Iran faces UN investigation into 1988 massacre of dissidents

The UN communiqué to the Iranian government was written in September but has not been made public so far
Atalayar_masacre1988Irán

AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG  -   Commemoration in France for the executions of thousands of Iranian political prisoners in 1988

Iran faces a UN investigation into the massacres of imprisoned dissidents during 1988. A group of UN human rights experts has written to the Iranian government to say that the rights violations related to the 1988 prison massacres could constitute crimes against humanity, and that if these violations persist, they will call for an international investigation.

They have also demanded that a "thorough and independent investigation" be carried out and that "accurate death certificates" be given to the relatives.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the letter was a "breakthrough" that sent the message that the killings "could no longer go unaddressed and unpunished". The UN letter to the Iranian government was written in September but has not yet been made public.

1988 Massacre

In July 1988, when the war against Iraq was coming to an end, and for five months there was a systematic execution of thousands of political prisoners in Iran. Those killed were mainly supporters of the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), which had supported Baghdad in the conflict.

The activists say that thousands of people were killed in the executions personally ordered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that took place without proper trials inside the prisons all over Iran since the end of July 1988. Iran's National Council of Resistance, the country's dissident "government in exile", puts the figure at 30,000.

In addition, they accuse officials who still hold high positions in the Iranian government of being involved in the killings. In its 2018 report, Amnesty said that the head of the Iranian judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, and the former Minister of the Interior and Justice, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, participated in the so-called "death commissions" that decided the executions.

The subject has remained taboo within Iran, although an audio clip of a meeting between Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, then Khomeini's designated successor, and officials of a "death commission" was released in 2016.

Atalayar_ Tahar Boumedra
PHOTO/MAGALI GIRARDIN via AP - Tahar Boumedra

Tahar Boumedra, the former head of the Human Rights Office of the UN mission in Iraq (UNAMI), has already stated that "The crime against humanity, the murder and the extrajudicial execution of more than 30,000 political opponents by the death commissions in 1988 have been acknowledged by the authors themselves".

"The authorities have not denied it and the evidence is there. The question we are now legitimately asking is when can we expect a UN commission of enquiry," Boumedra said, noting that Iran's current justice minister, Mostafa Pour Mohammadi, then a member of the death commissions, has said he was "proud to have carried out Allah's orders.

Amnesty International has been calling on the UN Human Rights Council since 2018 to establish an independent, impartial and effective international mechanism to address impunity for crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law. The UN seems to have finally considered the magnitude of the events and has urged the Iranian government to collaborate in clarifying these facts.