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International Tribunal To Investigate 2019 Iran Protests

Maryam Sinaiee

Justice for Iran, a London-based human rights NGO, on November 14 announced the establishment a ‘people’s tribunal’ to investigate “atrocities” and “human rights violations by Iran” during November 2019 protests that left hundreds dead.

The tribunal, announced on the protests’ first anniversary, will see international lawyers investigate human rights violations and judge whether they contravene international law, a statement released by Justice for Iran said.

It will convene early in 2021 to receive evidence from victims and expert witnesses during three days of hearings in The Hague, and will announce its judgement in April 2021.  The tribunal is a joint initiative of Justice for Iran, Iran Human Rights, and the world coalition Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM).

The tribunal has been named Aban Tribunal after the month of Aban (corresponding to October 23 to November 21) in the Iranian calendar, and which has come to be known since the protests as ‘Bloody Aban’ in Iran.

Among those supporting the initiative is Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, a British barrister who was prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Nice said that ‘people’s tribunals’ could “fill gaps in knowledge and information, created because national and international bodies fear to tell the truth” and that the Aban Tribunal would “set a proper historical record of what happened in November 2019.”

The nationwide protests began on the evening of November 15 after a sudden tripling of fuel prices and lasted over a week. Hundreds were killed and thousands were arrested by security forces during protests that soon acquired political edge. The authorities shut down the Internet for a week to prevent the circulation of videos and images as security forces used live ammunition, metal pellets and tear gas.

Iran has never officially announced figures for deaths or arrests but Amnesty International has reported the killing of at least 304 protesters including at least 23 minors. Reuters on December 23, 2019 said three sources close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s inner circle had confirmed he had grown impatient and ordered officials to stop the protests. According to Reuters about 1,500 people were killed in the two weeks after November 15.

Iranian authorities have not only refused victims’ families’ calls for investigations and punishment of those responsible, but have also allegedly tried to silence them with threats and even imprisonment.  Sentences are still being meted out for participation in the protests.

“The establishment of this tribunal is urgent and necessary. When the international community turns a blind eye to such atrocities, those who know what happened have a moral responsibility to bring about justice and accountability,” Shadi Sadr, Executive Director of Justice for Iran said, according to the Justice for Iran statement. “This Tribunal will resolve – swiftly but fairly – the truth of what are said to be terrible crimes by an over-powerful state,” said Nice.

Independent reports by eminent lawyers and ‘people’s tribunals’ have filled a gap left by the limited progress of international jurisdiction. World powers have tended to resist what they see as interference in ‘internal affairs,’ with the United States and China refusing to join the International Criminal Court.

In 2011, the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center commissioned British lawyer Geoffrey Robertson to investigate a wave of prison executions in Iran in 1988. Robertson’s report, written after interviews with witnesses, concluded there was a strong prima facia case against all involved: “The basic prohibitions – against arbitrary execution, torture and unfair trials – are all jus cogens rules of international law – i.e. principles so fundamental that no nation may breach or opt out of them.”

By Maryam Sinaee 

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