International Business Times
Backlash Against Iranian President’s UN Speech Features Guidelines for Prosecution
By David Kilgour
10/03/21 AT 3:22 PM
Earlier this month, the United Nations General Assembly gave a platform to a mass murderer: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The decision was sharply criticized by Iranian expatriates, human rights activists, and policymakers throughout the world. A dozen cities in both North America and Europe held rallies to highlight Raisi’s rights abuses and to condemn Western “appeasement” of the regime.
Raisi’s participation at the U.N. gathering was only the latest example of appeasement, after the presence of a European delegation at his inauguration in Tehran in August. Each instance signaled a clear disregard for the warnings by the main opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). That coalition held an international conference on Iranian affairs less than a month before the inauguration, focusing on Raisi’s role in a massacre of political prisoners in 1988.
Among the American participants in another recent conference was Kelly Ayotte, a former Senator from New Hampshire, who said in a speech, “Raisi does not deserve the privilege to address the UN General Assembly tomorrow. Raisi should be held responsible for the murder of over 30,000 innocent political prisoners in Iran.” More than 90% of the victims belonged to the dissident group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
Raisi elected to remotely submit pre-recorded remarks to the U.N. General Assembly. Iranian state media speculated that authorities were concerned about the sheer volume of negative press about his involvement in the 1988 massacre. Such attention would have shone more light on the calls for Raisi’s arrest and prosecution, thereby increasing the risk of US authorities actually acting upon them.
In 2019, authorities in Sweden executed an arrest warrant for former Iranian prison official Hamid Noury after he arrived in the Scandinavian country. Nouri went on trial last month on charges of war crimes and mass murder, stemming from his own involvement in the 1988 massacre. Though significant in its own right, that involvement took place at a much lower level than Raisi’s, the latter having served as one of four members on the Tehran death commission that oversaw killings at Evin and Gohardasht Prisons for several months in 1988.
The Noury case is being prosecuted in Sweden on the basis of “universal jurisdiction,” a principle that allows for any nation in good standing with international law to prosecute severe violations that took place anywhere in the world, when it is clear that no action is going to be taken within the original jurisdiction. The regime has systematically rewarded the 1988 murderers with ever more powerful and influential positions. Raisi’s presidential “election,” orchestrated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, is perhaps the greatest example.
University of Brussels Professor Eric David said in the NCRI’s August conference that the case for Raisi’s arrest is strengthened because the 1988 massacre amounted to a genocide. This, he said, is made possible by the content of the fatwa underlying the massacre, in which the regime’s founder Khomeini outlined a religious motive for the killings and suggested that adherents to a more moderate brand of Islam were inherently subject to capital punishment.
David’s assessment was echoed by Geoffrey Robertson, first President of the U.N. Special Court for war crimes in Sierra Leone, who emphasized that the Genocide Convention not only supports that label for the 1988 massacre but also obligates all ratifying states to take actions aimed at holding perpetrators accountable. Robertson acknowledged that this accountability could be pursued via a UN Security Council resolution and subsequent prosecution at the International Criminal Court.
Raisi’s participation in the U.N. General Assembly is arguably indicative of the absence of collective will to hold him accountable for past crimes. His remarks were largely focused on presenting the theocracy as a victim of foreign aggression. The Iranian people have rejected Raisi, after resoundingly boycotting the regime’s sham presidential elections earlier this year.
Since the end of 2017, Iran has seen unprecedented public unrest including two separate but closely-related nationwide uprisings. The second of these, in November 2019, encompassed nearly 200 cities and towns and heavily featured chants of “death to the dictator” and explicit calls for regime change. Approximately 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed in a matter of days during that uprising, and many arrestees were then subjected to months of torture at the hands of a judiciary then under Raisi’s command.
The Iranian people have more in common with the world’s secular democracies than they do with the Iranian regime. The international community should also reject Raisi at venues like the General Assembly and consider options for prosecuting him for the mass murder of Iranian civilians.
David Kilgour was CanaDian Secretary of State for Asia Pacific, Latin America and Africa and Deputy Speaker of Canada’s Parliament