The UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Javaid Rehman

UN Report Accuses Iran of Genocide During 1980s Political Purges

Thursday, 06/20/2024

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, has labeled the mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s as "genocide" and "crimes against humanity."

Speaking at a side session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, Rehman unveiled his detailed report, which shows systemic state-sponsored atrocities during a brutal crackdown on dissent.

Rehman's investigations found that thousands of political prisoners, including members of minority groups like Baha'is, Kurds, and those affiliated with organizations such as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) and other leftist groups, were executed in the 1980s, particularly during the summer of 1988.

The prisoners were executed following a fatwa issued by Iran's then-leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, with the approval of a four-member death committee.

The committee included Hossein Ali Nayeri, a Sharia judge; Morteza Eshraghi, a prosecutor; Ebrahim Raisi, a deputy prosecutor who later became Iran’s president; and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a representative of the ministry of intelligence.

Pourmohammadi is now campaigning for presidency to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died last month in a freak helicopter crash.

The report states that the death committee was responsible for a sweeping purge that targeted those accused of opposition to the government, many of whom were executed without a fair trial, marking a clampdown that included torture, sexual assault, and other inhuman treatments. The most intense period of the executions occurred over a few months in 1988, a chapter that has long been shrouded in secrecy and denial by Iranian officials.

“This is not a historical issue, as many people think," Rehman asserted during his presentation. "It is a current issue. There are serious concerns about gross violations of human rights that continue to this day.”

Rehman's findings highlight the continuation of oppressive tactics by Iranian authorities, linking past atrocities with ongoing human rights violations, including the recent international outcry over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody, which sparked protests and global scrutiny of Iran’s human rights record. Sanctions have since been levied by the international community against Iran in the wake of the crackdowns.

Some of the prisoners summarily executed in Iran in 1988

The significance of Rehman’s report extends beyond its historical account as it seeks to challenge the prevailing impunity enjoyed by Iranian officials. For the first time, the atrocities have been formally classified as "genocide," a term that carries profound legal implications. The classification aligns with the definitions established by the United Nations Genocide Convention of 1951.

Rehman’s call for accountability was echoed by Wolfgang Schomburg, a former judge at the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, who spoke at the event. Schomburg emphasized the potential for the UN's findings to lead to international warrants against current Iranian figures linked to the 1980s events, which could curtail their ability to travel internationally without facing arrest.

Photos of victims at a memorial commemorating those killed during the mass executions in the 1980s, Khavaran cemetery in Tehran, Iran, 2020.

The report, which the United Nations will formally release in the coming days, has spurred a wave of calls for action against Iran from various countries including Canada, Italy and Sweden, and rights group Amnesty International. However, the push for legal and moral accountability continues, as many of the perpetrators remain in high-ranking positions within the Iranian regime.

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