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State Visits to Iran Send the Wrong Message and Reinforce a Violent Regime’s Impunity

Mora at Raisi’s inauguration on August 5.

On Wednesday, the European Union announced that Enrique Mora, the deputy political director of the European External Action Service, will visit Iran to hold cordial talks with Ebrahim Raisi’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. 

This marks at least the second time Mora has legitimized the Raisi administration on the international stage. In August, he personally attended Raisi’s inauguration, drawing criticism from activists both inside Iran and throughout the Iranian diaspora who had spent the previous two months working to draw greater attention to Raisi’s history of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. 

In the summer of 1988, Raisi became one of four key figures to sit on the Tehran “Death Commission” that oversaw the mass execution of over 30,000 political prisoners. Eyewitnesses to the massacre tend to describe Raisi as having been first among his peers in pursuing the broadest possible application of a fatwa from Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini which urged the killing of anyone who appeared to still support Iran’s leading democratic opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). 

Three such witnesses appeared in Wednesday’s press conference alongside NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee member Hossein Abedini, former Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson, and Tahar Boumedra, the former head of the human rights office for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq. Prior to the press conference, Stevenson submitted a 111-page dossier to the head of Police Scotland, bearing the signatures of the three participating witnesses, plus two others. He and Boumedra emphasized that similar documents had been submitted in multiple countries, with the latter presenting one to authorities in London on July 2. 

The dossier was accompanied by a formal request for an investigation into Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacre. While the immediate goal of Stevenson’s appeal to Scottish authorities was avowedly to prevent Raisi from setting foot in the country, he and other advocates for accountability have noted that all nations have the legal authority to arrest and prosecute Raisi under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Boumedra suggested that this principle could also apply to any of the more than 70 participants in the massacre who have been explicitly identified by an organization he heads called Justice for Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran. 

World leaders and the bloody hands of Ebrahim Raisi, Iranian regime’s new president

Participants in the press conference expressed hope that Scottish, English, and other investigations in Raisi’s crimes would set the stage for a broader investigation by the International Criminal Court, ultimately leading to his prosecution in that venue. Some legal scholars have even stated that such prosecution could be based on a charge of genocide, given that the fatwa underlying the 1988 massacre expressed an intention to kill anyone whose religious identity was at odds with the regime’s theocratic fundamentalism. 

The genocide label strongly underscores the betrayal of human rights principles that is inherent in the EU’s efforts to legitimize Raisi’s presidential role. At the same time, it reinforces the notion that if an ICC investigation is not forthcoming, any nation in good standing with international law could execute an arrest warrant for Raisi or any other perpetrator of the 1988 massacre. In a virtual conference organized by the NCRI in July, the British human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson emphasized that the Genocide Convention effectively obligates ratifying countries to take action over such matters. In the same conference, Eric David, a Belgian professor of international law, stated that the unilateral prosecution of Raisi’s crimes would present “no legal difficulty” for any Western nation. 

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The truth of this was essentially proven the following month when a Swedish criminal court initiated the prosecution of Hamid Noury, a former Iranian prison official who participated in the 1988 massacre at a much lower level than Raisi. The case against Noury expressly cites universal jurisdiction in an effort to hold him accountable for war crimes and mass murder. Persons seeking justice for the victims of the 1988 massacre are hopeful that the Swedish case will now serve as a model for the behavior of other Western nations. 

Hamid Nouri trial: Ex-political prisoner testifies on crimes of regime authorities in Iran’s prisons

The regime’s decision in appointing Raisi as president was fervently rejected by the overwhelming majority of Iranian people, as evidenced by the June presidential election having the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Iranian regime. Raisi was put forward as the only viable candidate, and he took office amidst an outpouring of risky public protest over his reputation as the “butcher of 1988” and a leading perpetrator of the crackdown on dissent in November 2019, as well. 

Raisi was head of the Iranian judiciary at that time when activists all across Iran staged simultaneous public protests calling for a wholesale change of government. Within days of the nationwide uprising breaking out, 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed, and Raisi’s judiciary oversaw systematic torture of political detainees for months afterward. The crackdown apparently helped to secure Raisi’s endorsement by the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and it also signaled that further surges in violent repression were likely to take place under Raisi’s presidential administration. 

The international community must understand this fact as it sets policy toward Iran in the weeks and months to come. Western powers, as ostensible defenders of universal human rights principles, must not allow nuclear negotiations to overshadow the threats looming over the Iranian people. Tehran’s impunity must be challenged, and there is no better first step toward this goal than by making it clear that Ebrahim Raisi will face arrest for his past crimes against humanity if he ever sets foot on Western soil.