The first stage of the investigation into the mass killings of Iran’s political prisoners during 1980s, held at the Amnesty International Human Rights Centre Action in London, scheduled between 18 and 22 June 2012 was successfully concluded on Friday, 22 June 2012.
The testimonies of eighty witnesses from amongst the survivors and family members of the victims were received by the “Truth Commission” panel. The Truth Commission was composed of internationally prominent human rights experts Eric David (Belgian Professor Emeritus of Public International Law), Marie Louise Asmal (Author, Scholar and Activist), Professor Daniel Turp (Professor Université de Montréal), Anne Burley (Former Director of the European Region of Amnesty International), Professor William A. Schabas (Chairman of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway) and Professor Maurice Copithorne (Professor and former Special Rapporteur on Iran 1995-2002). The witnesses, originally from forty cities and provinces of Iran with diverse political affiliation and views had travelled to London from around the world.
The “Truth Commission” session was opened by Professor John Cooper, Chairperson of the “Steering Committee” of “Iran Tribunal”. After introducing the Commissioners panel chaired by Professor Maurice Copithorne, Professor John Cooper briefly explained the process of the formation of “Iran Tribunal” and the reasoning behind the two stage method adopted due to the enormity of the crimes in Iran’s prisons during 1980s. During this session, explained John Cooper, the “Truth Commission” will begin a five day investigation by calling eighty witnesses who have already submitted their petitions to the “Steering Committee” upon which the Commissioners will examine their allegations. The “Truth Commission” will produce a dossier based on the witness accounts and will submit it to the panel of prosecution at the end of the hearings, which in turn will be the basis of the “Court Hearings” to be held at The Hague later in October 2012.
The opening message by Professor John Cooper was followed by Bishop Desmond Tutu’s video message to the assembly. While expressing his support to the people of Iran, Bishop Tutu offered his solidarity with the survivors and the families of the victims and acknowledged the massacre of Iran’s political prisoners during 1980s as a catastrophe for the entire humanity and wished a successful outcome for the tribunal. He reflected on the South African experience and endorsed the fact that time on its own may not be a healer and in order to try to come to terms with such human tragedies, the exposure of the truth and investigating the time of atrocities would also be needed.
Roya Ghiasi, one of “Iran Tribunal” activists and the sister of one of the victims, Kobra Ghiyasi, delivered the statement from a group of mothers of victims known by “Khavaran’s Mothers”. Professor Payam Akhavan, who leads the panel of prosecution, praised this historical event and explained the tasks ahead for the second phase of the campaign. “In addition to the crimes perpetrated by the heads of the Islamic Republic”, he explained during the news conference on Sunday 17 June, “those who choose to remain silent about these atrocities are also considered as accomplices to the crimes”. “We aim to break the silence by holding this tribunal” he added.
The hearings resumed on Monday morning 18 June 2012 at 10:30, following the brief opening message delivered by the Commissioners chairperson. Sixteen witnesses per day took the witness stand and delivered their testimonies to the panel of commissioners. The “Truth Commission” hearings were concluded on Friday 22 June 2012. Hamid Sabi, a member of the “Steering Committee” and the coordinator of the “Truth Commission” along with Professor John Cooper and the rest of the panel delivered their concluding messages on this day. The panel and the “Steering Committee” were presented with bouquets of flowers by two of the family members of the victims; Sahar Mohammadi, who lost five of her close family members, and Maryam Chitgar, whose father was assassinated by the Islamic Regime’s agents in Vienna in 1987, presented the flowers to the panel as a token gesture of their gratitude and appreciation. Maryam took the podium on behalf of “Iran Tribunal” campaign and formally thanked the panel for their pro bono and humanitarian participation in this historic event and praised the panel for their gratuitous work and unequivocal solidarity with the Iranian nation.
Hamid Sabi also expressed his gratitude to the panel and all those who helped with this event. Hamid also paid tribute to the late Professor Kader Asmal, who was a member of Steering Committee of the Iran Tribunal and one of founding members of the “Truth Commission”. He unfortunately passed away in July 2011.The first stage of “Iran Tribunal” was closed by reciting one of the most famous Iranian ballads “Sar oomad Zemestoon” (The winter is over) by the entire assembly.
The “Truth Commission” hearings in London were broadcast live daily over the Internet and were watched by over two hundred and fifty one thousand people across the world. The international media coverage, despite the initial scepticism shown by some media agencies, was unique. Amongst world’s most popular media agencies, the BBC World Service, Aljazeera TV, AL Arabiya TV, the Swedish Channel 2 TV and the Swedish News Agency, along with other large and small relaying TV and radio stations shared an audience of over five hundred million viewers to reflect the news of the “Truth Commission” hearings across the globe. It’s worth noting that an abundance of Iranian political and social TV networks such as BBC Persian, Voice of America, Radio France, Deutsche Welle Radio and almost the entire Iranian political organisations and parties broadcasting media including Persian newspapers provided the media coverage of this historic event.
“Iran Tribunal” held a well-received press conference on Sunday, 17 June 2012. Professors John Cooper, Daniel Turp, Eric David and Payam Akhavan answered questions asked by the media and those present at the conference. One of the most important issues which was raised during the press conference, related to the scope of the inquiry taken on by “Iran Tribunal” which aims to investigate the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran exclusively between 1981 and 1988. Professor John Cooper, the chairperson of “Iran Tribunal” explained that the spread of the Human Rights violation since the establishment of the Islamic Republic has been of enormous gravity throughout its reign. Due to the limitations in resources imposed upon this campaign, he added, we are only able to address a limited period of time. This period is the most notorious times of gross human rights violations during the lifetime of the Islamic Republic since its establishment. This Tribunal is the product of tireless efforts and the determination of the families of the victims and survivors of the mass executions of political prisoners, he explained. Through their indefatigable commitment, he explained, and totally independent from any state or their affiliated institutions, these families and survivors have shown their intent to hold the perpetrators of these atrocities accountable for their crimes. This tribunal also aims to pave the path for other suppressed layers of Iranian society in order to stand up for their inalienable rights under the current circumstances. In doing so, we hope to put an end to the cycle of violence and loss of life within the Iranian society and establish an independent legal system and social justice in this country.
With reference to some allegations regarding any financial aid by the US government toward the costs of this tribunal, Professor John Cooper explained that he and other colleagues involved in this tribunal accepted to offer their services on a voluntary and pro bono basis. “We absolutely do not receive any financial assistance from any state or their affiliated organisations”, he added. I have not even discussed about my efforts with this campaign with any MPs or political parties in order to remain totally independent. The fundraising for this project is managed by a committee which totally operates at grassroots level.
“I doubt that anyone else could be more concerned about this issue than us”, commented Daniel Turp. “My prerequisite condition to take part in this project was its independence from any state or political party. I would certainly not take any sides in any political quarrels”, he added.Dr Hedayat Matindaftari also commented on this sensitive issue that, had it not been for its complete autonomous state, he would have not taken any part in this campaign.
On the question of the adopted five day process for the hearings in London, it was clarified that the “Truth Commission” had to deal with hundreds of pages of petition submitted by the families of the victims and the survivors of the mass killings. Eighty witnesses from many countries including Iran had travelled to London in order to testify and hence, it was inevitable that such length of time would have been required to investigate every case.
Once the “Truth Commission” has completed its work in London, it would examine all the documents and testimonies form a legal point of view within three weeks. The systematic tortures and executions of political prisoners carried out by the Islamic Republic of Iran will be analysed and tested based on the international penal laws and Human Rights Charter, of which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a signatory to the convention. The report produced will then be submitted to the prosecution panel which will present its case against the Islamic Republic of Iran during the second phase of this Tribunal which will take place in The Hague from 25 to 27 October 2012.