The Iranian authorities are building a road over a mass grave and dozens of individual graves in Ahvaz, Khuzestan province, that contain the remains of dozens of political dissidents, both men and women, who were forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially killed in the 1980s including during the mass killings of 1988. Amnesty International reported on July 26, 2018.
Since 20 July 2018, photo and video evidence has surfaced, which appears to show that the concrete structure marking the mass grave as well as dozens of individual graves have been smashed to pieces. The graves are now hidden beneath piles of dirt and debris. According to an official board placed at the site, the purpose of the project is to build a “boulevard” and create a 21-acre park. The board notes that the project is supervised by the Municipality of Ahvaz.
Families of the victims in Ahvaz first learned that a construction project was underway in May 2017. According to information received by Amnesty International from human rights defenders outside Iran, municipal officials had previously promised the families that the road under construction would not go over the individual and mass graves. However, when families visited the site on 20 July 2018, they saw that the authorities had destroyed the graves. An eyewitness has reported that in the following days barbed wire was put around the site and it is now under heavy surveillance. The destruction of the graves follows a three-decade long campaign of enforced disappearance by the authorities which has involved concealing the truth about the fate and whereabouts of those extrajudicially killed in 1988, denying families the right to receive and bury the remains of their loved ones according to their traditions, desecrating the grave site by turning it into a rubbish dump, forbidding mourning rituals, and cracking down on any critical public discussion about the killings. The anguish and distress caused to the families by the authorities’ decisions to forcibly disappear and secretly execute their loved ones, to conceal the whereabouts of their remains, and to desecrate their graves constitute a form of torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against the families, prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Amnesty International urged the Iranian authorities to immediately stop the destruction of individual and mass graves belonging to the victims of the mass killings of 1980s and respect families’ right to bury their relatives in dignity.
It also called on Iran to stop the harassment of families seeking truth, justice and reparation, and conduct a thorough, independent and effective criminal investigation of the enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of 1980s, including efforts to cover up the crimes, and bring to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty;
Amnesty International further asked the authorities to recognize that mass graves are crime scenes that require forensic expertise to undertake exhumations to determine the identity of the remains and the circumstances of what happened and enable families to receive the remains of their loved ones.