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The Iran Tribunals: Finally Holding Death Committees to Account

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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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