Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

UN Special Rapporteur on Iran calls for international investigation into 1988 massacre

LONDON – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Iran on Tuesday decried the prevailing culture of impunity in Iran and appealed for an international inquiry into the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners.

Prof. Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, made the announcement at a briefing with MPs at the UK Parliament on 18 July 2023. The Parliamentary briefing on the topic of countering impunity, organised by the Association of Anglo-Iranian Women in the UK, took place on the 35th anniversary of the 1988 massacre.

In his keynote presentation about the absence of accountability and the prevalent culture of impunity, Prof. Rehman demanded the removal of the culture of impunity and asked for accountability and justice for the victims of serious violations of human rights, including victims of violations of the 1988 massacre.

Prof. Rehman told the panel: “In 1988, thousands of these prisoners were extrajudicially executed pursuant to a fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran and implemented across prisons in the country. There are extremely serious concerns about the very grave crimes under international human rights law and international humanitarian law having been committed in 1988.”

“The mass executions of 1988 have been followed by state authorities refusing to publicly acknowledge the killings and to disclose the fate of those killed and the location of their remains to victims’ families and subjecting families to threats, harassment, intimidation and attacks.”

“There has thus been the determination of the Iranian government to hide these massacres through false narratives and statements, distortion of historical data, and active harassment of survivors and family members of victims, as well as by hiding the evidence, such as the destruction of mass graves. Systematic concealment of the fate of the victims, not providing the location of their remains, or not providing family members information about the causes of their deaths is deeply troubling. Such concealment, in my judgment, constitutes enforced disappearances and a crime against humanity.”

“One possibility to ensure accountability is the use of universal jurisdiction to try individuals for serious crimes, including crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations.”

“The other path is the setting up of an international tribunal or an investigative mechanism to hold accountable all those who have committed grave crimes against the Iranian people.”

Cross-Party MPs and Members of the House of Lords supported the Special Rapporteur’s call for accountability. They thanked the Special Rapporteur for his work and endeavours under difficult circumstances and condemned the regime for undermining and refusing to cooperate with his mandate.

Henry Smith MP, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chair of the Parliamentary conference, declared his strong support for the position of the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran.

Lord Alton of Liverpool called on the UK to support the referral of the regime’s human rights dossier to the UN Security Council for punitive measures.

Lord Alton also urged the UN Special Rapporteur to “continue to stress the importance and responsibility of UN member states to secure an independent investigation into the regime’s current and historic human rights abuses including the 1988 massacre and include this demand in this year’s UN General Assembly resolution on Iran.”

Jim Shannon MP said: “It would be naive to think that authorities in Iran will investigate their own atrocities and abuses. So, I support the call by the Special Rapporteur urging member states to do more to secure accountability in Iran.”

“I also urge our government to further isolate the regime in Iran by downgrading or even ending diplomatic relations with Tehran and condition any restoration with a clear commitment to end the use of the death penalty and verifiable human rights improvements,” he said. “The regime must understand there are consequences to its domestic repression, and our government and the international community must make clear to the leaders in Tehran that they will not and cannot escape justice.”

Laila Jazayeri, Director of the Association of Anglo-Iranian Women in the UK, pointed out that the international community’s neglecting of the 1988 massacre has helped foster further impunity for the regime including in its brutal crackdown on the brave women in Iran who have been protesting since September 2022 for an end to theocratic rule.

Tahar Boumedra, Director of Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) and the former Head of the UN Human Rights Office in Iraq, pointed out that Khomeini’s 1988 fatwa ordering the massacre of political prisoners associated with the main opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI or MEK) has never been rescinded.

He added that according to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), the 1988 massacre also qualifies as “enforced disappearance,” and as such, it is an ongoing crime.

Martyn Day MP strongly endorsed the call for accountability for the 1988 massacre and called on the UK government to considering strengthening sanctions against the regime for major human rights violations.

Hossein Abedini, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and a survivor of a terrorist assassination attempt by the regime abroad, testified before the panel: “The failure of the international community to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its major domestic crimes, such as the 1988 massacre, has helped fuel a culture of impunity to the point that it tries to silence dissidents abroad.”

“Appeasement and concessions will only fuel more impunity. It is time to put a stop to that. The people inside Iran, who are facing a brutal and deadly crackdown, need to see that the international community supports their right to free themselves from the religious dictatorship,” he said.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon CBE told the conference: “As we see the popular protests in Iran continue for more than nine months despite state repression, mass arrests and violent crackdown, we must acknowledge that this is a nationwide uprising that goes beyond the issue of women’s attire. It is a protest movement for change, and we must recognise that if we are to address the concerns properly and successfully.”

“Let us not forget, the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has absolute power in Iran. Consequently, he could end all human rights abuses and issue a moratorium on executions with a simple fatwa. Yet, he has refrained from doing that for decades. Instead, he orders the security forces and the paramilitary IRGC to do everything they can to put down protest movements and dissidents as we saw in 2019 and are seeing since September last year,” Lord Singh added.

Bob Blackman MP stated: “The fact that one of the notorious and documented perpetrators of the 1988 massacre is now president of Iran highlights the extent of the problem and the urgency of securing accountability. Ebrahim Raisi was previously the head of the judiciary in 2019 when the Iranian authorities crushed another popular uprising through mass arrests and killing 1500 people. This underlines one other crucial problem in Iran: that the Judiciary is part of the domestic repression and cannot be trusted or expected to deliver justice for the victims.”

Mr. Blackman called on the UK government to close its embassy in Iran and expel the regime’s diplomats in the UK.

Both Bob Blackman MP and Lord Polak CBE urged the UK government to proscribe the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation.

Alex Sobel MP, Baroness Helic, and other parliamentarians attended the meeting and endorsed Prof. Rehman’s remarks on the 1988 massacre.

Prof. Eric Heinze, Executive Director of the Centre for Law, Democracy, and Society (CLDS) at the School of Law of Queen Mary University of London, decried the absence of accountability and basic freedoms in Iran.

Prof. Sara Chandler, Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Law Society of England & Wales, supported international accountability measures, including an international investigation, in relation to the 1988 massacre.

There were also presentations from several Iranian victims of the regime.

Omid Ebrahimi whose father was a survivor of the 1988 massacre and whose aunts were victims of the regime testified about the ordeals faced by his family.

Naghmeh Rajabi, a member of the Anglo-Iranian Association of Professionals, gave evidence about the execution of her family members by the regime.

Background: In 1988, the government of Iran massacred 30,000 political prisoners. The executions took place based on a fatwa by Supreme Leader Khomeini. Three-member ‘Death Commissions’ were formed across Iran sending political prisoners who refused to abandon their beliefs to execution. The victims were buried in secret mass graves. The perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. They include Iran’s current President Ebrahim Raisi and Judiciary Chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei.

Association of Anglo-Iranian Women in the UK and Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI)
20 July 2023