in 2019. “The UN cannot shirk its responsibility,” Prof. Ciampi added.

Herve Saulignac, the Vice president of the French Parliamentary Group for a Free Iranreferred to Ebrahim Raisi’s presidency and condemned the systematic impunity in Iran, emphasizing that “this impunity cannot persist more than this.”

“The 1988 massacre and the killings in 2019 are crimes against humanity. This genocide calls for an international investigation. It is urgent to act as we know the Iranian regime is destroying evidence,” he added. “France must hold the Iranian regime accountable for committing a crime against humanity in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Silence is not the answer,” Mr. Saulignac emphasized.

“There are two certainties regarding the 1988 massacre: first, a crime against humanity has been committed. Second, the international community has not stepped up to its standards and due process of law,” said Prof. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Lead prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milošević in The Hague.

The next speaker of Monday’s event was Hamid Sabi, an Iranian lawyer who organized the Iran Tribunal. “43 years of impunity enjoyed by the regime must end. The 1988 massacre was a grave case of crime against humanity,” he said, adding that Tehran continued its human rights violations and crimes, such as killing thousands of innocent protesters during the November 2019 uprising, because of the world community’s silence. He also underlined that enforced disappearances are a concern for the world. Families must be informed, and it is their right to know. Article 84 states that enforced disappearances are a permanent problem in Iran.

The UN has been slow in dealing with the 1988 massacre of perhaps 30,000 political prisoners. HRC must change that. Justice must be done, Prof. Jeremy Sarkin, former Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), addressed the conference next.

“I have deep sympathy for the families of the victims of the 1988 massacre. Justice must prevail in the name of universal morality,” Prof. Valeriu M. Ciuca said next, protesting the international community’s inaction to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its human rights violations.

Gilbert Mitterrand, president of France Libertés, was also among the event’s speakers, which was co-organized by France Libertés. “The UN must bring to justice the leaders of the Iranian regime. Time is of the essence,” he said, calling out the international community’s inaction vis-à-vis the 1988 genocide and the ongoing human rights violations in Iran. He also emphasized, “It has taken many years to bring justice to the 1988 massacre because governments failed to do their job. We are far from the objectives of the UN! The voice of democracy is a weapon, and we must use it.”

Referring to the high number of executions, Mr. Mitterrand added that “there is no justice in Iran.”

When it comes to women, the situation is even worse. The deplorable condition of Iranian women was highlighted by Sarah Noury, a member of the Paris Bar Association, who spoke next. “The Iranian regime’s laws are misogynist and directly affecting Iranian women and girls. Under the ruling theocracy, women will have no protection.”

The next panelist was Prof Eric David, a renowned Prof. of international criminal law. He also joined his colleagues in calling for holding the Iranian regime’s leaders accountable for their crimes against humanity. “The current human rights situation in Iran is a crime against humanity. The Iranian regime leaders must be held accountable for countless human rights abuses,” Prof. David stressed.

One of the methods to hold Iran’s ruling theocracy to account is by applying the Universal Jurisdiction, as in the case of Hamid Noury, an ex-prison official. He was arrested in Sweden in 2019 and is on trial due to his role in the 1988 genocide.

This solution was endorsed by many speakers, including Prof. Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, a former UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic, equitable international order. “Justice must be rendered in all its aspects, especially for the families of the victims. Everyone has the right to know the truth about the 1988 massacre, and all victims should be included in the investigation. Universal Jurisdiction must be applied to prosecute Raisi for his role in the 1988 massacre,” he said.

Monday’s conference and its panelists once again highlighted the international community’s obligations to hold Iran’s genocidal regime to account for its crimes against humanity. They called for a firm approach toward the Iranian regime and underlined the urgency of an independent inquiry into the 1988 massacre and other crimes by Iran’s ruling theocracy.