The case of expelling the Iranian President from the UN and then holding him accountable in court

Ebrahim Raisi, the President of the Iranian regime, intends to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly later this month.

Shortly after it became clear that he might be permitted to visit New York City for the event, a group of Iranian expatriates filed a lawsuit against Raisi in US District Court. They want to hold him accountable for crimes against humanity. If he enters the USA, the lawsuit against him will be served on him.

I am one of the plaintiffs.

If Raisi were openly backed by the UN and/or its senior member states, it would amount to whitewashing of gross violations of international law, including perhaps the greatest unsolved crimes against humanity of the second half of the 20th century. It would also give Raisi undue legitimacy, little more than a year after he was appointed to the position after a nationwide election boycott.

This boycott was accompanied by countless protests condemning Raisi as the “butcher of Tehran”. The label comes largely from Raisi’s previous role as one of the four officers on Tehran’s “Death Commission” that oversaw key aspects of a nationwide massacre of political prisoners in 1988. The massacre killed about 30,000 people in total, most of them the death toll from Evin Prison and Gohardasht Prison, the two facilities Raisi was in charge of.

My own brother Mahmoud served a prison sentence in 1988 for taking part in rallies and distributing literature for the main pro-democracy opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). In the run-up to the massacre, my family awaited Mahmoud’s release. But instead the authorities ordered my other brother to Evin prison and told him that Mahmoud had been executed. His body was not given to us at the time, and now, more than 34 years later, we still have no definitive information about his resting place.

Mahmoud Hassani’s story tragically typifies what is still being told by the tens of thousands of families who lost loved ones during the massacre and have been crying out for accountability ever since. The massacre was triggered by a fatwa by then-Supreme Leader Khomeini specifically targeting the MEK. Their members make up at least 90 percent of the victims of the massacre. Each of the plaintiffs in the case against Raisi is a current supporter of the same organization, which has steadily gained greater organizational strength, enabling it to challenge the regime both domestically and internationally.

The UN and its member states must recognize that Tehran’s fear of these challenges makes figures like Raisi an even greater threat to the Iranian people and also to the regime’s foreign opponents. Raisi’s appointment last year was part of a strategy to consolidate power and quell dissent after several recent nationwide uprisings.

With Raisi as President, the regime has more than doubled its execution rate compared to last year, while initiating terrorist attacks against the MEK’s headquarters in Albania, as well as against Western supporters of that organization, such as former US National Security Advisor John Bolton and ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

These trends are indicative of Tehran’s continued commitment to the policies and concepts underlying the 1988 massacre. Such trends should have been clear long before the US and UN signaled their willingness to include him this month. In 2019, when Raisi was chief of justice, he played a key role in crushing a nationwide uprising in November of that year. More than 1,500 peaceful protesters were killed that month alone, and many others were extensively tortured in the months that followed.

Such crimes, which took place more than three decades after the 1988 massacre, are vivid evidence of the Iranian regime’s impunity. Raisi’s appointment as President was described by Amnesty International at the time as a “dark reminder that impunity is paramount”. The organization’s secretary-general said unequivocally that rather than rise to the regime’s second-highest office, Raisi “should have been investigated for crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture.”

But his rise to the presidency is no reason to give up the prospect of such an investigation, not even a year after his inauguration. It’s certainly no reason to legitimize the butcher of Tehran or to gloss over his past deeds. But the US would do just that if they granted him a visa to enter New York.

Of course, if the authorities granted him this visa with the express intention of taking our complaint to him and taking steps to hold him accountable in court, that would be a different matter. But if the international community really wants to signal that the era of impunity in Tehran is over, Raisi should be barred from speaking at the UN and legal action taken against him anyway.

Ahmad Hassani is a mechanical engineer. He lives in Ottawa. The case of expelling the Iranian President from the UN and then holding him accountable in court

Fry Electronics Team

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