Transcript: Remarks by IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy at JVMI Civil Society Hearing Into Iran’s 1988 Massacre

Verbatim transcript of remarks by Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), at a Civil Society Hearing on the 1988 Massacre in Iran – 15 February 2024, Geneva:

Hello! Good morning. I really want to apologize to you for not joining you in person. I am Baroness Helena Kennedy. I’m an international lawyer. I’m the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. I’ve been a practitioner at the English Bar for many decades. I’m a King’s Council. I’m also a member of the British Parliament in that I’m a member of the House of Lords. I had wanted to be with you because this is a subject matter very close to my own heart.

I remember only too well when this terrible atrocity became public knowledge, and it was shocking. We had all been horrified, when, first of all, there was a revolution in 1979 in Iran, and we somehow had imagined there might be democracy, an end to the torture and issues that had blighted the Shah’s period in office. We had imagined that democracy would come, and there would be freedom and liberty for the people of Iran. That they would enjoy a very different kind of existence.

But sadly, it wasn’t to be. The arrival of the Ayatollah put paid to many of the dreams of young people who had hoped for a different kind of society. Many of us, in places like Britain shared that hope for our fellow students, and for the people who were our age, living in Iran. We thought the future had been theirs, but it was taken from them.

What followed was really shocking, because, first of all, there was a great deal of oppression of those who had wanted democracy. Many of the young people who perhaps were on the left or in different organisations wanting change suffered the consequences of this new regime.

Many people ended up in prison over those years. Before we ever get to 1988 there were serious horrors. There was, of course, the war with Iraq which took a great toll on Iran. But the people who were arrested in the years leading up to 1988, many young people were in prison. They were political prisoners, and an order was given in 1988 that they should all be executed.

We saw a huge crime against humanity take place with many thousands of young people, a whole generation of the young, many of them basically murdered. It was extrajudicial killing.

What is extra judicial killing? There was no due process. There was no proper trial, but an order given from above by the Ayatollah that they should be executed, and they were executed in a cruel and terrible way. Their families never recovered their bodies from many of them, and didn’t know where they’re they were buried, and the pain of that lives on. If there is no justice, then I’m afraid it will be a wound in the history of Iran for many decades, many, many, many years to come.

So accountability is vital. Accountability for crimes is one of the things that people yearn for in order to basically move on in life and in nationhood. I hope that one day soon Iran will throw off the theocratic regime that controls Iran, the cruelties that it manifests in so many of the things it does. In the cruelty that has been seen only too recently in the treatment of those starting with the demonstrations of the young women after the death of the young woman, Amini, terrible, terrible treatment of those who protested her killing. She was killed. Then the terrible, terrible response of the State to the indignation of young women who say “we want freedom, we want to live our lives. We’re not going to be controlled in the way that you’re expecting us to be controlled.” And the young men who took to the streets with them and their family members who supported them.

So you’re going to ask me as a lawyer what can be done? How do we get accountability?

Well, one of the things that we have to be doing is calling for those who were involved who are still alive to be facing trial. They should be facing processes for what they did, and they should be on long lists of sanctionees, unable to travel. They shouldn’t be able to send their children to universities in the West, whether they be Oxford or Harvard, and so on, as they indeed managed to do somehow. It shouldn’t be possible for them to still enjoy those freedoms when so many others don’t.

I think that we have to be calling upon nations like my own, Britain, to expand its universal jurisdiction, so that the crimes for which people can be committed as they transit through Britain, or when they come here on vacation, or for all manner of reasons, to look after their assets, they keep outside of the country, which, indeed they do. We should make sure that they can be arrested and people who have been involved in these terrible crimes and in the 1988 massacre should be brought to justice, even if it will not happen in their own jurisdiction, it has to be promised that it will happen if they come anywhere near nations which respect universal jurisdiction, and have created domestic law to be able to deal with those who are criminals, who have committed terrible crimes in other countries, especially in this instance we’re talking about in your country, in Iran.

I just wanted to say to all of you, I had wanted to be there with you to talk about the ways in which one can try to demand processes, demand that nations recognise that there is a history of serious crime going back to 1979-1980, and then through to this horror in 1988 and he continuing horror. And the ways in which society the society is divided, and the ways in which people’s lives are blighted by the power that is exacted and the control exercised by those who are currently in power. But we have to give the warning. It will not be forever. There will be a reckoning. There will be a reckoning. We have to call upon international law. We have to use what is available to us through the United Nations, and we have to be having events at United Nations, so that people know the full background of Iranian Government’s crimes.

So I just wanted to apologize to all of you for not being with you but I send you all my support, my solidarity in this struggle for justice.