1. In September 2007, a large group of individuals composed of the families of those executed in 1980s, former political prisoners, the survivors of mass killings of 1980s, political and labour activists, women’s rights activists, lawyers, students, Children’s rights activists, writers, artists and human right activists, formed a campaign with the aim to investigate the mass executions of the political prisoners in 1980s.
The campaign had a clear objective from the start: to prosecute and condemn the Islamic Republic of Iran for their heinous crimes against the political prisoners in the 1980s. However, we did not have a clear vision as to how this could be achieved.
Every three weeks for the duration of four months- from September 2007 to January 2008-meetings were held where countless ideas and concerns were discussed. Following which a committee, consisting of six individuals, was assigned to fact finding and carrying out research.
This committee began its work with the help of Yadollah Biglari, a renowned Kurdish lawyer in Stockholm and a leftist Kurdish political activist. In addition, a three-member council was created, which consisted of Mr. Yadollah Biglari, Mr. Babak Emad and Mr. Cleas Forsberg- a renowned Swedish lawyer, chairman of Swedish Lawyers without Borders.
The appropriate legal principles and established legal tools, which could be used to investigate the executions of the 1980s, were discussed during numerous meetings and conference calls held in groups or amongst individuals.
Six months later, in a meeting with the members of the campaign, the Committee delivered its findings. It was established that no official legal institutions- neither in its domestic nor international capacity- were willing to bring forth litigation against the Islamic Republic; based on this the formation of an international tribunal was the sole viable option.
According to Mr. Cleas Forsberg, in order to successfully achieve campaign’s objectives, a team consisting of legal experts and world renowned lawyers had to be urgently established.
2. Through this partnership and the work and valuable assistance of Swedish Lawyers without Borders, the campaign gained much valuable legal experience.
3. After one year of consultation, discussion and research into the nature of independent tribunals, it was decided to contact the Russell Tribunal for advice.
In October 2008, after a year of deliberation and research into the nature of independent tribunals, a two-member team led by Mr. Babak Emad contacted the Russell Tribunal.
Following three months of consultation, regrettably the Russell Tribunal officials did not reach a unanimous decision to create a special chamber in order to address and investigate the massacre of the political prisoners in Iran in 1980s. Consequently it was decided that the campaign itself would establish a tribunal, modeled on that of the Russell Tribunal. Evidently the subject matter of this tribunal would be different from that of its predecessor and would equip the tribunal to address the particularities of the case at hand.
As such, we had to select a name for this project. After much discussion and deliberation “Iran Tribunal” was selected by the general meeting of the campaign from a list of suggestions. Since the 1980s were the bloodiest decade of the Islamic Republic’s reign, henceforth the project referred to these years as the “The Bloody Decade”.
4. The campaign had to establish itself within the pre-existing and well-defined frameworks and standards of international of law. However, in doing so, it was necessary to first establish the legal basis for condemnation of the massacre of political prisoners in Iran.
Through expert legal analysis and research two viable and pertinent legal principles were identified: 1. Crimes against Humanity and 2. Genocide.
Following further discussion it was established that the massacre of the political prisoners during the abovementioned period would amount to crimes against humanity. The lawyers also held the belief that—based on the principles of international law and established rules of law- only the mass executions conducted in the summer of 1988 would amount to crimes against humanity.
Conversely, Iran Tribunal Campaign believed that the massacre of the political prisoners was started from the summer of 1981 across the country- notwithstanding geographical proximity or political affiliations- were imprisoned and subjected to heinous torture as well as inhumane treatment. Without due process, at times attending so-called “trials”- which lasted less than two minutes- thousands of prisoners, were systematically executed on a mass scale in line with an existing state policy; thus rendering the crimes committed in the Bloody Decade, in whole, crimes against humanity. In fact the mass executions of the summer of 1988 were the pinnacle of the widespread executions, which had already begun at the beginning of summer of 1981.
During a long period of discussions and deliberations that followed with legal experts, it was agreed that the massacre of the political prisoners had indeed begun in 1981 and reached its completion during the mass executions of the summer of 1988.
5. Over the years the necessity for an investigation into the massacre of the political prisoners- especially amongst the family members of the victims and the survivors of these executions- had become irrefutable, rending such a quest for justice, an essential and unavoidable historical mission.
Despite having gained valuable experience and insight into the task at hand through the expert work, the campaign still lacked the necessary and clear overview for its efforts, which was causing uncertainty and anxiety amongst its members. As a result, the expression of anxieties over the possibility of failure in its efforts towards justice had become a crucial discussion within the campaign.
The main cause of apprehension emanated from concerns over the possibility of failure, resonating with the familiar and bitter feeling of failure for some of the organizers, who were involved in similar attempts in the past- unfruitful projects which, similarly, had aimed to pursue justice for the Islamic regime’s heinous crimes. Such failure would undeniably exacerbate the familiar feeling of despair and disappointment experienced by many in exile, especially for the families participating in such onerous project for the first time.
If our efforts are once more left unrealized, not only we are left with a legacy of despair and disappointments, we will also have to face the anxiety and fear, which derives from the bitter reality that perhaps no other group in this era will carry the burden of pursuing justice for the lost generation of thousands of hopeful men and women. And if our generation, having witnessed these atrocious crimes, but, due to professional commitments or due to failure to prioritize and value such campaign, would not have or create the opportunity to carry the flag of justice- then without a doubt the future generations will not do so either. The necessary motivation and desire for such a campaign, even amongst the children of those who perished and thus having paid the ultimate price, would have lost its urgency and appeal.
For these reasons, it was essential and of utmost importance, whilst carefully assessing all aspects of this project and safeguarding its success, to also consider our ability and the means to attract and appeal to a large number of the victims, who suffered greatly during the bloodiest decade of the past thirty years of Iran’s modern history, thus making this campaign a collective people’s campaign.
6. On the other hand, campaign members were fully aware of and appreciated the fact that this project indeed carried a heavy weight and it was possible for its objectives not to be fully realized.
Due to the campaign’s limited means and the lack of sufficient and necessary resources, in order to successfully complete this project by reaching the set of goals, four conditions were essential : 1. Impetus unperturbed by the enormity and extent of this project and tasks at hand; 2. Dedication and personal sacrifice; 3. Commitment to form and establish an extensive and pervasive movement, while concentrating efforts on founding and running of the Tribunal, and 4. Total independence and autonomy from any political or governmental affiliation, in addition to total financial independence from any government or government-assisted monetary organization or international institutions.
7. During the five years many of those involved grew weary and disheartened and withdrew from the efforts, abandoning the campaign. At the same time many others joined in and took up where others left off.
8. One of the most crucial requirements for the continuation of the work of the people’s campaign was creation of a legal team, consisting of proficient and experienced lawyers – experts in the field of international law. In doing so the campaign had to select a group of distinguished Iranian lawyers, who not only possessed the expertise and knowledge of universal principles and concepts of international law, but also possessed prior knowledge of the massacre of the political prisoners in Iran and were willing to contribute to the efforts of the project on pro bono basis.
9. Consequently, the campaign sought the assistance and support of Dr Payam Akhavan and Mr. Kaveh Shahrooz, who lost a close family member in the mass execution of 1988.
Both Mr. Akhavan and Mr. Shahrooz have participated in extensive research and had published articles on the subject of the mass executions of the political prisoners in numerous academic journals, such as Harvard Law Journal. They have also written several articles and taken part in interviews for various Canadian newspapers. Their academic and professional merits, combined with their related professional humanitarian involvements, strong interest in civil liberties and anti-death penalty campaigns, as well as playing an active role in consciousness-raising and on-going public condemnation of the executions and denouncement of the massacre of the political prisoners- other than those of the Iranian community- , made them highly capable of contributing immensely to the work of the Iran Tribunal.
10. After the recruitment of Professor Akhavan and Mr. Kaveh Shahrooz in our pursuit for justice in light of these heinous crimes, an International Committee; consisting of Mr. Babak Emad and Mr. Darioush Afshar was formed, with the objective of creating an international legal steering committee. Consequently, during January 2009 to March 2010, within a time-span of fourteen months, a total of fifty lawyers were carefully selected from a group of over a hundred lawyers, from thirty different countries.
The campaign was in search of recognized international lawyers, who were specifically involved in people’s movements and human rights issues and were willing to work pro bono on such a project.
11. Meanwhile, in addition to the efforts to create such a legal team, the campaign produced and approved a preliminary blue-print for the Iran Tribunal thus creating five teams to assess the means and needs of campaign itself- both in terms of legal expertise, translation and preparation of evidence and key documents- as well as teams to manage publicity, financial preparation and the framework of the Iran Tribunal.
12. In September 2010, the IT International Committee successfully created an expert legal team, consisting of fifteen Iranian lawyers and well-known international legal figures from countries such as South Africa, Belgium, Germany, Canada, United States of America and United Kingdom, twelve of whom attended the first international telephone conference on 1st October 2010.
Prior to this on11th February 2010 in the presence of Mr. Babak Emad, Mr. Kaveh Shahrooz, Professor Eric David (from Belgium) and Professor Norman Paech (from Germany) another conference was convened centered on the discussion of the compilation of a preliminary procedural plan and delineating the framework for the legal proceedings. Following this conference Mr. Kaveh Shahrooz was appointed for the preparation of such a document. Following a month of numerous discussions amongst the experts, the prepared document was circulated amongst members of the campaign for their consideration and approval. After its approval by the general meeting, it was published on our website as the first legal document produced by The Iran Tribunal. This document was intended to set the precedent for a people’s court with the capacity to effectively address the massacre of the political prisoners in Iran for the first time in the history of the Iran.
13. During the conference of 1st October 2010 the legal document, the proposed legal organizational and procedural arrangements were discussed and deliberated upon. Professor John Cooper accepted his appointment as the head of Iran Tribunal’s legal team, in charge of creation of the International Legal Steering Committee of the Iran Tribunal and its Constitutional Charter.
A team consisting of Professor John Cooper, Mr. Hamid Sabi and Babak Emad were put in charge of preparation of the initial draft of the Charter and creation of the an outline of the governing policies for the International Legal Steering Committee of the Iran Tribunal, which were subject to discussion amongst the legal team for the duration of three months.
14. On 5th February 2011 Professor Eric David, Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice, Professor Kader Asmal, Professor Richard Falk, Professor Payam Akhavan, Dr Nancy Hormachea, and Dr Hedayat Matine-Daftary, alongside members of the Executive Committee- Mr. Hamid Sabi, Ms Mina Siegel, Mr. Babak Emad and Ms Nafisah Hussein- a legal assistant to Professor John Cooper- attended the first meeting of the International Legal Steering Committee of the Iran Tribunal, which took place at the law office of Professor John Cooper in London. Professor Richard Falk, Professor Kader Asmal and Professor Payam Akhavan attended the meeting via telephone conference call, during which the Constitutional Charter, the organizational structure and the membership of the International Legal Steering Committee of the Iran Tribunal were discussed and approved.
The International Legal Steering Committee of the Iran Tribunal, now officially in session, was to meet every four to six weeks in London. Due to other professional engagements as well as the considerable travelling distance for the majority of its members, many could not travel to London regularly. As a result, the majority of the meetings were held through conference calls. Professors Kader Asmal and Professor Richard Falk never had the opportunity to travel to London for any of the meetings and always attended the Steering Committee meetings through Skype or conference telephone calls. Similarly, on a few occasions Professor Payam Akhavan and Dr. Nancy Hormachea did not have the opportunity to travel to London for the Committee meetings.
15. From 5th February 2011 to the beginning of June 2011, as requested by the general meeting of the campaign, the Steering Committee reviewed and re-evaluated campaign’s Constitutional legal Charter, discussing and re-assessing the stages of the campaign and the hearings.
Kader Asmal, who had previously participated in the South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission, believed that the Islamic Republic’s horrendous crimes and the massacre of political prisoners in the 1980s were clear and undeniable and need not even be “proven” by the Iran Tribunal. Nevertheless, he was of the firm belief that for a public condemnation of the Islamic regime’s commission of crimes against humanity–through a people’s court—one must rely on a body of legal documentation and evidence compiled and produced by the Tribunal, itself. This would be more feasible through a two-part hearing-as suggested by the Campaign´s general meeting, allowing for a larger number of the testimonies–from the families of the executed prisoners and survivors-to be heard by the world, which would in turn facilitate the collection and creation of more accurate record of events.
Accordingly, Professor Kader Asmal suggested that the first phase of the hearing should be dedicated to “fact finding”. This suggestion was welcomed by members of the Steering Committee and the organizers, who subsequently, alongside the general meeting approved the proposal for a two-part tribunal. Following this decision, and the approval of the document outlining the two sessions of the Iran Tribunal, it was formally confirmed that during the fact-finding stage in London eighty witnesses, in front of the Truth Commission, were to testify; while during the second stage (based on the consequential report and documents published by the Truth Commission), between eighteen to twenty diverse witnesses were to testify and the Islamic Republic would be put on trial.
16. Following deliberation and consultation amongst the Steering Committee members and other divisions of the campaign- taking into consideration campaign’s limited facilities and resources- and due to its financial restrictions, it was decided that the Truth Commission would take place in London for the duration of five days. During these five days eighty witnesses, consisting of family members of the victims and survivors of 1980s political mass executions, would present the Tribunal with their statements and account of the events, as representatives of the thousands of families and the political prisoners of that decade.
The second phase was to be held between the 25th and 27th October 2012, either at The Hague or in Stockholm. These cities were chosen due to their current and historical ties to international courts. This is especially true in the case of The Hague, which is renowned as the International City of Peace and Justice. Stockholm on the other hand, was the location for the second phase of the Russell Tribunal. These historical links could indeed help promote the success of the Iran Tribunal. Following an extensive search for a suitable location for the final stage of the campaign, The Hague was ultimately selected.
After the successful conclusion of the two stages of the Truth Commission and the Tribunal hearings, many people both external and internal to Iran Tribunal wanted to see Iran Tribunal continue its activism. Iran Tribunal was created in 2007 with the aim to bring to light the killings of political prisoners in Iran throughout the 1980’s and to condemn judicially the actions of the Islamic republic of Iran. In response to the support from the people and with the aim to maintain and preserve the achievements of both the Truth Commission and the Tribunal hearings in terms of the future and scope of the historic achievements it made in the field of people’s justice, general assembly of the Iran Tribunal held sessions from March to July 2013 and set out a positive path for the future of Iran Tribunal. In this way, a fresh direction was given to the work of Iran Tribunal the foundation of which was fine tuning, completing, maintaining and protecting the evidence gathered by the Truth Commission and the Tribunal as well as pursuing a verdict against those who were implicated in the killings of political prisoners in the 1980’s. Another decision that was made was to establish a permanent Truth Commission whose responsibility is to gather further evidence in relation to the killings of political prisoners in the 1980’s. The teaching, expansion and development of this historic people’s tribunal are another one of the branches of the new activism of Iran Tribunal.
The new constitution has also given opportunity for investigation of other crimes committed by the Islamic Republic in other decades.
After a series of lengthy debates in the general assembly, the Iran Tribunal formed a foundation on the 23rd June 2013 and set new activities and aims. This foundation was determined as a new structure for Iran Tribunal that is different from other ordinary foundations in form and meaning. In order to prevent the foundation from becoming bureaucratised, it was necessary for its core structure to continue to be based on the popularity of the people. The new form of the structure of Iran Tribunal is a mixture of the shape of the struggle of the foundation. The major decisions will however continue to be made by the general assembly which is still the core body of Iran Tribunal. The rule of board of trustees of the foundation is supervisory and advisory as well as making legal decisions. Self made networks of local and global working groups are still made by the members, activists and sympathisers of Iran Tribunal, with the help and supervision of the executive board.