The time to hold Iran accountable is right now
It is not every day when one thousand survivors of the Iranian regime's prisons and massacres gather to recount their horrifying stories to the world. But that is exactly what happened on Friday. More than a thousand former political prisoners and witnesses of torture and brutal killings in Iran's prisons appeared at a virtual conference, which was attended by hundreds of prominent and high-profile international dignitaries, including foreign ministers and human rights advocates from Europe and North America.
They all demanded an end to the culture of impunity enjoyed by regime leaders and to prosecute its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei; President Ebrahim Raisi; and Judiciary Chief Gholam-Hossein Ejei, among others, for egregious human rights violations.
In one of the most horrific crimes committed by a dictatorship in the Middle East and perhaps the entire world, during the 1988 massacre, the clerical regime executed at least 30,000 political prisoners, more than 90% of whom were members of the main opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI). They were killed because of their beliefs and their commitment to bring about a free and democratic Iran.
The regime wanted to annihilate all opposition to its rule — a devastating trend that has now led to a ruined economy, disastrous social conditions, ongoing crimes against humanity, and a massively botched response to the coronavirus pandemic that has so far taken the lives of nearly 400,000 Iranians.
The 1988 massacre is a clear example of genocide. In January 2010, Ebrahim Raisi, the regime's current president, declared that "all MEK are enemies of God and punishable by death." The regime is particularly concerned about the MEK because it presents the most popular, credible, and organized alternative to its rule. The MEK is also part of a broader coalition of democratic organizations in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The NCRI's president-elect, Maryam Rajavi, a charismatic Muslim woman, has led an international campaign that has called for justice for the 1988 massacre victims and their families. During Friday's event, Rajavi said: "For us, the Call-for-Justice movement is synonymous with perseverance, steadfastness, and resistance to overthrow this regime and establish freedom with all our strength." She called on the U.S. and Europe to recognize the 1988 massacre in Iran as genocide and a crime against humanity and prosecute and hold Raisi accountable. She urged the U.S. and Europe to recognize the 1988 massacre as genocide and a crime against humanity, in line with many other human rights authorities. The leading global human rights organization Amnesty International, the Canadian Parliament, and many U.N. officials have described the 1988 massacre as a "crime against humanity." Last September, a number of U.N. special rapporteurs called for an international probe into the killings.
Geoffrey Robertson, the first president of the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone, who wrote a detailed report on the 1988 massacre in 2011, said: "It seems to me that there is very strong evidence that this was a genocide. It applies to killing or torturing a certain group for their religious beliefs. A religious group that did not accept the backward ideology of the Iranian regime."
Other speakers echoed this sentiment, including Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of Amnesty International (2018–2020), which published a 200-page report in 2018 about the 1988 massacre entitled "Blood-Soaked Secrets." "The 1988 massacre was a brutal, bloodthirsty massacre, a genocide. The EU and broader international community must take the lead on this issue. This government, led by Raisi, has even greater culpability on the issue of the 1988 massacre." Guy Verhofstadt, prime minister of Belgium (1999 to 2008), said: "I am still shocked by what happened in 1988. The 1988 massacre targeted an entire generation of young people[.] ... It qualifies as genocide. The massacre was never officially investigated by the UN, and the perpetrators were not indicted. They continue to enjoy impunity. Today, the regime is run by the killers of that time."
The international community, particularly the United States and the European Union, must now take the lead on this issue. These governments must realize that there are no "moderates" in the Iranian regime and that the Iranian people are demanding the regime's overthrow.
Raisi was part of a four-member Death Committee in 1988 that issued execution sentences for thousands of innocent prisoners. Therefore, no country in the world, nor any credible international forum, must accept him. He must instead be prosecuted and held to account for his horrific crimes. That is exactly what the Iranian people and the organized opposition have called for.
The U.N. secretary general, the high commissioner for human rights, the Human Rights Council, U.N. special rapporteurs, and international human rights organizations must be allowed to visit the Iranian regime's prisons and meet with prisoners, especially political prisoners. The regime's human rights violations must also be tabled at the U.N. Security Council.
An international investigation into the 1988 crime against humanity in Iran is a must. As threats to democracy and human rights increase across the world, the international community should muster the political resolve to punish the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre, who hold senior positions in the Iranian regime. Otherwise, there will certainly be more massacres and human rights abuses because the regime will see international silence as a license to kill.
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