In an open letter published by Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI), more than 150 former United Nations officials and renowned international human rights and legal experts urged UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to launch an international commission of inquiry into the mass extrajudicial executions of political prisoners in Iran in 1988.

In their letter, the signatories mentioned a letter by seven UN Special Rapporteurs to the Iranian authorities in September 2020. The rapporteurs had stated the 1988 extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances of thousands of political prisoners “may amount to crimes against humanity.”

Previously, the experts had called on Tehran to uphold its obligations under international rights law. They had announced that they would “call on the international community to take action to investigate” the cases including through the “establishment of an international investigation” if the authorities continue to refuse their international obligations.

“The letter states that the families of the victims, survivors and human rights defenders are today the ‘subject of persistent threats, harassment, intimidation, and attacks because of their attempts to seek information on the fate and whereabouts of the individuals and their demands for justice,’” the signatories wrote.

The experts stressed that the crime has yet to end, citing, “There is a systemic impunity enjoyed by those who ordered and carried out the extrajudicial executions. Many of the officials involved continue to hold positions of power including in key judicial, prosecutorial and government bodies.”

On July 19, 1988, the Islamic Republic founder Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the execution of all political prisoners affiliated to the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). In this context, ‘Death Commissions’ were formed across Iran by a prosecutor and representatives from the Intelligence Ministry and Judiciary. Following the mass killings, Khomeini’s appointees expanded the crime to members of other groups within the second wave.

Notably, the current Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi and Justice Minister Alireza Avaei were among members of the “Death Commissions” which perpetrated and practiced executions in 16 cities across the country from July to September 1988. Afterward, the authorities buried victims’ bodies in dozens of unmarked mass graves in various provinces.

“We appeal to the UN Human Rights Council to end the culture of impunity that exists in Iran by establishing a Commission of Inquiry into the 1988 mass extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances. We urge High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to support the establishment of such a Commission,” the open letter states.

“This marks the first time that such a distinguished array of former UN officials is appealing directly to High Commissioner Bachelet to hold the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre accountable,” said former UN human rights official and JVMI representative Tahar Boumedra.

“The victims’ families have a right to the truth and to justice through an UN-led investigation. The witnesses are still alive. The evidence is at hand. Justice delayed is justice denied. The failure to act now will only embolden the regime to continue its cover-up and evade accountability,” he added.

Furthermore, on May 4, some 1112 families of the PMOI/MEK members who were executed during the 1988 massacre expressed their anger over the destruction of their loved ones’ graves. In a letter, they urged the United Nations Secretary-General, EU leaders, and the President and officials in the United States to take immediate action to prevent further damages.

“While international human rights organizations and experts have described the massacre as a crime against humanity… the Iranian regime has embarked on erasing the traces of the evidence on the massacre by destroying the mass graves where they are buried … These actions constitute the collective torture of thousands of survivors and families of martyrs. It is another manifest case of crime against humanity,” wrote the family members.