Finally, after 32 years, top human rights experts of the United Nations have urged the Iranian regime to account on the 1988 massacre. They have described the massacre of political prisoners in Iran as a “crime against humanity.”
After the second World War, this was the greatest crime of the century which took place in Iran in the summer of 1988.
Geoffrey Robertson, a distinguished human rights barrister and QC, former appeal judge at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, describes the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in Iran, as the worst crime against humanity after the World War II.
On January 27, marking the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us also remember the victims of the 1988 massacre in Iran and review the great breakthrough in the Iranian people’s quest for justice for the victims of this unpunished crime against humanity.
The worst crime against humanity after WWII
After the ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war, the mullahs’ supreme leader at the time, Khomeini, carried out the massacre of anyone with ties to the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which he had earlier planned for.
In a despicable hand-written decree, Khomeini wrote: “Anyone who at any stage is insistent on their support for the PMOI/MEK is condemned to death.”
The 1988 massacre started at the end of July, peaking on July 28 until August 14, and continuing onto autumn and even the following year in some cities. There was no mercy on anyone, even young girls and pregnant women.
Khomeini’s haste to execute was so abhorrent many of his closest confidantes had doubts about it. Hossein Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s former successor and the country’s second highest authority at the time, urged for leniency and a slowdown.
Addressing members of the death committees, he said, “In my opinion, the biggest crime committed under the Islamic Republic for which we will be condemned by history, has been committed at your hands. Your names will appear amongst those of the criminals in history.”
Many of the regime’s senior officials like Ebrahim Raisi, the head of the judiciary, have risen the ranks after committing this heinous crime.
Alireza Avaei, the current Minister of Justice, was also a member of the Death Committee in Dezful and Ahvaz prisons during the massacre in the summer of 1988.
Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, the former Minister of Justice who currently serves as an advisor to the Iranian Judiciary, was a key member of the death committee in the 1988 massacre.
A strategy of diversion and denials
Naturally, the vast majority of the victims were members and supporters of the PMOI/MEK, but the order extended to other groups in later stages. But it was still conducted in silence and in secret.
The ruling mullahs hid the names of victims and the places of their burial.
In December 1988, the UN General Assembly expressed its grave concern about the new wave of execution of political prisoners from July to September 1988. Even so, the issue was not referred to the UN Security Council.
The silence emboldened the regime to continue to hide the fate of the victims and to continue to this day the strategy of diversion and denial.
In 1995, after a 7-year campaign by the Iranian Resistance, the Iranian regime accepted a visit by the UN special rapporteur. The Iranian Resistance demanded answers to 15 fundamental questions. Among them were the number of the victims of the massacre, the places of their burial, and addressing the fact that the families were uninformed about mass graves. No answers to these questions have been received, so far.
For the first time in 3 decades, regime is urged to account on the 1988 massacre
On December 9, 2020, the United Nations made public the text of a communication by seven top human rights experts. They called in this letter on the Iranian regime to account on the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran.
In their communication to the Iranian regime on September 3, 2020, the UN experts expressed serious concern over the alleged continued refusal to disclose the fate and whereabouts of thousands of individuals who were reportedly forcibly disappeared and then extra judicially executed in 1988.
The UN Special Rapporteurs gave the Iranian authorities 60 days to clarify all the cases brought to their attention. After 60 days, they said the communication and any response received would be made public via the communications reporting website.
For the first time in 32 years, the UN thus recognized the 1988 massacre as a “crime against humanity” and called for a “thorough and independent” investigation into this genocide.
The experts reiterated: “We are concerned that the situation may amount to crimes against humanity.” They said if the Iranian authorities “continue to refuse to uphold its obligations under international human rights law, we call on the international community to take action to investigate the cases including through the establishment of an international investigation.”
A momentous breakthrough for the Iranian people’s quest for justice
“The UN experts’ communication is a momentous breakthrough. It marks a turning point in the long-standing struggles of victims’ families and survivors, supported by Iranian human rights organizations and Amnesty International, to end these crimes and obtain truth, justice and reparation,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
In their communication to the Iranian authorities, the experts said they were “alarmed by allegations of the authorities’ refusal to provide families with accurate and complete death certificates, the destruction of mass graves, the ongoing threats and harassment of the families, the lack of investigation and prosecution for the killings and the statements from the Government denying or trivializing the cases and equating criticizing the killings as support for terrorism.”
They underlined that “an enforced disappearance continues until the fate and whereabouts of the individual concerned are established irrespective of the time passed, and that the family members have a right to truth which means the right to know about the progress and results of an investigation, the fate or the whereabouts of the disappeared persons, and the circumstances of the disappearances, and the identity of the perpetrators. We stress that this obligation is applicable to any individual who has been allegedly forcibly disappeared or unlawfully killed, regardless of whether they were civilians or defined as ‘terrorists’ or threats to national security under national law.”
The perpetrators must face justice
Although the letter by the United Nations’ top human rights experts is a step in the right direction, the UN must do more to hold the Iranian leaders accountable, both due to the heinous nature of the crime and the high positions that some of the officials who played key roles in orchestrating the massacre currently have.
The victims’ survivors, the people of Iran and the Iranian Resistance demand referral of the case of this crime to the UN Security Council and an international tribunal.
We ask all countries to support the referral of the 1988 massacre dossier to the UN Security Council.
The impunity of Khamenei and other regime officials must end. Khamenei and his president Hassan Rouhani, the Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, senior officials of the Intelligence Ministry, IRGC commanders, and many other officials and agents of this regime have all been involved in the massacre of political prisoners in 1988 and all the executions in the 1980s. They must face justice for committing crimes against humanity.
We ask the Human Rights Council to conduct an international investigation into the 1988 massacre. This would be the first step to end the impunity for the perpetrators of the largest political crime of the century.
The Call for Justice Movement will continue until all of the details of this great crime, particularly the list of all the victims and places of burial, are determined. It will continue until all of those involved in this massacre face justice.