Monday, 28 February 2011

Iran Tribunal to investigate Ayatollah's hidden legacy

As the Arab uprising is breathing a new life into the Iranian opposition, a remarkable new venture is slowly gathering pace outside the country: a sort of Russell Tribunal to investigate possible crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Iranian regime in the 1980s – especially in the summer of 1988.

In the summer of 1988, the Islamic Republic of Iran executed in secret a large number of political prisoners across the country – men, women and children. The killing was ordered by a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini. The victims were intellectuals, students, leftists, members of opposition parties and ethnic and religious minorities. Many were jailed for no more than distributing leaflets, having a banned book or being accused by “a trusted friend of the regime.”

The estimated number of victims ranks between 4,000 and 7,000.  The massacre was the climax of a massive elimination process executed by the regime from 1981 to 1988, under which around 20,000 dissidents disappeared, either dying under torture or being executed by firing squads. (Read my article on the massacre in the Toronto Star.)

The regime has never acknowledged the massacre, revealed how many were executed nor why. The execution of such a large number of people within such a short time and without any due process, violates many international human rights treaties to which Iran is signatory; yet the world has remained largely silent (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch tried to raise the alarm, but the world was not interested). Most of the perpetrators are still in power today.

Many believe that the absence of accountability for those crimes has led to the culture of impunity so rampant in today’s Iran, where intellectuals are murdered, women stoned, students tortured.

“Nobody has been brought to justice,” Drewery Dyke, Amnesty International’s Iran researcher, told me when I interviewed him for a piece about the massacre in the New Internationalist (read it here). “Impunity for such appalling crimes only leads to further human rights abuse.”

This picture is part of Prison Memoir in Painting by Iranian artist Soudabeh Ardavan. She spent eight years in Iranian prisons and survived the 1988 massacre. She painted this and many other prison's paintings by using her hair as a brush and toothpaste or tea as paint. She now lives in exile in Sweden.

Over the past 22 years, survivors of the massacre and families of the victims have pleaded for justice before the international community – to no avail. Every September since 1988, they have commemorated the massacre in Iran and all over the world, holding vigils, organizing rallies and seminars, and disseminating information on the internet — willing the world to listen, acknowledge and condemn the terrible events the Islamic Republic wants the world to forget. But no one is listening.

So now, the survivors and families of the victims have decided to act on their own.   They have set up the Iran Tribunal – a sort of Russell Tribunal to investigate these crimes and judge them according to international law.

Like the second and more recently established Russell Tribunal - the Russell Tribunal on Palestine -  the Iran Tribunal won’t have any legal status, but will act as a Tribunal of conscience to deal with violations of international law that have not been recognized nor dealt with by existing international jurisdictions.

After two and a half years of groundwork and preparation, the Iran Tribunal recently formed a Steering Committee, in charge of organizing the tribunal, selecting judges, prosecutors and defense teams and the jury.   The committee is comprised of prominent jurists and human rights activists from Iran and around the world, and chaired by John Cooper QC, a British criminal law and human rights barrister.
The Tribunal is expected to be operational by early 2012. For more information, click here.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Global day of action in support of peaceful protestors in Egypt

Thousands of Amnesty International supporters, Egyptian activists, trade unionists, students and others will come together at a mass rally in Trafalgar Square in central London, and elsewhere in the world, this Saturday (12 February) to mark a “Global Day of Action” in solidarity with protestors in Egypt and the wider region, who are demanding greater human rights.

 With a large screen providing a TV link-up with protestors in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, the event is being billed as a “Trafalgar to Tahrir” act of solidarity, with social media activists live-tweeting and uploading solidarity images in real time.

 Saturday’s event  is part of a series of global solidarity demonstrations on 12 February being held in around 20 countries, including Australia, USA, Spain, France, South Korea and Norway.

The event is organised by Amnesty International and supported by the ITUC, Human Rights Watch, the NUS, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network and the Arab Program for Human Rights Activists among others. For a full list, click here.  

In Trafalgar Square, demonstrators wearing red, black or white clothing and face paint (the colours of the Egyptian flag) will assemble at 12 noon to hear speeches from Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation chair’s Bianca Jagger, CAABU Director Chris Doyle and young Egyptian activists, among others.

 AI’s Salil Shetty said:

 “We are gathering in Trafalgar Square and public places like this around the world to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Egypt and those across the region who are standing up for their human rights.

 “Their demand and ours is for an end to repression and for fundamental human rights reforms so that all people can live in dignity. We stand in solidarity with the protesters and we stand in defiance against those who oppose human rights change.

 "We want the people of Egypt to know that while governments outside Egypt may be wavering in their support for change, the people's movements are not.”

 In recognition of the part played by social media activists in the protests, people who cannot be present at the event are being asked to upload solidarity images here to. Some of these images will be displayed on the Trafalgar Square screen during the rally.

 The event is being communicated on social media via the hashtag #feb12Global and will be live tweeted @amnestyuk

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Afghan women need equal seat at peace table

I went to an interesting lecture by Zainab Salbi at the LSE about the need for women in Afghanistan to participate fully in peace negotiations in their country. Salbi is the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, a grassroots humanitarian and development organisation helping women survivors of wars rebuild their lives. 

After a decade of war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, US and UK governments are talking about bringing their troops back in the near future.  As the Taliban is unlikely to be defeated, the Afghan government has started negotiating with hardline militia.  And Afghan women fear this will be at the detriment of their hard-won rights.

While the treatment of Afghan women at the hands of the Taliban was cited as a key reason for invading the country, women’s rights are now seen as a secondary issue.

Salbi, who has testified before the US senate, says: "There is a clear, clear opinion (among US politicians) that women's rights were a) not that relevant and b) irreconcilable with peace in Afghanistan."

Women are excluded from taking full part in the peace negotiations, which will determine the future of their country.   “But progress and peace start with women,” said Salbi, who grew up in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq war.

 “There is no peace without women.”  Not only women bear the brunt of war, but they are the ones who keep families and communities together. They bring stability and help rebuild countries.

Women for Women International is demanding that women have an equal seat at the negotiating table and an equal voice in determining their future and the future of their country.  WFWI is circulating a petition, which will be presented to your Foreign Secretary of State, calling for urgent action so that Afghan women can play a full part in the peace negotiations.