(Stockholm) – The opening of a landmark test in Sweden on August 10, 2021 by an Iranian citizen accused of having participated in mass execution of political prisoners is an important moment for the victims who have long been denied recognition and justice.
July 27, Swedish prosecutors announced their decision to prosecute an Iranian citizen for “committing serious war crimes and murders in Iran in 1988”. Prosecutors did not reveal the identity of the suspect, who has been detained in Sweden since November 2019.
“This milestone attempt in Sweden comes after decades of perseverance by Iranian families and victims of the 1988 mass executions,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate director of International Justice at Human Rights Watch. “This case brings the victims closer to justice for the crimes committed more than 30 years ago.”
The trial in Sweden is possible because the country’s laws recognize universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes under international law. This enables the investigation and prosecution of these crimes regardless of where they were committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or the victims. Sweden has elements to enable successful prosecution of serious crimes, including comprehensive laws, well-functioning specialized war crime units and previous experience of such cases.
Swedish prosecutors clarified that “Swedish national law does not cover crimes against humanity committed before 1 July 2014 and could not be invoked in this indictment because the alleged criminal acts took place before that date. Therefore, the indictment violates international law, ie war crimes and murder. ”
July 18, 1988, Iran accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598, which calls for a ceasefire in the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq. On July 24, 1988, the largest armed Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), which had based in Iraq since 1986, opened a raid on Iran.
The group’s armed force in Iraq, called the National Liberation Army, sought to overthrow the Iranian government. Iranian forces repulsed the offensive and Iranian authorities subsequently, many political opponents then executed in prison, including many MKO members who had been arrested and convicted years earlier.
Following a religious ordinance by Ayatollah Khomeini, which set up a committee to investigate the cases of thousands of political prisoners, in 1988 the Iranian authorities executed thousands of political prisoners held in Iranian prisons. Iranian authorities have never officially provided any information on the number of executed prisoners. However, the late Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, the former deputy leader, estimated the number of victims at between 2,800 and 3,800. Amnesty International has reported that “The Iranian Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran, a human rights group outside Iran … has registered the names of 4,672 people killed during the 1988 massacres who were affiliated with … [MKO] or left-wing parties or other political opposition groups. ”
In August 2016, Montazeri’s family published one sound file, originally recorded in August 1988, in which he sharply criticized the executions in a conversation with the committee, calling it “the greatest crime in the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us.”
Iranian authorities have long sought to silence and prosecute those seeking justice for crimes committed in 1988. After the audio file was released, Iran’s special clerical court sentenced Ahmad Montazeri, Ayatollah Montazeri’s son, to 21 years in prison in November 2016 on charges. including “spreading propaganda against the system” and “disclosing plans, secrets or decisions regarding the state’s domestic or foreign policy … in a manner equivalent to espionage.” The verdict was later overturned.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty Internationaland a group UN human rights experts have all previously described the 1988 mass executions as a crime that constitutes or “may amount to” crimes against humanity, which are among the most heinous crimes in international law. Those who are credibly involved should be investigated and prosecuted for these crimes, says Human Rights Watch.
Iranian officials Morteza Eshraghi, Hossein Ali Nayeri and Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi served as members of the committee that decided the fate of the prisoners in Iran. According to survivors, President Ibrahim Raeesi, the then prosecutor of Tehran, also attended the meetings. All four were sent mail from Ayatollah Montazeri discussing the mass executions, as well as a released sound file with their voices discussing the issue. Allegations of President Raeese’s involvement in the 1988 mass executions do not seem to be part of this Swedish trial.
Universal jurisdiction is an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold those responsible for atrocities accountable, provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn, deter future crimes and help countries become safe havens for human rights violators. , Human Sa Rights Watch.
“Universal law is an important tool against impunity for heinous crimes, especially when there is no other viable alternative to justice,” Jarrah said.