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Mahsa Alimardani

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The Iran Tribunals: Finally Holding Death Committees to Account

Posted: 10/26/2012 1:40 pm

A process of truth and reconciliation is underway this week in The Hague. The event is the Iran Tribunals, a proceeding modelled after the famous Russell Tribunals of the 1960s, which placed the United States on a symbolic trial for its human rights abuses throughout the Vietnam War.

The aim of the tribunals is to bring the facts, individuals, and victims of the mass executions that marked the beginnings of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Massacres of political prisoners in the 1980s took a dramatic turn when the Islamic Republic of Iran accepted the UN ceasefire during the war with Iraq.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Supreme Leader, issued a fatwa calling for the elimination of all political prisoners. Panels called "Death Committees" were created to issue execution orders.

Nationally, these executions instilled a culture of fear and impunity at the dawn of Iran's Islamic revolution. Those who commissioned the death orders, and those executing the orders are amongst the highest rank and file of the Islamic Republic.

Yesterday, witnesses identified the techniques, and individuals used throughout the massacres. One Kurdish witness, Malakeh Mostafa Soltani, went through the trauma with which her two brothers and husband were systematically executed throughout Kurdistan. In a haunting testimony, she explained the executioner to have been Sadegh Khalkhali. Khalkhali would go on to get the nickname "the Butcher of Kurdistan." He later became the parliamentary representative for Qom, and the individual responsible for the nomination of Ayatollah Khamenei to the position of Supreme leader after Khomeini's death.

Mehdi Ashough, another witness testifying during the first day of tribunals went through his time as an inmate of the prison formerly known as the UNESCO Cultural Centre. He was arrested on suspicion of sympathizing with the Mojahedin-e-Khalq organization. He went through the instances of "one minute" trials that would determine executions.

"The worst crime against humanity is to tell a person they're not alive. That they have no feelings," explained Ashough of the malice of officials running the Death Commissions.

Today, many of the executioners and officials responsible for these crimes are still thriving within the regime. Individuals such as Morteza Eshraghi, a notorious member of the Death Commission at Evin and Gohardasht Prisons are the current heads of Iran's Supreme Court.

A topic of discussion throughout much of the proceedings has been international inaction, especially by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The ultimate aim of these proceedings is to provide enough attention, and facts to aid in an official international recognition of the massacres.

The President of Commission overseeing the tribunal, a former constitutional judge who transitioned South Africa out of Apartheid, Johann Christian Kriegler stated in the tribunals opening remarks that their ultimate aim was to "serve the people of Iran with honesty and dignity."

More than one tear was shed for these tragic experiences, and the lives lost. As witnesses of day one related their stories to the audience, there was a feeling of clarity. While those perpetrators of these crimes carry on without impunity within Iran, the international community has come one step closer to recognizing the tragedy of the Iranian people under the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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  • On Bibi’s U.N. Bomb Prop:

    “Whoever talks of war against Iran <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/ahmadinejad-netanyahu-un-bomb-prop_n_1932783.html?utm_hp_ref=world">is</a> retarded...” <em>Caption: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran addresses the 65th session of the General Assembly at the United Nations on September 23, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)</em>

  • More On Bibi’s U.N. Bomb Prop:

    “[Bibi] really ought to work <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/ahmadinejad-netanyahu-un-bomb-prop_n_1932783.html?utm_hp_ref=world">on</a> his drawing..." <em>Caption: Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, points to a red line he drew on a graphic of a bomb while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012, in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)</em>

  • On Homosexuality In Iran:

    "Gays? What <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2007/09/24/16472/ahmadinejad-denies-existence-of-gays-in-iran/?mobile=nc">gays</a>?" <em>Caption: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waits to greet Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian (unseen) in Tehran on September 17, 2011, during an official visit to the Islamic Republic. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • On Democracy:

    "All this talk of democracy has <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/science/story/2007/04/printable/070419_he-mb-press.shtml">made</a> people sick to their stomach." <em>Caption: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes a speech during a visit, on November 7, 2007, to the city of Birjand 1000 km (621 miles) east of Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Majid/Getty Images)</em>

  • On The Economy:

    “In the past two years, I have done wonders for the Iranian economy. Even economists <a href="http://www.aftabnews.ir/vdcgyu93.ak9zn4prra.html">agree</a> that I have been a miracle.” <em>Caption: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures during a rally on Tehran's Azadi Square (Freedom Square) on February 11, 2011 in which the Islamic republic's President lashed out at the West and Israel in a speech marking the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic revolution. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • On Sanctions:

    “These [Western] countries should <a href="http://www.khabaronline.ir/news-63882.aspx">know</a> that if they disrespect the Iranian people and attempt to violate their rights, the Iranian people will smack them in the mouth so hard that they will lose their way home." <em>Caption: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes a speech during a visit, on November 7, 2007, to the city of Birjand 1000 km (621 miles) east of Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Majid/Getty Images)</em>

  • On Foreign Policy:

    “Iran's image in the world today <a href="http://hamshahrionline.ir/details/62094">is</a> very lovable." <em>Caption: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiles during a press conference in Tehran on April 4, 2011, during which he said that the United States and its allies pressured Gulf Arab states to accuse Iran of interfering in the region, and also demanded Saudi forces leave Bahrain. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • On Iran’s Souring Relationship With Saudi Arabia:

    “My dear brother, King Abdullah, gave me permission to sit next to him during my trip to Riyadh...” <em>Caption: Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz (R) greets Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) upon his arrival at the airport in Riyadh 03 March 2007. (HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • On Opposition Demonstrators:

    "They are nothing <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/18/ahmadinejad-iran-insults-dirt-dust">but</a> scattered specks of dirt and dust..." <em>Caption: Hundreds of thousands of Iranian opposition demonstrators fill the squares between Revolution and Freedom (background) in support of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, in Tehran on June 15, 2009, following an election that has divided the nation. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)</em>

  • On Intellectuals:

    "They know less than <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoYlugcZ96M&playnext=1&list=PL86A9CEA44C3B708F&feature=results_main">a </a>baby goat..." Caption: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walks to the podium for his address to world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2012. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


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