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UN workgroup calls for investigation into the 1988 massacre of Iranian political prisoners

Khavaran cemetery, Tehran, is one of several sites where the victims of the 1988 massacre were secretly buried
Khavaran cemetery, Tehran, is one of several sites where the victims of the 1988 massacre were secretly buried

Reporting by PMOI/MEK

Iran, September 3, 2021—The international community must investigate the fate of political prisoners executed by the Iranian regime in 1988, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances stressed in its latest report to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The Working Group reiterates the concerns expressed about the ongoing concealment of burial sites of those forcibly disappeared and allegedly executed between July and September 1988 across the country,” the report reads in part. “The Working Group recalls that an enforced disappearance continues until the fate and whereabouts of the individuals concerned are established and joins the call for an international investigation into the matter.”

The warning comes as in the past year, there have been several reports that Iranian authorities are trying to destroy evidence of the 1988 massacre, in which the regime executed more than 30,000 political prisoners in the span of a few months. The executions took place after then–supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in which he explicitly stated that any prisoner who supports the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is an enemy of God and must be executed.

One of the key orchestrators of the 1988 massacre was Ebrahim Raisi, who now serves as the regime’s president. Raisi was at the time a member of the death commission, a group of regime officials who summoned political prisoners to minutes-long trials and sent them to the gallows if they refused to disavow their support for the MEK.

Iranian authorities hastily dumped the bodies of the executed prisoners were in mass burial sites scattered across the country. Many of those sites were later discovered by human rights activists and families of the victims.

In recent years, as the issue of the 1988 massacre has gained increasing attention by international human rights organizations, the regime has engaged in a campaign to destroy the mass graves.

In September 2020, MEK activists in Iran reported that the regime was building a boulevard on a mass burial site in Ahvaz where executed MEK member were buried in 1988.

In an October 2020 report, the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council warned about reports of Iranian regime authorities imprisoning “people who search for or mention mass graves” and reports about “destruction or damaging of mass graves, including by bulldozing them; hiding them beneath new, individual burial plots; constructing concrete slabs, buildings or roads over them; and turning mass grave sites into rubbish dumps.”

Subsequently, Amnesty International called on the international community to “ensure that the geographical coordinates and information related to mass graves are identified and documented by a well-organized global procedure.”

“The purpose of these illegal acts is not only to prevent the handover of the remains to the families but also to block the path of litigation and judicial justice for the 1988 victims,” Amnesty International added.

In May 2021, new reports indicated that the regime was attempting to destroy evidence of its crimes at Khavaran, a mass burial site east of Tehran, where thousands of political prisoners were interred in 1988. Regime authorities were forcing members of the Baha’i minority community to bury their dead at the location to prevent future investigations into the site.

“Iranian authorities are banning members of the persecuted Baha’i minority from burying their loved ones in empty plots at a cemetery near Tehran that they have used for decades, instead insisting they bury them between existing graves within the cemetery or at the nearby Khavaran mass grave site for victims of the 1988 prison massacres,” Amnesty International said in a statement in this regard.

These measures were also documented in the latest report by the UN Secretary General on human rights conditions in Iran, issued on August 4, 2021. In the report, the Secretary General described the regime’s order to bury Baha’is in Khavaran as “the latest in a series of reported efforts allegedly aimed at destroying evidence of the execution of political dissidents at that time and at the harassment and criminal prosecution of families of victims calling for truth and accountability.”

Growing calls for investigation into the 1988 massacre

The report of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances comes as the 1988 massacre is becoming a growing are of focus in regards to Iran.

In September 2020, in a letter to Iranian authorities, a group of United Nations human rights experts warned about the continued cover-up of the 1988 massacre and raised concerns on accounts provided by the families of the victims. The experts called on the regime to clarify the fate of the political prisoners.

“We have received concerning allegations of the continued refusal to disclose the circumstances of death and remains of thousands of political dissidents who were forcibly disappeared and then extrajudicially executed between July and early September 1988 in 32 cities, and the authorities’ refusal to provide families with accurate and complete death certificates,” the letter reads in part.

Absent a proper response, the UN experts made the letter public on the eve of the International Human Rights Day in December.

“We are concerned that the situation may amount to crimes against humanity,” the signatories of the letter wrote, adding that if the regime does not uphold its obligations under international human rights laws, the rights experts will “call on the international community to take action to investigate the cases including through the establishment of an international investigation.”

In a recent online conference with the attendance of more than 1,000 former Iranian political prisoners, human rights experts and jurists described the 1988 massacre as a “genocide” and called on the international community to investigate it and punish the perpetrators.

In a keynote speech at the event, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), reiterated the responsibility of the international community in holding the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre to account. She called on the U.S. and Europe to recognize the 1988 massacre in Iran “as genocide and a crime against humanity.”

“They must not accept Raisi in their countries. They must prosecute and hold him accountable,” she said.