This year is the 60th anniversary of the most important declaration in the history of humankind. Exactly six decennia ago the world ratified, by means of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a global treaty to secure the universal rights of all human beings. Human rights of which the freedom to have a political opinion constitutes only a small fraction.
While the 60th anniversary of this declaration is being celebrated on a worldwide scale, the Iranian community is mourning August 30th the 20th Memorial Day of the gravest political murder of Iran’s contemporary history . This murder was part of a systematic policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to kill and silence many thousands of dissidents. Motives for this large scale murder were both of a religious and a political nature. The consequent reticence of the Islamic regime of Iran, 20 years after its most extensive political cleansing, is a heartfelt and heavy burden for survivors and relatives of dissidents put to death.
Ayatollah Khomeini has compared the quenching of the fire of the devastating war between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988) to a poisoned cup which he had been forced to drink. With this metaphor he depicted his unwillingness to establish peace. Rather, he dreamt of a victory of Good over Evil.
“The route to Qods (Israel) goes via Karbala (Iraq)”: with this slogan Khomeini glorified the “exporting of the Islamic Revolution”. The war with Iraq was only a station, the Holy City of Qods being the ultimate goal. This was the insane political vision of Iran’s warlike leader, which by drinking out the poisoned cup evaporated in – temporary – despair.
Internally, this despair was translated into political uncertainty about the future of Islamic Iran. And precisely this was the greatest possible danger since the Revolution of 1979, i.e. the potential of a vast group of dissidents in prisons all over the country. These political prisoners were ever since a thorn in the side of the regime. Only the physical liquidation of them would free the Islamic leaders of their feelings of uncertainty about the future.
Apart from this, the post-war era could be the beginning of civil dissatisfaction, which was considered as a permanent danger for the still young Islamic Revolution. Rightly so, this danger was a matter of concern for the regime. For the engaged elite had been strategically and structurally repressed during the eight years of war, which led to custody, frequent torture and political murder.
Under these circumstances the leaders of Iran concocted a cruel design in order to maintain their regime. This design consisted of a systematically cleansing of dissidents. And its legitimation became a fatwa by ayatollah Khomeini to provide a religious justification for this inhuman act. In his quality as the supreme leader Khomeini issued the following decree to his subjects: “all those who in the country’s prisons stick to their opinion as nifaq (hypocrisy) and consequently are muharib (enemies of Allah) deserve capital punishment… Mercy on them would be naive; the unflinching resolution of Islam against God’s enemies forms the irreversible fundament of the Islamic regime… hopefully, by your revolutionary anger and wrath against the enemies of Islam, God’s delight will be satisfied”.
The aftermath of this was the fulfilment of Khomeini’s fatwa, by which the killing of opponents had by now been religiously legalised by the supreme political authority of Iran. Sending death squadrons endowed with the roles of judge, prosecutor and secret service official to prisons provided a legal basis for this heinous crime.
These death squadrons acted at the same time in the roles of judge and prosecutor. The reason for this was that Allah’s enemies could be killed in a more efficient manner. The show trials which followed immediately, only took a few minutes. Questions were formulated in a most unfair way: “Are you a Muslim?”, “Do you accept the present Islamic political system?” , “Will you be prepared to blow yourself up for the sake of Islam?” , “Will you assist us to imprison your political friends?” Not the answers determined the fate of the victims, but – as would appear later on – the subjective judgement of the so-called judges led to life or death.
Almost all victims completed their sentenced imprisonment, either partially or entirely. Due to reticence of the regime no exact figures about executed prisoners sentenced to death are available. By the co-operation of eye witnesses, human rights activists and Iranian people in the diaspora, up to now some 4,672 names of victims have become known. even assert that tens of thousands have been murdered.
In the meantime, many human rights organisations among which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have acknowledged this crime. In this context, an important document is the Memorial of the foremost spiritual leader after Khomeini, Ayatollah Montazeri , which has been published a few years ago. In this document Montazeri in a detailed way states how the orders for mass murder were given and how officals executed them.
Sadly enough, the former executors of the crime are Iran’s top officials of today, both in administration and in court . For example, the former Minister of Home Affairs or the present High Commissioner of the Law Department , but also the present Minister of the Intelligence Service were the leading officials who back in 1988 executed the fatwa.
And this is the present regime of Iran.
The fact that after twenty years after this mass murder still relatives do not know where their beloved lie buried, fills one with indignation. Even the freedom to mourn has been taken from them. This is due to the structural reticence of the regime and the ongoing terror towards relatives should they wish to attend a memorial gathering of any kind. Iran must indicate the location of these mass graves, so as to enable relatives to mourn without terror of the regime.
Here lies an important task for the international community. It has the moral duty to seek acknowledgement of this crime. Western governments can prosecute and try the criminals by making use of existing ‘universal jurisdiction’. The State of the Netherlands should take the lead in this matter by a formal acknowledgement of this mass murder. This will certainly force Tehran to react. And thereby break the reticence.
Although the Declaration of Human Rights will this year celebrate its 60th anniversary, it is crucial to stop at crimes against humanity which today take place on a worldwide scale. The institution of human rights is still a wish with a long road ahead. And this is the challenge for mankind.