On March 14, 2017, a side meeting entitled “Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran from 1988 to 2017” was held at the UN regarding the Iranian massacre of political prisoners in 1988. The first speaker during this event was Tahar Boumedra, former adviser to the Special Representative of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and a specialist in the death penalty.
Mr. Boumedra noted that last September to announce the establishment of the Justice for Victims of the 1988 Massacre in Iran and a plan was put in place to bring that issue back to the agenda of the United Nations and the international community as a whole.
“The institutional memory of the United Nations is next to nil,” said Boumedra. He noted that they don’t revive their reports or build on those reports. After all the work in the years immediately after 1988, the UN went silent on the massacre. It is that silence he feels they must fight against.
He has also worked with his team to document and establish that the massacres from 1981 to 1988 took place. Boumedra also noted that current members of the Iranian government were active participants in these massacres, acting “as part of God’s will”. This group includes the current Minister of Justice in Iran.
“The victims were buried in mass graves and we have now determined their location,” said Boumedra during the meeting, as he discussed the progress made by his team on the plan previously determined at the September meeting. He counted that this is significant progress, because they are now placed on a map and can’t be denied.
Other developments include following up with former prisoners and the families of prisoners who died. Many were not charged and dealt with humiliating and degrading manner. Those who did go to trial were condemned to years of imprisonment without representation. Some have served their prison term, and they left prison, only to be recalled back to prison with no reason given. Once there, Boumedra noted, they were put in front of an Amnesty Commission, which is in fact a death commission and they were asked one question: “Do you support the PMOI or not?”
“If you say in any way that you still support or sympathized with them, you were put aside for execution. We have recorded this from witnesses who survived this miraculously and families have informed us about how they heard about the execution of their loved ones,” said Boumedra. He noted that for some families, all the proof they had that the execution took place was the prison releasing some property to them. They didn’t know when their loved ones died or where they were buried.
He congratulated his team because in a relatively short time, they have made significant progress and gotten this issue onto the agenda of the Special Rapporteur. “Our aim is a commission of inquiry…because once the commission is in place, the whole mechanism will be put in motion and there will be a day when impunity will be called to order and people who are identified as perpetrators will be held accountable,” said Boumedra.
He also signaled a note of caution. “Let me be realistic. Lots of you might think that there will be some arrests, there will be some trials, and there will be some witnesses. We are far from that. At the moment, it is a question of naming and shaming,” said Boumedra. “We can’t dictate to sovereign states what to do.” He indicated that the efforts to identify perpetrators and the burial places of victims will force the issue onto the international stage and hopefully, make the international community reevaluate its relationship with Iran.
“A crime against humanity has been committed,” said Boumedra. He also noted that those in the international community will be looking over their shoulders when they go to Tehran, because they will know about what happened there.
Boumedra also indicated that members of the Iranian government may begin negotiating for their immunity, because members of the Iranian government have cancelled visits to countries that acknowledge universal jurisdictions, putting them at risk of being arrested or detained as this matter moves forward. He acknowledged that crimes against humanity are not looked upon lightly and he is encouraged by the progress made to date.