10/06/2016 04:42 EDT | Updated 10/06/2016 04:49 EDT

Call For Iran War Crimes Investigation, Liberals Urged

Conservatives back the move.

OTTAWA — A group of Iranian-Canadians is calling on the government to add a tough new element to its annual United Nations resolution on Iran's dubious human rights record — a call for an international war crimes investigation.

The group, which calls itself Canadian Friends for a Democratic Iran, made the request Thursday at a news conference on Parliament Hill.

The group presented what it says is new evidence that shows complicity by senior Iranian government officials in a mass killing of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

Ahmad Hassani holds up a picture of his brother Mahmoud Hassani, who he says was executed in 1988, at a press conference in Ottawa on Oct. 6, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

An audio recording from the era surfaced in August that implicates high-level members of the current Iranian regime, including the country's justice minister, said Shahram Golestaneh, the group's director.

Canada has taken the lead each year since 2003 in sponsoring a resolution at the UN condemning Iran's human rights record.

That was the year that Iranian-born, Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was tortured and killed in a Tehran prison after she was arrested for photographing a demonstration.

Now, Golestaneh's group wants the government to up the ante by asking the UN to launch an investigation into the 1988 massacre as part of that annual resolution.

"Normalizing relations with Iran before these individuals are held accountable is completely unacceptable."

— Tory MP Candice Bergen

A trio of Conservative MPs joined Golestaneh's group at the news conference and urged the government not to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran. The former Conservative government broke off ties with Iran in 2012, citing a lack of security for embassy staff, the country's poor human rights record and its support of terrorism.

"Normalizing relations with Iran before these individuals are held accountable is completely unacceptable," said Conservative MP Candice Bergen.

She said it's unwise foreign policy on the part of Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion and Liberals.

The government has yet to re-open Canada's embassy or allow Iranian diplomats back into Canada, but has said engaging countries that it disagrees with is not a sign that it approves of their non-democratic policies.

Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based dissident with the National Council of Resistance of Iran, acknowledged that any call for a war crimes investigation would likely fall on deaf ears in Tehran.

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But he said: "It would also send a strong message internationally that one cannot get away with crimes against humanity."

It was the second straight day that the Trudeau government faced calls to use its new embrace of the United Nations to take a tough stand on human rights.

On Wednesday, a delegation led by former Liberal MP Irwin Cotler called on the government to oppose Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Russia and China in the upcoming voting for United Nations Human Rights Council.

"Canada will announce its decision in due time, but what I can say is that the strong voice of Canadians speaking for human rights is something we also consider, especially when you have a champion like Irwin Cotler," Dion said Wednesday.

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