Prosecutor of the Iran Tribunal.
The Peace Palace, The Hague, 27 October 2012

Mr President, distinguished members of the Tribunal.

It might not to be appropriate for those who have presented this case now further to characterise the evidence of the witnesses you have heard or whose evidence was taken in London before the Commission, and for several reasons:

  • There is no adversary to advance any alternative view of the witnesses and their evidence stands unchallenged  
  • The Judges are in the best position to characterise the evidence before them, if they decide to do so, and hardly need unchallenged descriptions by lawyers to guide them;
  • The people of Iran may be said to have been let down by the international community and its lawyers and this Tribunal reflects the determination of victims of, and witnesses to, what happened to create a record of evidence that can enjoy some authority and that can be measured against the law in order to identify what laws were broken by the Iranian Republic in the 1980s. In creating this Tribunal people of and from Iran have turned to lawyers like us, jurists on the bench and the law itself to reveal how grave may have been the criminality of the Iranian government that oppressed them and that killed or otherwise destroyed  and damaged so many of their family members and friends. The process in which we are all engaged was created by, and is to the credit of, individuals to whom lawyers, Judges and the law itself are servants. We the lawyers working for those individuals have presented evidence and trust the judges to assess it.

If there is a message of general application arising from the work of this and similar Tribunals it goes to politicians and international institutions that do not recognise or deal with particular heinous events for political or similar reasons. In our modern age, assisted by technology that is increasingly available to all citizens of the world, knowledge and wisdom can be shared without the approval or participation of national or supranational institutions; the citizen can fill the gap left and – quite properly – take aspects of the law and its processes into her / his own hands.

The following can be said of the witnesses:

  • Witnesses have frequently been able to add materially to the evidence they came here to give, several times in respect of the mechanisms by which human beings respond to the situations they encountered, situations often beyond the comprehension of listeners. In what they have told us they have dealt with the inhumanity to which they were subjected and revealed the humanity in which they had faith and to which they responded by surviving at the time and since. It may have been that faith that has brought them here.

There has been no reason revealed for why their evidence should not be accurate. It has all the hallmarks of reliability. It is hard or impossible to conceive of such evidence being inaccurate.

In his opening speech, my learned friend explained to the Court what in our submission is the burden of proof we face in establishing that the Islamic Republic of Iran was guilty of crimes against humanity from 1981 through to 1988. The burden has two parts. Firstly, we must demonstrate that serious violations of human rights were committed in Iran in these years. Secondly, we must show that these violations were “widespread or systematic”. In order to assign culpability to the State, we must show that these violations were inflicted “pursuant to or in furtherance of” the State policy: that the government ordered these atrocities or at minimum tolerated them, and as such is in violation of its obligations under international law.

For the brief summary of the evidence that you will have heard, I am immensely indebted to Mr Eylon Aslan-Levy and Ms Nafisah Hussain for their working compilation of the evidence and for their indefatigable labours over months for the process in which we are all taking part.

There are five forms of gross human rights abuses to which the evidence presented to the Truth Commission and this Tribunal point incontrovertibly.

Firstly, the Islamic Republic of Iran committed murder. Nima Sarvestani’s documentary showed graves of executed prisoners stretching out as far as the eye can see; the gravedigger of Shiraz reported the delivery of sixty bodies on a single occasion, of victims at most twenty years old. Men were arrested at ten in the morning and dead by eleven; entire families were eliminated and whole wards purged; rows of prisoners were shot by firing squad, still breathing until they were finished off by coups de grâce; and we heard from this morning’s witness of how child prisoners were required to administer these coups de grâce; truckloads of bodies were tipped into mass graves. The Tribunal heard extensive evidence of the murder of minors. In no case was an execution ordered in accordance with due process. In 1988, pursuant to a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, over 5,000 political prisoners were killed (most were hanging) over the space of a few months.

Secondly, there has been not one witness who was not tortured in prison, both physically and mentally. Prisoners were hanged from the ceiling by their arms, flogged on the soles of their feet, beaten, deprived of sleep, kept in solitary confinement, subjected to mock executions and forced to watch other prisoners being tortured – or were tortured in the presence of their children. Shokufeh Sakhi told the Tribunal how she was subjected to sensory deprivation in a dark box (the “coffin”) for hours on end, month after month. The general effect was to turn prisoners into “zombies” by destroying their senses of self and dignity. Another witness told the Tribunal of the “psychological rape” that turned him into a “puppet”, who would shoot his fellow prisoners as member of a firing squad of tavabeen (repenters).

Thirdly, the Islamic Republic of Iran has committed the crime of persecution, which the Report touched on in §4.5.2 (p.47). Kurds, Arabs and Bahá’ís were targeted. The Bahá’ís were denied protection; the Constitution deliberately excluded them from a class of protected minorities, which meant that they could be killed with impunity; their holy sites, including the House of Báb, were razed; their homes were set ablaze; their cemeteries were vandalised; their leadership was repeatedly eliminated; they were refused the right to practise their religion; they were dismissed from their employment; they were forced to convert to Islam and divorce their spouses, and were pressured to marry Revolutionary Guards; they were imprisoned on the charges of being Bahá’í, and were threatened that they would be eliminated one by one.

Fourthly, the Islamic Republic of Iran tolerated sexual abuse of prisoners by guards. Such evidence is naturally difficult to obtain, but §1.4.2 of the Report explains how men and women were subjected to sexual abuse.

Fifthly, individuals were imprisoned “in violation of fundamental rules of international law”. §1.2-1.4 of the Report describes how persons were detained for long periods without trial. Prisoners were charged with vague political offences at hearings lasting on average a couple of minutes, during which they were blindfolded and verbally assaulted; no defendant in a civilian court was ever given access to any defence counsel of any sort. Prisoners were subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment: prison cells were overcrowded; medical assistance was withheld, including for injuries from torture and for contagious diseases that spread in the wards; prisoners were forced to participate in religious indoctrination and lived under constant threats of death.

In addition, prisoners’ families were subjected to cruel treatment. They were forced to pay for the bullets used to shoot their loved ones; they were assaulted when they tried to hold mourning services and gravestones were smashed; mothers were refused the right to recover their children’s bodies. When Malekeh Mostafa Soltani went to collect her brothers’ bodies, they were bullet-ridden to the extent that their organs were coming out and they bled profusely. Witnesses attested to depression and recurring nightmares. The legacy of abuse is extensive and inevitably persists to the present day.

The witness statements from the Truth Commission and this Tribunal corroborate each other in the patterns of abuse and in the fine detail. Jalil Shahbazi committed suicide by slitting his stomach with a shard of glass: he was mentioned both by Rahman Darkeshideh (Witness 23, p.193) at the Commission and by Amir Atiabi here. Sadegh Khalkhali, the “butcher of Kurdistan”, told victims who demanded a fair trial: “If you are innocent, you will go to paradise; if you are guilty, you will go to hell”. This was attested to by Jalil Shahrani here and Galavezh Heidari (Witness 72, p.329) in London. Fatemeh Modaressi, a member of the Tudeh Party, was executed in prison: she was mentioned by Shokufeh Sakhi yesterday and by Azizeh Shahmoradi (Witness 49, p.298) at the Commission.

These violations were widespread and systematic. Appendix B (p.69) shows prisons dotted across the landscape of Iran; there has been evidence of over thirty gaols. Prisons held executions on regular days of the week. The same tortures were carried out everywhere, varying only in the degree of creativity with which the torturers delighted in tormenting their victims. These were not freak instances: they were recurring patterns, part of a deliberate and systematic campaign to unleash a reign of terror on the civilian population of Iran and thereby cow it into submission.

The commission of these atrocities went up to the very top of the Iranian State. They were carried out by state organs, within the walls of state institutions and on the direct instructions of state officials.

Dr Matin-Daftary explained to the Court that human rights abuses followed as the inevitable consequence of the deliberate dismantling of a sophisticated and established legal order and its replacement with a religious penal code that, at least insofar as was practised by the Islamic Republic, is fundamentally inconsistent with modern justice and human rights. Following the Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini replaced the judiciary with a parallel structure of revolutionary courts; defence lawyers who objected to the courts’ rulings were harassed and killed. Iran declared the Supreme Leader to be above the law as the sole interpreter of the will of God, licensed to nullify any and all legislation incompatible with his reading of shari’ah. As a consequence, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa that extend alleged crimes to entire groups merely associated with individuals accused of what at best were vague crimes, which had no intelligible meaning under the law; the code allowed non-Muslims to be killed with impunity; it permitted for girls as young as eight to be sentenced to death for political offences – a power granted to the students of religious seminaries who staffed these courts.

This evidence was all confirmed by Anne Burley, whom you heard today and who like so many of us could not understand how people do such things to one another.

Few of us here apart from the witnesses will have experienced anything like that which they experienced. Most or all of the rest of us will have been asking the question: how would we have coped with what they suffered, knowing that it is impossible to give a reply to such a question and be confident of the answer. Some of us may also have asked ourselves the question: how is it that people brought up in this regime were able to become perpetrators.

There is no reason to believe – at least no reason known to me to believe – that the perpetrators of these crimes in Iran have yet come to ask themselves the question that Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, asked in 1953, having been saved from the gallows at Nuremberg: speaking of other events which these days would be described as genocide, he asked how it was that nearly everyone succumbs to becoming a perpetrator but when it is all over asks, horrified, “for heaven’s sake, how could I?” There is no reason to believe that the perpetrators in Iran have even approached his level of understanding and the Islamic Republic of Iran would do well to recognise that the international community recognises the existence of human rights that exist for every human being; and it should accept that even now, its day of formal reckoning will come, if there is international will. In any event, it should recognise that the record of this Tribunal will stand as a public record of their condemnation.