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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

Arguably, the most important guarantee articulated in the “fair hearing” principle enshrined in Article 14 provides that all individuals are “entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law” in accordance with international standards codified in the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.115 The competence requirement necessitates that a member state’s tribunal exercise proper subject matter, territorial and temporal jurisdiction over the accused individual pursuant to established laws.116 A tribunal’s independence, on the other hand, assumes a separation of powers in which the courts and judiciary are institutionally insulated from improper interference and persuasion by other branches of government.117 Finally, impartiality requires that the judiciary conduct its proceedings fairly and free of bias regarding the ultimate outcome of the case.118

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran addresses some of the rights guaranteed by the due process and “fair hearing” protections of Articles 9 and 14 of the Covenant. For example, the Constitution provides for equality before the law,119 the swift charging of an arrestee pursuant to established laws,120 judicial access and recourse to a competent court,121 the right to counsel,122 the right to sentencing (including execution) by a competent court123 and the presumption of innocence.124 The existence of these constitutional provisions signifies the regime’s attempt at compliance with Articles 2, 9, and 14 guarantees, and at least an implicit acknowledgment that the regime is bound by the “fair hearing” requirements of the Covenant. Yet notwithstanding these codified protections, there is overwhelming evidence that these enumerated protections either fail, in principle, to satisfy all the minimum ICCPR requirements, or that the relevant authorities willfully disregard the applicability of these provisions in practice.125

Since 1979, the Iranian judiciary and members of the clergy loosely affiliated with it have sanctioned the killings of numerous political dissidents. The period directly following the downfall of the Shah’s regime was marked by the summary indictment, imprisonment, and often, execution of hundreds of political figures by ad hoc revolutionary courts.126 In situations where

[115]Adopted by the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders held at Milan from 26 August to 6 September 1985 and endorsed by General Assembly resolutions 40/32, U.N. Doc. A/RES/40/32 (Nov. 29, 1985) and 40/146, U.N. Doc. A/RES/40/146 (Dec. 13, 1985) [hereinafter UN Basic Principles on the Judiciary].
[116]Id. para. 3.
[117]See id. paras. 1-2, 4, 6. The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary also identifies some additional features necessary to achieve judicial independence, including objective requirements used to select judges and assess their qualifications, guaranteed tenure, and fair disciplinary proceedings for the removal of judges. Id. paras 10-20.
[118]Id. paras. 2, 8; see also Olo Bahamonde v. Equatorial Guinea, U.N. Human Rights Comm., Comm’n no.468/1991, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/49/D/468/1991 (1993); Findlay v. UK (ECHR), app. no. 22107/93 (Feb. 25, 1997).
[119]Qanun-i Assassiyih Jumhuriyih Islamiyih Iran [CONSTITUTION OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN] 1358 [1980] art. 20, available at www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ir00000_.html (last visited Oct. 31, 2008) [hereinafter IRI CONSTITUTION].
[120]Id. art. 32.
[121]Id. art. 34.
[122]Id. art. 35.
[123]Id. art. 36.
[124]Id. art. 37.
[125]See, e.g., Team Will Kill Shah’s Family, Judge Vows, THE GLOBE AND MAIL (Can.), Dec. 18, 1979 (quoting Sadegh Khalkhali as stating that “we will execute without trial all members of the family, the Shah [empress Farah Diba], all of them and all the dignitaries of the old regime and [ex premier Shapour] Bakhtiar”); see also NO SAFE HAVEN, supra note 25, at Appendix 3.
[126]See NO SAFE HAVEN, supra note 25, at 5-6; see also DAVID MENASHRI, IRAN: A DECADE OF WAR AND REVOLUTION 83 (1990).

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom