It’s time for states to use universal jurisdiction to prosecute the main perpetrators of the 1988 massacre in Iran – OpEd – Eurasia Review
Sweden made history with the recent landmark judgment by the Stockholm District Court against a former Iranian prison guard implicated in the massacre of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
After more than nine months and 92 hearings, the court found Hamid Noury guilty of ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘war crimes’, marking the first time an Iranian official has been convicted over the extrajudicial executions mass killings and enforced disappearances of political prisoners in 1988. . Noury was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The families of the victims have long demanded justice.
The successful prosecution was made possible by Sweden’s use of the principle of universal jurisdiction which allows states to claim criminal jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where the alleged crime was committed and regardless of or the nationality of the accused.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet hailed the “historic conviction”, adding his tweet“States should use universal jurisdiction to close accountability gaps for serious crimes and ensure truth and justice. »
As Deputy Deputy Prosecutor of Gohardasht Prison in 1988, Hamid Noury was a junior figure in the massacre. Meanwhile, senior Iranian officials implicated at the time, including current President Ebrahim Raisi, who was then a member of Tehran’s Death Commission that sent thousands of political prisoners to their deaths, continue to elude any responsibility.
This month marks the 34e anniversary of the 1988 massacre, which took place in the summer of 1988 based on a fatwa from Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. His religious order targeted members of the main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK).
Three-member panels known as “death commissions” were formed in dozens of prisons across Iran, sending to execution political prisoners who refused to denounce the MEK.
According to accounts by survivors and former officials, as many as 30,000 political prisoners were executed in the months that followed. About 90% of the victims were affiliated with the MEK. The rest were mainly members of leftist or communist groups. Most of the victims were buried in secret mass graves.
To this day, those who perpetrated this brutal carnage continue to enjoy impunity.
Last month, Hossein-Ali Nayyeri, the current head of Iran’s Supreme Disciplinary Court of Judges and former head of Tehran’s Death Commission, broke his silence and defiantly defended the 1988 massacre in all impunity.
Asked about the mass executions of 1988, Nayyeri replied: “In such critical circumstances, what were we to do? We had to deliver decisive verdicts. … In such circumstances, we cannot run the country by giving them hugs and kisses!
Since its creation in 2016, the London-based NGO Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre (JVMI) has confirmed the identities of almost 100 members of the “Death Commission”. Many still hold high-level positions in the Iranian judiciary or government. Among them, the current Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
For more than three decades, the UN has dragged its feet in holding perpetrators to account, fueling a culture of impunity in Iran.
Until the judgment of July 14, 2022 of the Swedish court, justice had never been done. Today, by exercising their universal jurisdiction, the Swedish courts have shown the world that it is possible to fight against the impunity that prevails in Iran.
Iran, meanwhile, is using its notorious “hostage diplomacy” tactic to force Sweden to release Noury.
Days earlier, Belgium had succumbed to Iranian pressure and agreed to a treaty that would see it release an Iranian diplomat currently imprisoned for attempting to bomb an international convention in Paris in exchange for one of its citizens whom Tehran has illegally detained for decades. month. Now, following the Swedish court’s decision, Iran’s Deputy Judiciary has warned Sweden: “Iran will NOT sit idly by and has several options on the table to respond.”
“Time is running out for Sweden to rectify its behavior”, Kazem Gharibabadi said in its disturbing threat.
Meanwhile, Iran’s official daily Kayhan, which reflects the positions of Iran’s Supreme Leader, said in an editorial that Iran should respond to the judgment by arresting European citizens, including those from Sweden.
It did not take long for the authorities to embark on this path. Iran’s Intelligence Ministry announced on Saturday that it had arrested a Swedish citizen for “espionage”, according to the official IRNA news agency.
Rather than succumb to Iranian bullying, Sweden should now double Noury’s verdict by opening criminal cases for the oldest perpetrators of the 1988 massacre using the principle of universal jurisdiction. Ebrahim Raisi and the other members of the Death Committee must be held accountable.
In January, some 470 current and former UN officials, human rights and legal experts, international NGOs and academic institutions wrote a collective letter to the UN Human Rights Council calling for an international investigation into the 1988 massacre. The letter urged the Council to challenge the impunity enjoyed by Iranian officials by mandating an international investigation into the 1988 mass executions and enforced disappearances.
While a UN investigation into the 1988 massacre is long overdue, the Swedish court’s judgment should serve as a precedent for other UN member states. They too must take a stand against Iran’s impunity and hostage diplomacy and help secure justice by exercising universal jurisdiction and opening criminal investigations against the main perpetrators of the 1988 massacre.
Hanif Jazayeri is secretary of the London-based NGO Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI) and editor. His Twitter account is @HanifJazayeri.