This week in London a Truth Commission on the treatment of political prisoners in Iran during the 1980s is sitting at Amnesty International UK’s headquarters. The Commissioners consist of several distinguished legal academics, including Prof. Maurice Copithorne (former Special Rapporteur on Iran), Prof. Eric David (member of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission), Prof. Daniel Turp, Louise Asmal, Anne Burley and myself.
We’ve been hearing testimony from victims of the violations as well as from family members who had relatives that were murdered in the torture chambers of the Iranian prisons, hanged or executed by firing squad.
As a general rule, the victims were secular leftists associated with a range of political organisations. Some were also associated with Kurdish nationalist movements. The accounts are appalling, for example, of sympathizers with political groups being rounded up and questioned about their religion views. If the answer was not to the satisfaction of their fundamentalist interrogators, they would be summarily executed. Torture was routinely practised using a variety of horrific techniques.
Those testifying before the Commission have travelled from around the world in order to record their accounts. This is a phenomenon that I observed in Sierra Leone a decade ago, when I sat as a member of that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For many victims, a measure of justice is delivered by public acknowledgement that violations took place. Even if this week’s Truth Commission does little else, it will provide these victims with an appropriate forum.
The hearings are very well attended. Often I see people sobbing or wiping their eyes as the testimony is delivered. The witnesses themselves conduct themselves with great dignity and determination, although it is clear that there is also much anguish involved in delivering their accounts. One witness told us that he had never before spoken of the events, which took place twenty-five years ago.
At the end of the week, we will begin drafting a report which will be used for a second stage in this process. A Tribunal is to be established that will make legal determinations based on the facts that the Truth Commission confirms.