European officials urge probe for 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran

Shahin Gobadi
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In a conference held at the United Nations' Geneva headquarters this week, European politicians, prominent jurists and human rights defenders urged the UN to immediately set up an independent commission to investigate Iran’s 1988 massacre of political prisoners and to bring the officials who were responsible for this crime to justice.

They stressed that this measure should be adopted during the current session of the UN General Assembly.


The conference was organized by several respected NGOs and coincided with the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

In summer of 1988, some 30,000 political prisoners, the overwhelming majority of them activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) were massacred within the span of a few months on the basis of a fatwa issued by Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic.

There has never been an independent international investigation of the massacre, which according to many legal experts constitutes one of the biggest crimes against humanity since World War II.

In her latest report, Asma Jahangir, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, raised the issue of the 1988 massacre and thus broke the UN’s 28-year silence on the issue.

“Between July and August 1988, thousands of political prisoners, men, women and teen-agers, were reportedly executed pursuant to a fatwa issued by the then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. A three-man commission was reportedly created with a view to determining who should be executed. The bodies of the victims were reportedly buried in unmarked graves and their families never informed of their whereabouts. These events, known as the 1988 massacres, have never been officially acknowledged,” wrote the UN rapporteur.

“In August 2016, an audio recording of a meeting held in 1988 between high-level state officials and clerics was published. The recording revealed the names of the officials who had carried out and defended the executions, including the current Minister of Justice, a current high court judge, and the head of one of the largest religious foundations in the country and candidate in the May presidential elections. Following the publication of the audio recording, some clerical authorities and the chief of the judiciary admitted that the executions had taken place and, in some instances, defended them,” the report added.

Speakers at the September 14 conference included Rama Yade, former French Secretary of state for Human Rights; Alfred Zayas, a United Nations Special Rapporteur; Tahar Boumedra, former director of the UN Human Rights Office in Iraq (UNAMI) and expert rapporteur of JVMI (Justice for victims of 1988 massacre in Iran); Kirsty Brimelow, Chairwoman of Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales; and- Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice-President of the European Parliament (1999-2014) and President of the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ).

A survivor of the 1988 massacre and a number of families of the victims provided their testimonies and shared their observations.

Rama Yade stressed that the investigation has to be independent and international. She said political and economic considerations should not come into consideration and should be viewed as secondary. She also stressed that the international community has viable tools at its disposal, including sanctions against the Iranian regime, and should use them to make sure this investigation takes place.

Many speakers joined in rejecting the notion that an investigation might be carried out by the Iranian regime. Some connected this notion to misguided political considerations. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who had served as minister of justice during President Hassan Rouhani’s first term, was one of four members of the Tehran “death commission” that determined which political prisoners would be executed in the summer of 1988.

When Rouhani appointed his second-term cabinet ministers, Pourmohammadi was replaced by one of the chief culprits of the 1988 massacre in the southern province of Khuzestan. imperative. Some of the most senior officials of the regime, from both factions, have been implicated in the massacre.

According to Tahar Boumedra “the families of the victims, for the past 28 years had been requesting information about their loved ones. They need to know whether they are alive or dead. If alive, they need to know their whereabouts; if dead they need to know who executed them. Now that the UN special rapporteur has spoken, it is time for the UN Special Procedure to thoroughly address this matter and to reveal the truth to the families. Perpetrators must be brought to account and justice must take place.”

Alejo Vidal-Quadras said: “The UN has no more excuse for not sanctioning an investigation committee about the 1988 massacre when some 30,000 political prisoners from MEK were massacred. This is one of the worst case of crime against humanity after World War II and there has never been an investigation. This impunity of the Iranian regime’s officials should come to an end. It has sent the worst possible message to the Iranian regime and the culprits of the 1988 massacre.”

The speakers pointed out that the 1988 massacre is the hallmark of the Tehran regime and that none of the regime’s factions can distance themselves from this crime, as evidenced by the supposedly moderate Rouhani’s ministerial appointments. The current justice minister, Alireza Avayi, has already been sanctioned by the European Union for being directly involved in violations of human rights.

According to the speakers, lack of action by the UN and the international community has emboldened the Iranian regime in its egregious human rights conduct. Tehran’s impunity must come to an end, they said.

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