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A Decades-long Struggle for Justice

The Iranian Regime’s Crime Against Humanity

By NCRI-US Staff writers, February 3, 2021

On September 3, 2020, seven United Nations special rapporteurs sent a letter to the Iranian regime, reiterating that the Iranian government’s actions in 1988 “could amount to crimes against humanity” that warrant an “international investigation.” The UN rapporteurs were referring to the 1988 Massacre, the brutal murder of over 30,000 political prisoners by the Iranian regime. Threatened and weakened ahead of accepting a ceasefire with Iraq, Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the elimination of the opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). This mass murder targeting imprisoned opponents to the ruling regime’s corrupt and violent policies, amounted to an atrocity in which political prisoners were murdered in reprehensible fashions.

According to the London-based NGO, Justice for the Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran (JVMI), political prisoners as young as 16-years-old were hung from cranes, doused with disinfectant and buried in mass graves. Prisoners were denied final farewells to their families, as the massacre was ordered in secret and was to be swift and excruciating. Even worse, families were forbidden from mourning the murder of their loved one; those who risked defiance were arrested and executed.  

Described by Khomeini’s heir-apparent, Hossein Ali Montazeri, as the “biggest crime committed in the history of the Islamic Republic,” this state-sponsored massacre was orchestrated by special task forces known as  “death commissions.” The death commission was formed on July 19, 1988, under direct orders from the regime’s highest authority, former Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. Ominously, the members of these commissions, still stained with blood, hold positions of power today. The regime’s current Minister of Justice and its Judiciary Chief are former commission members who continue to wield power in the country’s corrupt system of repression and violence. In fact, a staggering 100 “death commission” members hold key governmental positions within the regime to this day.

This obscene display of violence failed to garner the international revulsion it deserved, and many UN experts argue that this inaction allowed for the current state of the regime’s violence by permitting its authorities to develop a strategy reliant on unpunished violence and denial. In 2019, millions of Iranian’s rose up across all 31 provinces against what the Iranian Resistance has described as the regime’s “misogyny, violence, corruption, embezzlement, fraudulent elections, coercion, blackmail, nepotism, and mafia-style governance.” The UN’s recent letter coupled with Tehran’s current terror-as-foreign-policy has sparked renewed international outrage surrounding the 1988 massacre and a myriad of other violent acts by the Iranian regime. Finally, there is hope for justice.

Tahar Boumedra, former chief of the Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Missions for Iraq, outlines two principal developments that could prompt an overdue response to this disgraceful disregard. Firstly, he notes that “the failure of these [UN] bodies to act [with respect to the 1988 massacre] had a devastating impact on the survivors and families as well as on the general situation of human rights in Iran and emboldened Iran to continue to conceal the fate of the victims and to maintain a strategy of deflection and denial that continue to date.” This acknowledgement marked a “turning point” in the international community’s neglectful history regarding the massacre; an acknowledgement that, as stated by Amnesty International has “now sent an unequivocal, and long overdue, message: the ongoing crimes of mass enforced disappearances resulting from the secret extrajudicial executions of 1988 can no longer go unaddressed and unpunished.” Secondly, Boumedra argues that the recent case of Hamid Noury and his arrest in Sweden in connection with the massacre should continue to be monitored as a reminder “to criminals and mass murderers that their time in court will come.”

Such regime-sponsored atrocities and violence are rooted in insecurity. As outlined in a January 2019 report by Amnesty International, the brutality exposes the regime’s weak grip on power; these horrific acts are committed to maintain a feeble grasp on ever-slipping control.

Similar condemnation for Iran’s actions over the past three decades has radiated from all corners of the globe. The US State Department has echoed the UN call for an independent investigation into the 1988 mass murder. Also, the European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution calling for the truth about the executions and stressing the necessity of sanctions regarding human rights violations. While delayed, this renewed interest will hopefully ensure both justice for the victims and their families, as well as a revitalized disdain and exposure of the regime’s repressive violence.  

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