Human Rights are the Key to Confronting Iran

The US can strike the Achilles’ heel of the ayatollahs at no cost and at no peril by focusing on their abuses at home.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

By Ken Blackwell Published on September 18, 2017

The Trump administration is set to initiate a new Iran policy, which will be announced in October. Thank goodness.

The flawed nuclear agreement in 2015 provided too many concessions. It included giving tens of billions of dollars to the Iranian regime. And it followed decades of deceit and lying in pursuit of the nuclear bomb.

Tehran’s nuclear program continues and its military sites remain off limits to inspectors. But more than that, the Obama administration’s agreement has resulted in more egregious conduct by the ayatollahs. They’ve sponsored terror and Islamic extremism, cooperated with North Korea in pursuit of ballistic missiles and cracked down on domestic dissent.

The new policy will reportedly include clipping the Iranian regime’s wings in Syria and Iraq. And it will put more pressure on Tehran in response to its repeated ballistic missile tests.

“Now more than ever, human rights matters,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley articulated on September 15. She gave a White House press briefing alongside National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. “We say all the time if the government does not take care of its people, bad things will happen.”

Conspiracy of Silence on the 1988 Massacre

Iran is a prime example. It remains the country with the highest reported rate of executions per capita and “since the beginning of the year at least four children have been put to death, and at least 89 other children remain on death row.”

In some cases, specific instances of human rights abuse have become rallying points for comprehensive movements to bring totalitarian regimes to justice. This was the case with the massacre of thousands of Chilean dissidents following the coup by General Augusto Pinochet. Iran has a similar archetype for the current regime’s abuse.

The clerical regime’s founder tried to crush an overwhelmingly popular pro-democracy movement in the summer of 1988. Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering that all the regime’s political prisoners who did not repent should be summarily executed, without mercy.

The 1988 massacre is the hallmark of the Iranian regime’s dreadful human rights abuses. But none of the regime’ factions can or want to distance themselves from this crime.

As a result, “death commissions” were set up in prisons throughout the country. They were mandated to hold minutes-long trials of existing political prisoners and determine which of them would remain loyal to democratic resistance. Over the course of a single summer, some 30,000 political prisoners were sent to the gallows and were secretly buried in mass graves. The vast majority of them were activists of the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

The ayatollahs enforced a conspiracy of silence on the 1988 massacre for nearly 30 years. But in August 2016, an audio recording was released of a meeting held in 1988 with Khomeini’s heir-apparent at the time, Hossein Ali Montazeri. Montazeri lambasted the officials responsible for the massacre, condemning the incident as “the worst crime of the Islamic Republic.”

Since last year the 1988 massacre has been a major social issue in Iran and the campaign calling for justice for the victims of the 1988 massacre has expanded both in Iran and abroad. All efforts to neutralize this movement have failed, putting the regime in a corner. In June, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly warned that the critics were calling the wrong party victims.

The 1988 massacre is the hallmark of the Iranian regime’s dreadful human rights abuses. But none of the regime’ factions can or want to distance themselves from this crime.

In his first term as the president, Hassan Rouhani appointed Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a member of the Death Commission, as his Justice Minister. Now, in his second term, he has appointed Alireza Avaie as Minister of Justice. Avaie is yet another perpetrator of the massacre in southern province of Khuzistan. The European Union has already designated and sanctioned him for being directly involved in violations of human rights.

Place Human Rights at the Center

After a 28-year hiatus, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran raised the issue of 1988 massacre in her report to the UN Secretary General in September. “Overwhelming evidence shows that thousands of persons were summarily killed. Recently, these killings have been acknowledged by some at the highest levels of the State,” she reported.

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Yet, there’s never been an independent, international investigation of the massacre. According to many legal experts, the massacre is one of the biggest crimes against humanity since World War II. Yet the ayatollahs impunity has continued.

The Trump administration should place human rights at the center of a new Iran policy.

The Trump administration should place human rights at the center of a new Iran policy.

Specifically, Ambassador Haley, who has shown moral authority and principled firmness at the UN, should demand that a UN commission investigate the 1988 massacre. This fall’s UN General Assembly will see a new censure resolution on Tehran’s human rights abuses. This is the best place to start demanding such an investigation.

Doing so will send a very strong and unmistakable signal to the Iranians at home and abroad. The message? That the US has adopted a new policy and stands on Iranians’ side.

It will demonstrate to the regime’s top officials that the era of impunity is over.

It will also place the US on the moral high ground on Iran policy in dealing with its European partners.

The Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi has described this as a “litmus test” of the international community’s adherence to human rights principles.

The US can strike the Achilles’ heel of the ayatollahs at no cost and at no peril by focusing on their abuses at home. And there is nowhere better to start than demanding a UN investigation of the 1988 massacre during this session of the UN General Assembly.

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