The world’s seat of international law, the Peace Palace in The Hague is host to a historic event this week – an investigation into the massacres of Iran’s political prisoners throughout the 1980s.
While this is the home of the International Court of Justice, this tribunal is a symbolic event underway through the voluntary efforts of human rights lawyers, judges, academics, and activists.
The event is modeled after Bertrand Russell’s tribunals for war crimes committed by the United States in Vietnam throughout the 1960s.
Amnesty International in London hosted the first session of the tribunal this past July. This session resulted in a report of details from over 30 prisoners, and 75 witnesses, with testimonies from officials and experts on Iranian law and punishment.
The legal team leading the second session this week includes key figures in international law. Sir Geoffrey Nice, the former prosecutor on the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY); and South African constitutional judge Johann Kriegler who helped transition the South African government out of Apartheid are amongst those participating.
The tribunals only hold a symbolic truth and reconciliation platform for the victims of the massacres.
In his opening statement, the chairman of the steering committee, Payam Akhavan stated the Tribunals mean to prove that, “despite the lack of rightful rule of law, there is a way to find peace. There may never be justice and retribution for those responsible for these crimes, but a future democratic Iran will use this information for tangible justice.”
These crimes involve the execution of over 20, 000 Iranians on the orders of the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.
The commissioners and executioners of these crimes are still at large within the Iranian government, and the victims of these massacres have had no opportunity for redress in Iran or within the international community. These tribunals have become the first platform for them to have their stories and voices heard.
The massacres have been likened to the Rwandan genocide, and murders of Srebrenica, yet the United Nations and the international community at large have remained silent.
Canadians on the committee’s steering committee include McGill Professor of International Law, Payam Akhavan, and Toronto-based human rights lawyer Kaveh Shahrooz. Witness testimonies included that of Dr. Maurice Copithorne, a Canadian who formerly held the position of UN human rights rapporteur in Iran.
Throughout the 1980s Canada held diplomatic posts within Iran, yet never acknowledged or reacted to these events.
Canada has yet to recognize these massacres as a historical event despite the fact that they have recently become vocal supporters of human rights in Iran.
This past September, upon ending diplomatic ties with Iran, Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird explained the closure to be in part because Iran is amongst “the world’s worst violators of human rights.”
“The Iranian regime would hate any efforts by any governments to highlight its human rights. But the Iranian people would be incredibly pleased by the recognition of what they’ve suffered in one of the darkest periods of contemporary history,” said Shahrooz of Canada’s role.