Protests in the southwest province of Khuzestan started on July 14, 2021, and still continues. Other cities and provinces joined the uprising in solidarity with Khuzestan.
The Iranian regime deployed its suppressive forces to these cities and crushed the peaceful protests by using live ammunition, which resulted in the death of at least 12 protesters and hundreds were arrested.
“Using live ammunition against unarmed protesters posing no imminent threat to life is a horrifying violation of the authorities’ obligation to protect human life. Protesters in Iran who take to the streets to voice legitimate economic and political grievances face a barrage of gunfire, tear gas, and arrests,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa of Amnesty International, adding, “Iran’s authorities have a harrowing track record of using unlawful lethal force. The events unfolding in Khuzestan have chilling echoes of November 2019, when security forces unlawfully killed hundreds of protesters and bystanders but were never held to account. Ending impunity is vital for preventing further bloodshed.”
The Iranian regime has been enjoying this impunity for over 40 years. On July 10, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa spoke to a global audience of policymakers and activists and condemned world leaders for turning a blind eye to one of the worst crimes against humanity since World War II. “For almost 33 years, the world has forgotten 30,000 political prisoners: the victims of the 1988 massacre,” he said. The speech was one of many to address that topic in the context of the Free Iran World Summit, a three-day event organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran with the aim of encouraging governments throughout the world to take a more assertive stance with the Iranian regime.
The speeches were not strictly limited to human rights issues, but also addressed ongoing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal and the Iranian role in terrorist activity and civil conflict throughout the region and the world. But human rights were widely recognized as a uniquely important topic at this iteration of the NCRI’s annual gathering of Iranian expatriates and political supporters. Jansa made the reason for this clear as he elaborated upon his above statement.
“This situation must change,” he said of the Western tendency toward conciliation. “The UN Commission of Inquiry is crucial to shedding light on the horrific 1988 massacre. This is especially important given the fact that the next president of the regime will be Ebrahim Raisi, who Amnesty International accuses of crimes against humanity because of his role in this massacre.”
Indeed, when Raisi was confirmed as the next president of the Iranian regime on June 18, Amnesty responded the following day with a statement which said in part, “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”
This statement is, first and foremost, an indictment of the Iranian regime’s decades-long history of human rights abuses. But it also doubles as a criticism of international contributions to the regime’s perception that it is beyond the reach of major consequences for such abuses. This criticism was made much more explicit last year by seven UN human rights experts when they wrote a letter to Iranian authorities calling renewed attention to the 1988 massacre and urging them to release relevant information and stop harassing the survivors and the families of victims.
When Tehran declined to acknowledge that letter, it was published for an international audience in December 2020. This outcome was no doubt anticipated by the authors, who made it clear in the letter that if Iran took no action to hold perpetrators of the massacre accountable, the responsibility would fall to the international community. In order to impress upon readers that the UN had previously eschewed that responsibility, the letter noted that details of the massacre had been revealed while it was still ongoing, and yet no UN agencies followed up on an initial statement condemning this alongside other human rights abuses.
“The failure of these bodies to act,” the letter stated, “had a devastating impact on the victims and families as well as on the general situation of human rights in Iran and emboldened Iran to… maintain a strategy of deflection and denial that continue to date.”
This failure could arguably be rectified through the commission of inquiry. Many other policymakers from throughout Europe and the Americas echoed that proposal and clarified their expectation that it would lead to changes in the International Criminal Court for prominent Iranian officials, including the man who will be inaugurated as president on August 5.
Baroness Sandy Verma said in her remarks on the summit’s second day that she and “colleagues in the British Parliament across all parties we will do everything in our power to ensure that we take Ebrahim Raisi to court and make him pay for the crimes against humanity.”
Other speakers highlighted parallel measures that could be taken to isolate Raisi and deny him legitimacy pending the outcome of a commission of inquiry. Former US Representative Robert Torricelli, for instance, urged the United Nations to exclude Raisi from the next General Assembly, as well as urging US government officials to pressure their allies in that direction. “If the United Nations decides that Raisi belongs to the United Nations,” he said, “then the United Nations does not belong in New York. We must not host terrorists, despots, and mass murderers.”
Similar calls to action were issued during each of the summit’s three days by the NCRI’s president-elect, Maryam Rajavi. In her final speech at the event, Mrs. Rajavi said: “I call on the UN Security Council to take action to hold the leaders of the mullahs’ regime, especially [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei, [President-elect] Raisi, and [Judiciary Chief] Ejeii, accountable for committing genocide and crimes against humanity. The United Nations must not allow Raisi to participate in the next session of the General Assembly. This would be an unforgivable insult to the peoples of all countries who send their representatives to the United Nations.”