NGOs Urge UN Human Rights Council to Investigate Iran’s 1988 Massacre

Iran's 1988 massacre

Representatives of international non-governmental organizations are speaking out against human rights abuses by Iran’s regime and calling for a United Nations investigation into the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Iran’s 1988 massacre, a crime against humanity in which some 30,000 political prisoners mostly affiliated to the main opposition People’s Mojahedin (PMOI, Mujahedeen-e Khalq or MEK) were executed, was brought up at an ‘interactive dialogue’ at the council on September 11, 2019.

NGO representatives addressed Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and Fabian Salvioli, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Guarantees of non-recurrence.

Milica Javdan, from the Women’s Human Rights International Association, explained that the 30,000 political prisoners were massacred based on a fatwa by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, which called for the execution of all political prisoners affiliated to the opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Javdan explained that the victims were buried secretly in mass graves and that for “31 long years the Iranian government has tried to conceal the truth about the mass executions from the International Community”.

Javdan said: “Mr. Special rapporteur Salvioli, till this day the grieving families of the victims have not received any information about the fate of their loved ones. There is no paper trail on the prisoners’ whereabouts, no trial documents and no graves to visit. The victim’s families look to you for answers.”
She then explained that the late Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir, had informed the General Assembly about the 1988 massacre in August 2017 and requested an investigation into it, which has not taken place.

Javdan said: “Mr. Salvioli, what measures has your office taken in order to investigate this matter and to seek answers from the Iranian government about the true fate of the victims of the 1988 massacre?”

She highlighted that many perpetrators of the massacre still hold senior positions in the Iranian Regime, like Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi and Justice Minister Alireza Avaei, while former Justice Minister Mostafa PourMohammadi defended the 1988 massacre in an official interview in July and said newly arrested MEK activists would face the death penalty.

Background on Iran’s 1988 Massacre:

In August and September 1988, thousands of political prisoners were executed under Khomeini’s fatwa (religious order), pursuant to the intelligence and judiciary authorities’ decisions. At the time of the mass executions, the victims had already served, or were currently serving, their prison sentences.

In his memoirs, Ayatollah Montazeri, a critical marja’ taghlid (source of emulation), and Khomeini’s designated successor, mentions the key role played by Ebrahim Raeisi in the 1988 massacre.

The publication of an audio recording of Ayatollah Montazeri’s meeting with the Death Committee on 15 August 1988 brought into foreground the role of Ebrahim Raeisi, Mostafa Pourmohammadi (Intelligence Ministry representative), Hossein Ali Nayyeri (religious judge) and Morteza Eshraqi (prosecutor) in the mass killings.

The 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran is recognised as a crime against humanity by international human rights lawyers such as Geoffrey Robertson, as well as by the Iran Tribunal people’s court and Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations recognises the 1988 Massacre victims’ cases as enforced disappearances. Enforced disappearance is a human rights violation and a crime under international law. The crime is not subject to statutes of limitations, and charges may be initiated at any time, until the person concerned is found or their fate is determined.

According to international law, the Iranian regime should guarantee the families of victims their rights to knowing the truth about the fates and burial places of their loved ones and hold accountable those responsible for such crimes.