A press conference was held at the UN Headquarters in Geneva by the Justice for Victims of 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) on March 15 to announce its first report regarding the massacre of political prisoners in 1988.
The released report established that current public knowledge of the massacre was only the tip of a larger amount of information and the scope of the inquire into the massacre has been underrealized and underestimated. The committee stressed that it is incumbent upon the UN to investigate this crime against humanity and urged the High Commissioner for Human Rights to launch an investigation immediately.
During the press conference, several individuals spoke regarding not only the investigation, but the scope of the massacre and its impact on Iranian society. One of the speakers even pointed out that while political prisoners were the primary target, minorities and other fringe groups were targeted for execution during the 1980s. While the largest massacre happened in 1988, the committee found political prisoners were being executed throughout the 1980s, as the regime secured its power in Iran.
According to their report, “The massacre of political prisoners in Iran in 1988 was not an ad hoc position of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rather it was a premeditated crime against humanity, carried out with the full knowledge of all of the regime’s senior officials.”
In addition to reviewing all public information on this issue, the unique report was carried out based on interviews with dozens of former political prisoners who survived the events of the summer of 1988 in Iran. A collection and review of several dozen other testimonies by former political prisoners and the families of the victims, as well as several dozen specific complaints sent to the High Commissioner by immediate relatives of the victims of 1988 massacre, demanding investigation on this heinous crime against humanity was conducted.
It is important to note that committee members also talked about the impact that families of victims are still feeling today, as they continue to be hounded by the regime if they dare to speak out about what happened to their relatives and loved ones.
JVMI established that while there has been a deliberate and systematic attempt by Tehran to prevent information about the massacre becoming public, political considerations and states interests have so far prevented the undertaking of an effective inquiry into the alleged mass executions of the summer of 1988.
Azadeh Zabeti, Vice President of the Committee of Anglo-Iranian Lawyers (CAIL), said, “For almost three decades the Iranian regime made any reference to the 1988 massacre a taboo. There was a code of silence among the regime’s top echelons on this hideous crime. Any mention of the 1988 massacre was dealt with swiftly and sharply.” She also noted that this has begun to change with the release of the audio file of Ayatollah Montazeri’s meeting with members of the “death committee” in 1988.
Tahar Boumedra, the former chief of the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and a legal expert who was one of the main authors of the report, noted, “The lack of investigation has emboldened Tehran authorities to continue with their execution spree, making Iran the number one executioner per capita in the world…a UN inquiry into the mass extra-legal executions is overdue and oblivion and impunity are not an option.”
A former UN senior official pointed out that in the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, the UN has not recognized a statute of limitations on war crimes or crimes against humanity. “Tolerating impunity is a perversion of international justice…Crimes against humanity are universally recognized, imprescriptible and subject to universal jurisdiction,” according to the committee’s report.
Farzad Madadzadeh, a former political prisoner in Iran who fled in 2015, spoke at the conference and rebuffed the notion of moderation during Rouhani’s presidency. “During Rouhani’s tenure, there were more executions and more restrictions on prisoners…the fantasy of moderation is tailored by the regime’s counterparts to justify doing business with the Iranian regime,” said Madadzadeh.
He was incarcerated for five years in some of the most notorious prisons in Iran for being an activist of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran opposition movement. He knew scores of individuals that were executed. “I want to emphasize that the very same people who carry out executions every day in Iran, are the very same people who were involved in the 1988 massacre. It is high time they are held accountable,” said Madadzadeh.
The JVMI is a not-for-profit center for research and documentation recently established in London, which operates internationally. Members of its advisory board include Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool, Ingrid Betancourt, Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, William Bourdon, Professor Bill Bowring, Kirsty Brimelow QC, Dr. Juán E. Garcés, and Rama Yade.