The 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to open on September 15, with high-level General Debate beginning a week later. With the Security Council having very recently declined to extend an arms embargo regime, it seems like a foregone conclusion that American objections to that decision will form a substantial part of the debate.
This goes hand-in-hand with related issues such as Iran’s reputation as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and its recent unveiling of a new missile in an apparent effort to goad the West over the regime’s newfound access to advanced weaponry. The importance of these issues can hardly be overstated, especially in light of the fact that the General Assembly closely coincides with the Belgian trial of an Iranian regime’s so-called “diplomat” who led a plot to set off explosives near Paris in 2018.
Still, discussion of the Iranian regime’s foreign provocations and terrorist financing should not be allowed to overshadow other issues, like those that highlight the threat the mullahs’ regime poses to the Iranian people. The two categories have generally been treated by Western policymakers as if they are entirely separate. But the 2018 terror plot demonstrates that Tehran’s terrorism and oppression has no boundaries.
The plan to bomb the summer rally of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) was due to the regime’s struggle to get control over a nationwide uprising that was already underway at the beginning of 2018. While the protests were at their peak that January, the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech in which he acknowledged that the movement’s nationwide coordination and its anti-government slogans stemmed largely from the efforts of the NCRI’s largest constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK / PMOI).
Although the regime was momentarily able to quell the society through a campaign of arrest, torture, and direct attack on protesters, they ultimately failed to silence dissent in any meaningful sense. This was first made clear by the various local protests that sprang up over the rest of 2018, often featuring the same anti-regime slogans as the uprising, and comprising what NCRI’s President-elect, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi referred to as a “year full of uprisings.”
The regime’s failure was made wholly unmistakable in November 2019, when Iran was rocked by major protests, which encompassed even more cities, towns, and marginalized populations. Since 2019 uprising was a widespread challenge to the mullahs’ rule, the Iranian regime viciously oppressed protesters.
According to the MEK, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) opened fire on participants in the November uprising, killing 1,500. This was much higher than the death toll of the January 2018 crackdown, and considering that the earlier effort led to a terror plot that would have almost certainly included Western political dignitaries among its victims, there are still lingering questions about how Tehran might escalate its foreign provocations to match the political violence it is promoting at home.
It would be foolish for the international community to underestimate how far the regime would be willing to go in either area. Nothing that the mullahs have ever said or done gives the impression that there is any limit to how much bloodshed they will embrace in an effort to safeguard their hold on power. This situation will never alter as long as the international community fails to demand accountability for the worst of Iran’s crimes.
For this reason, it is vital that the international community demand investigations into the Iranian regime’s recent crackdowns on dissent and the current conditions of Iranian prisons. But these demands must also reach further back into the history of the regime, to the incident that most firmly established Iran’s reputation for political violence, as well as the MEK’s reputation for resilience.
For those in the know, escalating crackdowns in Iran recall attention to the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, when death commissions were established throughout the country on orders from Ruhollah Khomeini, with the express purpose of identifying those who still opposed the regime and executing them on the basis of “enmity against God.”
The death toll from the massacre surpasses 30,000, with members and supporters of the PMOI comprising the vast majority. An audio recording from the time of the massacre was released in 2016 which confirmed that leading Iranian officials were aware of the indiscriminate nature of the killings. Victims included pregnant women and minors as young as 13, while many of the targeted prisoners had already served their legal sentences but were held in detention arbitrarily, for long enough to send them to the gallows.
Not one perpetrator of the 1988 massacre has been held accountable over the past 32 years. Quite to the contrary, the regime has rewarded them with ever more influential positions including judiciary chief and Minister of Justice. After all this time, it is clear that such display of impunity will continue until the United Nations sees fit to launch a comprehensive inquiry, and to bring Iranian officials face-to-face with the notion that they might actually face consequences for their actions, even at the International Criminal Court.