Massacre Survivors Speak up Against Islamic Republic of Iran
|June 25, 2012|
After being ignored by international courts for the past two years, survivors of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s mass executions have taken matters into their own hands. Between 1981 and 1989, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) executed 25,000 political prisoners, making it the bloodiest decade in modern Iranian history. Now for the first time, survivors and the families of victims are investigating the massacre with a tribunal held in Amnesty International’s headquarters in London from June 18-22.
“The purpose of this Tribunal is to uncover the historical truth concerning massive human rights violations during that time,” said Payam Akhavan, an international law professor at McGill University who is both the first UN war crime prosecutor at The Hague and a member of the Iran Tribunal. “A particularly notorious incident was the mass-execution of more than 4,000 political prisoners during a short period in 1988 pursuant to a fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini [founder of Islamic Republic]. The Iranian Government to this day denies this mass-execution and a first step in achieving justice is to end denial of the truth by educating the public. It is also important for pressuring governments to focus on human rights in their relations with Iran rather than focusing exclusively on the nuclear issue.”
The IRI had avoided consequences for this mass killing, because the International Criminal Court (ICC) could only legally judge them if Iran was a member of the court. However, Iran has not accepted membership yet. The UN Security Council can refer judicial records to the ICC, but only if the crimes happened after the creation of the ICC in 2002.
Unable to find redress, the survivors and the families of victims created the Iran Tribunal, modeled after the Russell Tribunal, a tribunal created in 1966 to investigate US intervention in Vietnam. Since then, tribunals in Chile, Iraq, and Palestine have also been modeled after the Russel Tribunal.
The Iran Tribunal won’t have any legal status, but serves as an opportunity for survivors and loved-ones of victims to share their pain and suffering with the world. Roya Rezai Jahromi was one of those who testified at the tribunal on June 19. She lost four brothers, ranging in age from 18 to 29, during the mass killings in the 1980s. “My youngest brother, Bijan, was only 18 when the Militia arrested him on the street only because ‘he dressed suspiciously!’” Jahromi sobbed. “They destroyed our family. I’m in this tribunal for my mother who lost four children. Two decade has passed but we are still in pain.”
The hearing is just the first stage of the tribunal. A truth and investigative commission will present factual findings based on the testimony of almost 100 witnesses. The tribunal will then meet from October 25-27 in The Hague to issue a verdict. The judges will consist of five international human rights officials, including Morris Kapiton, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN who has worked on Iran’s human rights situation for the past six years.
The initial idea for a tribunal was formed in 2007 and took five years of fundraising to come to fruition. “It is a remarkable grassroots initiative. The money comes from the private donations and covers costs such as transport and accommodation.” says Professor Akhavan who, based on his past work with the UN in Bosnia, calls the massacre of 80s, “Iran’s Srebrenica.”
Bishop Desmond Tutu, South African Nobel Prize laureate and anti-apartheid hero, sent a message of support to The Iran Tribunal. This is significant because South Africa set the example for non-violent democratic change that the Iran Tribunal strives to follow. “I don’t want revenge; I only want my suffering to be remembered,” said Susan Golmahammadi, a survivor of the Iranian mass killings in 1982. She was a 25-year-old mother of two when she and her husband were arrested. Iranian officials took her children away during her two year imprisonment. Her youngest child was four months old at the time, and “When I was released, neither me nor my son could recognize each other,” she said. Then, “One day prison guards brought my husband to me in Evin prison in Tehran and told me that they are taking him to execution. It was psychological torture against me.” Golmahammadi now lives in Germany with her two children, but she lost ten family members, including her parents, due to the IRI’s mass executions. She believes that awareness is important so that such dark times won’t reoccur.
This fear of history repeating itself seems to be strong amongst members of The Iran Tribunal. This fear may come from hearing the sad stories of witnesses. These stories keep Akhavan awake at night, like the story of a 14 year old boy who was forced to witness his own father’s execution.
He said, “In a future democratic Iran, there can be accountability both through fair trials and a truth commission. Justice is an alternative to violence and revenge. Dealing with the past is essential to building a future. If the Iranian people know the historical truth, the prospect of repeating the same mistakes in the future will be less.”