Committee of Human Rights Reporters – Niloofar Golkar-The Iran Tribunal at the Academy of International Law of Peace has condemned the Islamic Republic of Iran for crimes against humanity. The commission’s second session that took place in The Hague investigated the systematic massacre of political prisoners affiliated with various groups during the 80’s. The scope of these executions was such that in 1988 alone thousands of prisoners were executed without due process. Many of them were executed within a span of months despite having served their prison sentences.
The Iran Tribunal website describes how and why they were formed as follows:
“Reflecting upon a human tragedy which took place during the 1980s in Iran’s prisons, when over 20,000 political prisoners, men and women, and numerous under aged detainees were sentenced to death by execution. The mass executions of political prisoners were carried out during this decade. The pinnacle of these crimes took place during the summer of 1988 when over 5000 political prisoners were executed in a short space of time throughout Iran’s prisons.
For the first time in the contemporary history of Iran, the families of the victims, along with the survivors of the mass executions have initiated an international Commission Tribunal in order to investigate the mass genocide of Iran’s political prisoners. ‘Iran Tribunal’ is aiming to hold the Iranian Islamic Regime accountable for its crimes against humanity.”
The model for the hearings is based on one developed by a private international war crimes tribunal established in 1966 by Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre and other writers and scholars, to investigate the US war record in Vietnam. The Russell hearings condemned the United States for war crimes in Vietnam. However the Iran Tribunal hearings differ from those at Russell and these differences will be examined further in this article.
Shokoufeh Sakhi who spent 8 years in prison during the 1980’s, is one of the witnesses who testified during the Iran Tribunal proceedings. Sakhi was in high school during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and she joined the student dissident movement a few years later. In July 1982 she was detained for supporting the Marxist-Leninist Razmandegan Organization and was transferred to the custody of the court Unity Committee where she was interrogated, put on trial, and handed a 5-year sentence. In November of that year she was first transferred to Evin prison followed by another transfer to Ghezel Hezar prison. In April 1983 she was transferred along with 100 other female prisoners to solitary confinement referred to as “Haj Davood coffins” where she was kept for 8.5 months. In Ghezel Hezar, inmates were confined to solitary cells that were the equivalent of grave like chambers.
In 1984 Sakhi was transferred with the group of prisoners to Ward 7 in Evin prison and the following year she was transferred to Gohardasht prison. In 1987 when the sentence for Shokoufeh Sakhi was over, instead of being granted release, she and 2 other prisoners were transferred to solitary confinement in Evin prison while awaiting yet another court hearing called Freedom Court. After the hearing that was presided by Judge Mobasheri, the court declared that Sakhi was not reformed and in order to be released, she must make a public televised confession. Sakhi refused to accept this stipulation and the court dictated that she would receive an additional prison term unless she repents. Due to Sakhi’s rejection of the court’s condition for her release (conducting an interview and writing a letter of repent), her prison term was increased to 8 years.
In 1990 Sakhi was granted furlough along with a number of other prisoners. She escaped to Canada with her 11-year old son where she was granted political asylum. Shokoufeh Sakhi is currently a Political Science Ph. D. candidate at York University in Canada and she does research work centered on political resistance.
Why did you take part in the Iran Tribunal proceedings and which part was most important to you?
Before I get into why I joined Iran Tribunal allow me to explain my views on the concept itself.
Within the Iranian community there were several outlooks on the proceedings. One was an expectation that the proceedings would be similar to the ones at Russell, but they were not. Those hearings had nothing to do with the law or lawyers. The commission at Russell consisted of intellectuals and left-leaning scholars who met to review the events that took place in the Vietnam War. The proceedings resulted in the USA getting condemned of war crimes.
Both tribunals, Iran and Russell, can be viewed from a political and non-political perspective. Unlike the Russell court, the Iran Tribunal did not consist of left-wing international scholars who were condemning the actions of the Islamic Republic and declaring their solidarity with the families of the murdered. This is not a detriment, this is the strength of the Iran Tribunal in that it is not a show trial; it is people taking their power back by standing up for and representing themselves.
Another point was that the International Court in charge of surveying events that took place since 2002, the year the Iran Tribunal was formed, has not agreed to take this case. The claim is that this means the Iran Tribunal court is not official and has no administrative or judicial jurisdiction making its findings and condemnation of crimes against humanity inconsequential. In response to this criticism I must say that it is objectionable that the International community would insist on examining the government of the Islamic Republic within the parameters of International Law. This asserts that the Iran Tribunal was somehow a result of the International Courts being inefficient, having the burden of proving the legitimacy of the claims. However with the Iran Tribunal the families of the murdered prisoners and the survivors of the massacre had the opportunity to be in an environment that is independent of any formal institution or legal jurisdiction.
Another point made about the Iran Tribunal was that as an example it does not stand up to American Imperialism and does not make a political stance regarding the prospect of war among other issues. Unfortunately this criticism quickly catapulted into accusations of lobbying for the United States and preparing conditions for war with Iran. The point that the organizers of the tribunal made regarding this outlook is that the Iran Tribunal is an advocacy movement and not a group or a political party. This is a movement that is handling one very specific issue. It cannot involve itself in other matters and does not need to contend with an array of different subject matters. However those who are interested in the tribunal’s views on the issue of war can refer to the opening and closing remarks of the prosecutor of the proceedings, who urged political powers to refrain from using the human rights situation in Iran for their own general interest and he declared his opposition to war.
To answer your question as to why I chose to partake in the proceedings, I considered both sides of the argument and concluded that the points that were intended to be made against the tribunal were actually what made it unique. I discussed this subject both in court and during interviews. This campaign came about due to the fact that the judicial powers within Iran and in the International community, regardless of what we name them, do not have the capability of handling the needs of the oppressed because they are confined to the limitations imposed on them by their own laws and political affiliations.
In the meantime there is a population that has been suppressed for over 30 years and finally has had the opportunity to exert itself, representing the struggle and resistance that came into fruition after the revolution, into the eighties, and continues today. Witnesses were recognized by their presence and they gave legitimacy to their stories. An independent body was formed that functioned parallel to counterpart international institutions. They had no need to bring a group of intellectuals who were aligned with their way of thinking to declare their endorsement during a court session and leave. The beauty of these proceedings was that the wants and needs of the witnesses were so powerful that anyone who sat in the sessions was compelled to see the complete truth.
For some time now we have held campaigns as a reminder of the events that took place in the 80’s in order to keep the story alive and in doing so the anecdote was not contained in Iran; it was shared with the international community without any help from international institutions. In my view this is a very poignant factor. There were individuals who came out of the opposition and created their own groups. Their presence forced the judicial authorities to take heed and listen to their accounts. I listened and concluded that these issues exist beyond the boundaries of Iran and there is an array of problems in many societies. I was reminded of the Palestinian youth that put out a manifesto 2 years ago declaring their dissatisfaction with Hamas and Abbas and Israel and the USA and everybody. This is a testament that people -Tamil to Syrian – given the opportunity to be independent of political affiliations and international powers, can create their own independent alliances resulting in a very substantial and positive step. This was an important factor in my decision to partake in the proceedings added by my desire to be the voice of the pain and suffering that took place in the 80’s in Iran.
It is interesting that a Syrian group contacted the Tribunal to inquire into how they could help and they were present to observe and learn from the formula of the proceedings.
So these proceedings were successful in creating a tone outside the parameters of the power play between governments, political parties and international institutions that viewed themselves as the legitimate originators of this news. This independence led to an atmosphere where anybody and everybody had the opportunity to partake and have their voices heard.