Tahar Boumedra tells House of Commons it’s time to act on Iran’s 1988 massacre

Remarks by Tahar Boumedra at the conference in the House of Commons, Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, on the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran & International actions to request justice for the victims

Tuesday, 18 July 2017, 11:00am – 1:00pm,

Tahar Boumedra, is a legal expert, former chief of Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the lead author of the report “Inquiry into the 1988 mass executions in Iran” prepared by the “Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI)”, a not for profit research and documentation centre established in London and operating internationally.

Honourable members of this House, friends, ladies and gentlemen, in September 2016, a number of families and some former prisoners, survivors of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran urged us to get together and form an association to seek  justice for the victims and their  families, a crime that took place nearly 30 years ago . And indeed, we launched this association in Geneva in September 2016. Among the tasks we set for this association was compiling the existing evidence that a crime against humanity had taken place against political prisoners in Iran in the period of July-December 1988.

A number of British lawyers including Ms Kirsty Brimelow (QC) who is here with us today and Sir Geoffrey Robertson (QC), the late Professor Nigel Rodley who left us in January this year and a long list of highly qualified lawyers, had given us guidance in producing this report which has been submitted to the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and also to the United Nations Secretary General in New York.

This work has been done in compliance with the standards of the United Nations’ fact-finding missions. In our documentation work, we have adopted the overwhelming and conclusive evidence and have strictly followed the standards of objectivity and impartiality, based on what had been published in the Iranian government media and the reports of NGOs and members of the civil society.

The Iranian governmental media is considered a reliable source as it usually relays the official information. In 1988, the Iranian regime still allowed governmental media to publish judicial decisions and related figures. It was after 1988 massacre that the regime had given instructions to black out the operation. Since then, access to governmental information and statistics were no longer available.

But one of the main and important sources of information that remained available were the reports of the Special Representative of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations appointed to cover the human rights situation in Iran in the period of between 1986 and 1995. The Special Representative of the Commission was the Salvadoran Professor Reynaldo Galindo Pohl. He reported from 1986 to 1995 and covered the period of the massacre between July and December 1988. Here, I would like to quote from the report of Professor Galindo Pohl that covered the period July to December 1988 the following:

Paragraph 72 of the report states: “In the course of the informal hearings, the Special Representative reached the moral conviction that the persons appearing before him referred to facts that certainly happened to them and that their declarations were not the product of feverish imagination or of mere fabrication guided by political or religious motivation”.

According to information received by the Special Representative in September 1988, a large number of prisoners, members of opposition groups, were executed during the months of July, August and early September 1988. Most of those executed were reported to be members of the People’s Mujahidin Organisation.

The report adds “Theses persons [the witnesses who met the Special Rapporteur] presented the traces of maltreatment and exposed their accounts of events in a convincing, articulate and coherent manner…It appears that the persistence of alleged violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in particular, the recent reports of a renewed wave of executions in the period from July to December 1988 suffices to justify international concern and the need for the competent United Nations organs to continue monitoring the situation in that country.”

I think this statement is enough to show that the United Nations was actually well informed. They were aware of an ongoing massacre. Unfortunately, at the time, the Iranian government managed to divert the attention of the United Nations and the world community by trying to argue that its legal system is based on Shari’a law which according to the Iranian Constitution must prevail over international law. Thus turning the matter into an academic debate about international law and Sharia law and which one should prevail over the other. This is how the United Nations monitoring and reporting was taken out of its context. By 1995, the report of the Special Rapporteur has ceased mentioning the massacre.

Another piece of evidence I would like you to be aware of is a report prepared by Sir Geoffrey Robertson QC. Geoffrey Robertson (QC) is a renowned international lawyer from the United Kingdom. Barrister since 1973, Queen’s Counsel since 1988, founder of Doughty Street Chambers 1990, appeal judge on United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, 2002-2007 and its President December 2002- March 2004, Member of the United Nations Internal Justice Council, 2008-2012. He is the author of several publications. No doubt, the statements of a man with these credentials must be taken seriously. He reported that “These massacres undoubtedly occurred, pretty much as alleged, in 1988, in prisons where political prisoners were detained. They took place, broadly speaking in two waves, first, the Death Committee came for the unrepentant Mujahedin and then, after a short break, for atheistic or agnostic communists and for leftists it assessed as apostates… The state destroyed all Mujahedin supporters it could lay its hands on, and then proceeded to eliminate, hurriedly and secretly, all male prisoners who refused to pray to the God whom the Supreme Leader represented on earth”.

This is the conclusion of Geoffrey Robertson. In the same period, there are reports from Amnesty International and we are all aware of the standards and methodology applied to the work of Amnesty International. I think Amnesty’s reports are highly credible. It is not just Amnesty International, it is also the International Federation for Human Rights which produced a lengthy report also confirming that a serious massacre of extra-judicial killing has taken place in prisons against prisoners who are serving a period of imprisonment based on another judgement. Whether this judgement is fair or not, this is another matter. The reality is that prisoners serving a sentence lesser than a life sentence were executed on orders issued by the “Death Commission”.

Now this core of evidence is here. We have compiled the information about how the Iranian government has misled the United Nations and has imposed a way of working in order to divert the attention, and indeed, they have been successful to a certain extent in diverting the attention since until today no formal United Nations investigation has taken place.

Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) report has now provided the reasons behind the crime, i.e. Khomeini’s fatwa. This fatwa had been challenged by Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, the number two of the regime at the time. In one of his letters dated 15 August 1988, addressed to the Minister of Intelligence, the Prosecutor General and the Chief Justice he asked: “On what criteria are you now executing people who have not been sentenced to death?”(Reuters, 29 March 1989).

Ayatollah Montazeri’s letters reproduced in the JVMI report showed that there was awareness at the highest level of the government that “thousands” of summary executions were taking place without regard to the Iranian constitutional norms and judicial procedures.

The second fact that has recently come to light is that suspect perpetrates had started to make statements acknowledging the crime and taking pride in having taken part in it.

The third and important fact is the existence of a number of former prisoners who survived the massacre. JVMI has conducted interviews with some of them. I personally conducted some of those interviews and they are recorded in the report.

The other very important verifiable evidence is the existence of a list of the locations of the mass graves. The JVMI report provides precise addresses locating the mass graves evidencing the massacre. Recently, I was in Geneva and I spoke to the diplomatic community and I told them that you have verifiable addresses in Tehran and elsewhere and it is up to the diplomatic community to challenge this report by going to verify on the spot those mass graves. To sum up, the report had provided the list of the suspect perpetrators, the list of the mass graves and the list of the victims.

Regarding the list of the victims, as no serious official investigation had been conducted so far, the number of victims is subject of speculation. There are those who try to minimise and they refer to a figure like 7,000 victims. Others give the figure of about 20,000 victims, the figure of 30,000 also is given and there are those who refer to 120,000 victims. As far as JVMI report is concerned, the exact figure is irrelevant. What is relevant is that a crime against humanity had taken place between July 1988 and December 1988 and the evidence is overwhelming. Geoffrey Robertson in his detailed report asserted that what happened in the summer of 1988 in Iran could possibly categorise as a crime of genocide.

Nowadays, killings based on unfair trials are still reported to be taking place in Iran, to the extent that the United Nations is still renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran on a yearly basis since the 80s.

Since the United Nations had been very shy in dealing with this issue and have not taken the necessary courage to face Iran and say enough is enough, the perpetrators are getting bolder and are publicly admitting having taken part in the massacre in total impunity. Now, by presenting this report to the United Nations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Secretary General and all the diplomatic community represented in Geneva, JVMI hopes that they all realise that a commission of inquiry is overdue.

This is a challenge to the UN, it is a challenge to the diplomatic community. The families of the victims have the right to know the truth, the right to access to justice and to reparation. Only an independent commission of inquiry will mend the pain the families of the victims. Luckily for the families and unluckily for the suspect perpetrators we are dealing with a crime that is imprescriptible, no matter how long it takes, whether 30 years or 100 years, a crime against humanity remains a crime against humanity and we want the United Nations to act on it. It will be very embarrassing for the United Nations to see this report and to keep quiet about it. I said that and I thank you very much for your attention.