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What can Iranians do to pressure the responsible heads of the current regime outside of Iran?

Source: Salam Toronto


Speeach by Dr. Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law at McGill University at Toronto's Panel

On Saturday September 12, 2009, a panel discussion session was held at York University with the cooperation of several Toronto University Professors as well as many Iranian students attending Toronto Universities. Dr. Payam Akahavan, professor of International Law at McGill University was one of the panelists attending the event. He earned his Doctor of Law at Harvard University and was previously Senior Fellow at Yale Law School and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto. He was the first UN war crimes prosecutor at The Hague, and also served the UN in Bosnia, Cambodia, Guatemala, East Timor, and Rwanda. Below you can read Mr. Akahvan's speech at the Saturday discussion panel.

Dr. Payam Akhavan

This is the reality of crimes against humanity. We are not dealing here with abstractions and concepts. Because behind every victim, there is a name. There is a universe of human emotions and human relations. And only in having that intimidate connections with the horrors that unfolded in the streets and prisons of Iran, can we begin to understand the moral imperative of bringing those that are responsible to justice. Of course crimes against humanity have been an integral part of the way which the Islamic republic has ruled for the past thirty years. The only difference is that the rapes and tortures and murders are now held in the open for everyone to see. Many people who once upon a time thought that it is possible somehow to reform the system or simply could not believe that those who speak in the name of god and Islam and everything that is sacred, are capable of committing such abominations against their own brothers and sisters, now realize that not only is it possible but that this is an instrument by which these rulers stay in power. When we speak about crimes against humanity we have to understand that it is not merely a political slogan. Crimes against humanity in international law emerged after the second world war in the charter of international military tribunal at Nuremberg that prosecuted the top 22 Nazi leaders. In brief, crimes against humanity refers to widespread or systematic human rights abuses such as murder, such as torture such as rape, such as unlawful imprisonment, such as prosecuting people solely because of their political or religious beliefs. The situation in Iran is surely an exemplary instance of crimes against humanity on all accounts.

In short, crimes against humanity describe a situation where human rights violations are not merely the evil deeds of a few bad policemen or prison officials, but where terrorizing people is the integral part of the policy of the state and how it exercises power. Those who are responsible for crimes against humanity obviously include those cowards who in the prisons have raped and tortured and murdered. But those who are most responsible are those that give the orders for such crimes to be committed. Who instigate such crimes through incitement to hatred, or who simply tolerate such conduct. Leaders, whether they're heads of state, supreme leaders, ministers or other public officials; those who order, instigate or tolerate these crimes are no longer leaders. They are simply criminals. And this is a reality which we have fought very long and hard to impress upon the policy makers and decision makers in the international community. Who more often than not will only pursue their narrow self interest oblivious to fundamental presets of human rights. Bringing the leaders of the Islamic republic to justice will be a long process. We should have no illusions that chanting slogans is going to bring us to that reality. The beginning steps of the process should be for the truth to become apparent to all people especially within Iran. Twenty one years after the mass murder of some 4000-5000 leftist political prisoners in Iran, the Islamic republic still does not recognize such an event ever took place. Just a few months ago in Khavaran, a bulldozer dug up the unmarked graves so that there is not a single trace of this mass murder left behind. Why do I mention this? Because the fact that no one was ever brought to justice for that mass murder explains why we're witnessing the crimes that we're witnessing today in Iran. Not only there is a culture of impunity, rather human rights violations are the path to promotion in the Islamic Republic. What happened to those that are responsible for the mass execution of 5000 innocent people in 1988? What can one expect of the government where crimes against humanity is the path to promotion? And I say this point not merely because I understand that all of us feel moral outrage that such impunity has existed but in order to draw a connection between impunity and future crimes.

We cannot understand change in Iran simply through the prism of replacing one group of power hungry tyrants with yet another group of power hungry tyrants whether we call it a Islamic republic, a secular republic, monarchy or whatever system of government. The point is that we have to fundamentally change the roots of power and legitimacy. Power is not a license to kill. Power is a responsibility that is owed by leaders to ensure the rights of each and every Iranian citizen...[Audience Applause] and until.. those that trample human rights under their feet with such violence are not brought to justice, we will never have the future that we all want to build. We will never have a culture in Iran which is based on the dignity of all human beings. Getting to this stage is going to be a difficult task.

In the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center that some colleagues and I established 5 years ago, we prepared a number of detailed investigative reports that have set forth the various episodes of crimes against humanity that have been committed in Iran. You can visit the website of Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre to read some of these reports. The most recent of which is the most comprehensive report detailing what happened in 1988 and who was responsible and if you look at that report you see that the perpetrators are a whose who of all the leaders that today are exercising power in Iran. The documentation of these crimes is important because while these individuals may be in power today, they may not be tomorrow. That's one of the lessons I learned as the UN war crimes prosecutor at The Hague when the president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic who was responsible for ethnic cleansing was untouchable and all the western policy makers told us that you're a fool for believing that he will ever be brought to justice because he is in power and we need to negotiate with him and be realistic. Some years later, in a velvet revolution lead by the students of Serbia, he was overthrown and a year later he was being prosecuted at the The Hague. We need to ensure that these crimes are documented in a credible way. We need to ensure this until the time comes when we can prosecute these people whether at the The Hague or preferable before the courts of Iran in a democratic state. We need to ensure these people are not allowed to set foot outside of Iran. That they're not allowed to have bank accounts and investments and to move about freely. Why is it that Mr. Mashaie freely came to Canada in March of this year when Shadi Sadr, a woman rights lawyer was denied visa to come to professor Rahnema's conference. I won't surpass my time limit anymore but I just want to end by saying that we have to all unite and shout together with once voice and tell the rulers of Iran that we will never forget their torture and crimes against the people of Iran. And even though they have the power at hand today, be sure that they will be sitting at the prosecution tables one day.

... Payvand News - 09/25/09 ... --

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