WASHINGTON, DC – A panel of distinguished policy experts discussed the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran on Friday, emphasizing the need for the international community to hold Iran accountable for numerous, ongoing atrocities.
Among those human rights violations prominent in the discussion was the state-sponsored massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988.
Evidence suggests senior officials serving in President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet were involved with the 1988 mass murder. The discussion at the National Press Club coincided with the release of a book published by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) titled Iran: Where Mass Murderers Rule and Massacre of 30,000 Political Prisoners and the Continuing Atrocities.
The panel discussion included J. Kenneth Blackwell, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission; Linda Chavez, former Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison; Adam Ereli, former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain and former Deputy Spokesperson for the United States Department of State; Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. ambassador to Morocco and Deputy Senior Adviser to the President of the United States for Middle East Policy; and Soona Samsami, the U.S. Representative of NCRI and an activist for gender equality.
Friday’s panel discussion coincided with the Congressional review of policy options on Iran.
“There is a passage in scripture that says, ‘Those who would do evil love the darkness,’” Blackwell said. “We know that violent, evil regimes love the darkness.” He added, “It is incumbent upon us as individuals, us as nation states, and as communities of nation states to put the pressure on the regime to give access to the community so that we might shine light— individual lights, collective lights, on the evils that were done in the name of the regime … We, in fact, light their candles. We, in fact, help them punch holes in the darkness.”
Blackwell noted that part of his attempts to drive darkness out with light includes his work with the United States delegation at the United Nations with Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Blackwell indicated that he has ongoing communication with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, including a letter he wrote to her on October 6 suggesting the United States mention the 1988 massacre and demand access and action in Iran in this year’s U.N. resolution.
In her October 20 reply to Blackwell, Ambassador Haley wrote that the 1988 massacre is “a concern that we both deeply share.” However, she also wrote, “Although we support including the 1988 massacre in the text, our partners continue to tell us that any explicit reference would risk the success of the resolution altogether, a risk we cannot afford.”
To that, Blackwell told the crowd:
So even within the context of human rights, there is this reluctance to pinpoint and shine light on that atrocity which would give deep insight into the character of the regime. And so when I hear this juxtaposition that we have to worry about speaking out against human rights violations because it might, in fact, affect our negotiations on the nuclear issue, I basically say well who is it that the nuclear threat threatens? The most precious human right, the right to life. So I don’t—I think it’s a false separation. And so in my argument, I basically say we need to know who our partners are that are afraid to let us have access to the 1988 massacre remains, and two, why do we have this false construction of either or? It is a situation where it is both.
In her letter, Haley also said, according to Blackwell, “We are advocating for text that urges Iran to cease practices of enforced disappearances and noted that in addition to urging the Islamic Republic of Iran to cease practices of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention – specifically those that target foreign nationals. In addition, we are working to include language that urges Iran to ensure that individuals in prison have access to legal representation and adequate medical treatment as well as minimum fair trial guarantees.”
Iran’s systematic denial of due process and fair trials for detainees is well documented, as is the government’s use of systematic torture on its prisoners.
Linda Chavez, who was an independent U.S. expert to the Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, said the book’s publication is important because it presents detailed information about the 1988 massacre in a way that has not been done before.
“There were thousands, tens of thousands of people who were subjected to extrajudicial killings,” Chavez told the crowd. “They were put to death, often in public settings … hung from cranes, hung on Friday in the public square so that it would send a message of terror, really, to the Iranian people. But until recently those reports were not substantiated by hard evidence, and they certainly were not admitted to by those in the Iranian government.”
The bodies of those executed were then believed to be dumped into mass graves which have not yet been discovered.
Chavez also noted her belief that things have not changed for women in Iran.
“We have a society in Iran in which it would be an understatement to say half of the population are regarded as second-class citizens,” she said. “Women in Iran are not even given the rights of second-class citizenship. Their word cannot be taken equal to a man’s word in a court of law.”
She added, “Women in Iran continue to be subject to gross human rights violations. They are not treated as equals under this system. And I think one of the most interesting things that we’re seeing, and you can see it even in the pictures in terms of what’s happening today, is that there is a rebellion by the Iranian people.”
Samsami said, “Members of the Iranian regime have acknowledged both the massacre occurred and admitted their role, with pride, in the summer of blood, paving the way for a UN response.” She noted that other political killings have been investigated by the international community, and said that the time is ripe for the 1988 massacre to be investigated by the U.N.
Ginsberg said the 2016 Human Rights Report issued by the State Department, which was the last report under the Obama administration, was whitewashed:
I’m proud as a Democrat, who has been involved in Democratic foreign policy and has worked for Democratic presidents and vice-presidents to express my deep concern that the Obama administration’s willingness to focus all of its energies in concluding an Iran nuclear agreement at the cost of absolving Iran of its human rights violations, of absolving Iran of how it is mistreating dual nationals, of Iran mistreating its people, of Iran, in effect, being given a pass in order for the administration to achieve its desired goal can conclude this agreement.
He added, “If I had been an ambassador in Iran, and had been asked to report—to write this report, there is no way that I would have permitted this report to have been issued by the State Department under the Obama administration. It represents what essentially is a lack of condemnation of human rights violations across the board, while it details in some respects many of the atrocities.”
Since World War II, arguably the three most heinous murders of political prisoners include the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran, the Japanese Army’s death-march of 7,000 American soldiers in 1946, and the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 in which over 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed.