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Human rights experts and activists call for justice for the victims of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners (mainly MEK) in Iran
On Friday, September 14th, a group of human rights activists, politicians, and dignitaries held a conference at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva. The conference was in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the execution of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran, most of whom were MEK members, over the course of a single summer in 1988.
Conference participants sought to increase public awareness of the 1988 massacre and to persuade the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to include a discussion of the massacre in the upcoming summit of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Ultimately, the conference’s goal is to see that the perpetrators of the massacre are brought to justice. To date, none of those responsible for the mass executions have been held accountable for their actions, and many of the perpetrators continue to hold positions of power within the Iranian regime.
The 1988 massacre occurred as a result of a fatwa issued by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, who ordered the executions of all political prisoners associated with the MEK who did not renounce the MEK. Prisoners were sentenced to death after 15-minute trials and executed in groups. At the end of the summer, 30,000 prisoners had been executed.
The 1988 massacre has been described as one of the biggest crimes of humanity since World War II. There have been a number of calls for an independent investigation and international criminal prosecution of those responsible for the acts.
Conference participants spoke of the massacre and the need for an independent investigation into the crime against humanity. Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt describes the history of the mass executions, noting that the prisoners had already been sentenced and that “[some of them were about to be released.”
She also spoke about the regime’s efforts to cover up its crime. “The regime is covering the mass graves and prohibiting the families from speaking about it,” Betancourt said.
Betancourt stressed that the regime still poses a dire threat to the Iranian opposition, particularly the MEK, citing a foiled terror attack against an Iranian Resistance gathering in Paris in June of this year.
“The only chance we have to confront terrorism today is to help democracy get back to Iran,” she concluded.
Tahar Boumedra, distinguished jurist, former U.N. representative in Iraq, and the current head of Justice for the Victims of the 1988 (JVMI) emphasized the need for an independent investigation into the 1988 mass executions.
“As far as the United Nations is concerned, they’re still asking the government of Iran to investigate the event. They know they will never investigate,” said Boumedra.
Laurence Fehlmann Rielle, a member of the Swiss Federal Parliament, echoed the call for an investigation, calling the 1988 executions “one of the most atrocious crimes that haven’t been investigated by the international community.”
Juan Garcés, Spanish lawyer and former advisor of Chilean President Salvador Allende, spoke about the religious element to the mullahs’ crime.
“This massacre had a religious element because the victims were killed under the pretext of enmity with God. What can we do in this regard? 30 years have passed. These crimes that have a genocidal nature are usually committed by the state, and naturally, we can’t expect the state to serve justice… We must gather all possible evidence, including those of the victims and the perpetrators. One day, this can all be brought to the attention of an international court of law. Establishing a universal jurisdiction can pursue these cases,” Garcés emphasized.
Gilbert Mitterrand, President of Danielle Mitterand Foundation and one of the organizers of the conference, urged the international community to put politics aside and prioritize human rights in decisions about the 1988 massacre.
“How many more such sessions do we need to hold?… We would like to go further, not only the 1988 massacres but also the current situation in Iran, where human rights continue to be trampled. The international community shows that it has other priorities above human rights,” he said.
Mitterand continued: “Former UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Asma Jahangir, requested an independent inquiry into the 1988 massacre… The international community has condemned the Iranian regime for trying to erase the traces of this crime… The international community is the ally of the Iranian people. We shouldn’t play the game of the mullahs.”
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, former Vice-President of European Parliament (1999-2014) and the President of the international committee In Search of Justice (ISJ) called the 1988 executions “probably the worst crime in Iran’s modern history.”
Vidal-Quadras described the lack of accountability for the massacre, saying, “Many of the perpetrators who have admitted to their role in this crime, have not been brought to justice.” Instead, the criminals have been given ministerial positions within the regime, he said.
Vidal-Quadras said that the violation of human rights is still a problem under the current regime.
“During the presidency of Hassan Rouhani,” he said, “more than 3,500 people have been executed. His predecessor was not ‘moderate’ but he killed fewer people. The concept of moderation in the Iranian regime is quite original.”.
After reminding the audience that the current regime has killed more than 50 people in the streets since the beginning of the popular protests last December, Vidal-Quadras concluded by saying:
“It’s not an exaggeration if we call this regime a killing machine,” Vidal-Quadras said, criticizing European politicians and state for disregarding the Iranian regime’s abysmal human rights record.
“We must remind our European governments that Iran is not a normal government to do business with. It’s a totalitarian theocracy that survives by instigating civil conflict and terror outside their borders,” he went on. “This is a very unstable and weak regime, and it has no future. We should not count on the mullahs and have illusions about Rouhani and the so-called moderates. The future belongs to democracy.”
Finally, Sanobargh Zahedi, attorney, and Chair of the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran’s (NCRI) Justice Commission reiterated the call for an independent investigation, describing the regime’s past and current crimes against humanity and the need for accountability.
“The families of the victims still do not how & why their loved ones die, or where they were buried. This is an ongoing form of psychological torture designed to put fear into people. If anyone asks what happened in 1988 or speaks to U.N. mandate holders, they are persecuted, detained and tortured themselves… The people who have committed these murderous crimes have never been held accountable. They have been promoted by the regime for their actions… Iran still executes the most people per capita in the world. Then NCRI calls on the UN Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, the Special Representative, and all special mandate holders to cooperate. Together we can ensure there is accountability and an end to impunity in Iran. We need an international inquiry because the Iranian regime is never going to investigate itself.”