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UN Experts Call for Investigations into Iran’s 1988 Massacre

"We are concerned that the 1988 massacre may amount to crimes against humanity," wrote UN experts in their letter to Iranian officials.

The United Nations human rights experts have called on the Iranian regime to investigate the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, which the experts described as a “crime against humanity.”

Human rights lawyer and QC Geoffrey Robertson, who served as an appeal judge at the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, even described the massacre as the worst crime against humanity since World War II.

“We are concerned that the situation may amount to crimes against humanity… [And 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,” the experts wrote in the letter to the regime made public in December 2020.

Time for UN to Investigate Iran’s 1988 Massacre – Lawmakers and Survivors

What Happened During the 1988 Massacre in Iran?

Then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini ordered the execution of all those affiliated with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and in the course of just a few months, 30,000 people were slaughtered, with mercy not shown to juveniles, the elderly, or the pregnant.

It was so egregious that even Khomeini’s second-in-command, Hossein Ali Montazeri, called for leniency, saying that history would condemn the regime for it. He was stripped of his position and put under house arrest until his death in 2009.

Meanwhile, those who took part were rewarded with prominent positions, including Judiciary Head Ebrahim Raisi and Justice Minister Alireza Avaei.

Over the last 32 years, the regime has sought to hide its crime by burying the victims in mass graves, refusing to give details to families, destroying and building over the graves, and arresting those who ask questions about the massacre.

The international community has largely remained silent, even though they were aware of the crime as it was happening, or at least just weeks later. The UN General Assembly expressed grave concern over these executions as early as December 1988, but it was not referred to the Security Council.

1988 Iran Massacre Brought to Spotlight by UN

This silence emboldened the regime to commit crimes against dissidents, but now that silence is breaking.

“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.

While this is a step in the right direction, the regime must face justice before an international court. Rebukes and condemnation are not enough to make up for 30,000 deaths.

UN Experts Issuing the September 2020 Communication:

  • Liciano Hazan, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances;
  • Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions;
  • Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;
  • Javaid Rehman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran;
  • Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism;
  • Nils Melzer, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • Fabian Salvioli, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence.
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