Iran Tribunal Campaign is a grassroots initiative that has been initiated by a group of individuals composed of the families of the victims, 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, who have been holding regular meetings since October 2007 to assess the possibility of setting up a Truth Commission and a People’s Tribunal.
The aim of this campaign is to investigate the mass executions and massacre of political prisoners in 1980s and to hold the Islamic Republic of Iran accountable for its crime against humanity.
The proceedings has a clear historical precedent and will be modelled on the tribunals set up by Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre in their 1965-1967 world campaign against the American atrocities in the Vietnam War. In late 1967, the campaign planned two sessions in Paris and Copenhagen, but, due to the French government refusal, the Paris hearing was moved to Stockholm. The Copenhagen session resembled a Truth Commission. A panel of twenty five prominent legal experts, writers, poets, journalists, academics, philosophers, political activists and representatives of labour movements from eighteen countries was chaired by Russell and Sartre. The tribunals were held in Stockholm and Copenhagen and attended by such world famous writers as Simone De Beauvoir and several noble laureates.
Our own task is different in many ways and more difficult, but the same responsibility remains. How can such atrocities be prevented? The procedures of a trial or a truth commission are impossible to implement. We do not represent any state power, nor can we compel the perpetrators responsible for crimes against the people of Iran to stand accused before us. We believe that these apparent limitations are, in fact, virtues. We are free to conduct a solemn and historic investigation, unrestricted by the confines of state or other such obligations.
The proceedings will allow tens of thousands of families of victims to have a voice. We have learned from history if the account of an atrocity does not transcend the boundaries of a country, and if the world doesn’t hear about it, history will repeat itself and human society will witness such crimes again and again.
This Commission/Tribunal will examine all the evidence that may be placed before it by any source or party. The evidence may be oral, or in the form of documents. No evidence relevant to our purposes will be refused attention and no competent witness who wishes to testify at the inquiry will be denied a hearing.
Stages of the investigation
According to the proposed plan, the Tribunal will compromise of two stages: A “Truth Commission” and the “Tribunal”.
The Commission will aim to collect statements, witness documents, dossiers and to produce a report on extensive executions in the early years of 1980s as well as mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The report shall be prepared by a jurist who is leading the panel to look authentic to the Iranian people. It is important that the tribunal would take note of the report produces by the commission.
Commission allows victims, relatives of victims, journalists, experts and perpetrators to come forth and provide testimony. The strict rules governing the introduction of evidence in trials are typically more relaxed in truth commissions. As a result, during truth commissions, there is a greater opportunity for individuals to come forward with stories of harms they have suffered.
The raison d’être of the Truth Commission is to allow victims to have a voice, to publicize the abuses of human rights, and to account for past atrocities.
The Commission will be an unusual phenomenon as it will deal with human rights violation by a government that is still in power. The Commission would require a panel of international experts (preferably composed of legal, political experts, academics and reporters). Although the presence of lawyers/judges is important, it is preferable that the panel of experts is not comprised exclusively lawyers/judges, since such a panel would convey the impression that the commission is intended as a legal proceeding rather than as a fact-finding proceeding. A professionally diverse panel would be best.
The jury will be supplied with witness statements from the victims, their families and experts over a period of five days. During this period, individuals who produce statements can appear in person or deposit witness statements in writing. Witnesses must limit their statements to personal experiences or areas of expertise. For example, families of political prisoners must limit their statements to what happened regarding the death of their relatives. Once the jury heard all the statements, it must produce a written report, encompassing all of its findings and submit it to the Tribunal. The report must provide detailed research of the events of 1980s and in particular the events surrounding mass execution of prisoners in the summer of 1988, referring to those responsible for these crimes , clarifying how the Tribunal should investigate this matter.
The court’s proceedings will also be unusual, because amongst trials held over the last 100 years, it will be the second people’s court, taking up the case against a government, the other one being the Russell tribunal, held against the crimes of the United States in Vietnam. The Tribunal will investigate among others, the findings of the Truth Commission and will issue a judgements based on this.
The Tribunal would consist of seven to ten judges who are eminent jurists from various countries.
As the dossier of this bloody decade in Iran, has so far been ignored by the international community and media, it would be best if the panel would be made up of influential international figures.
It is important to involve independent human rights, legal and reporters organisations from other countries, especially those involved in similar experiences, such as families of political prisoners executed in Chile, mothers of the disappeared in Argentina, political prisoner support groups in Turkey… As more organisations get involved, we can rely on increased publicity, both before and after setting up the tribunal.
No doubt, it is important that the Commission/Tribunal draws the attention of mass media to its proceedings. Reporters must be given the opportunity to cover the statement of witnesses (unless a witness has requested privacy). In addition, published reports must be distributed amongst Iranian and non Iranian media outlets. The final report of the Commission and the court’s verdict should be used for publicity internationally.