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Haunted Memories: The Islamic Republic’s Executions of Kurds in 1979

right to life, there is no permitted derogation from the international protections of freedom of thought, conscience or religious belief. 222

Ayatollah Khomeini, recognizing the legitimacy of these basic freedoms, promised before the creation of the Islamic Republic that “in an Islamic government, all people have freedom to express any opinion.” 223 The Constitution of the Islamic Republic eventually codified these rights. Article 24 sets forth the right to freedom of expression,224 and Article 26 sets forth the right to freedom of association.225 Article 9 provides that:

No authority has the right to abrogate legitimate freedoms, not even by enacting laws and regulations for that purpose, under the pretext of preserving the independence and territorial integrity of the country. 226

The regime, led by Ayatollah Khomeini violated the rights of the executed men and boys to freedom of expression and association. Hundreds of people, men women and children, were arrested for belonging to or supporting secular political parties. A 12 year old was arrested because he had some KDPI literature. Many of the executed were convicted by Khalkhali and his deputies for belonging to political parties and opposition groups, or supporting such groups.

5.3. Right to Redress

The Islamic regime violated its obligations to bring those responsible for violations of the ICCPR and Iranian law to justice. It is required “to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms ... are violated shall have an effective remedy.”227 The U.N. Human Rights Committee has affirmed that state parties must ensure that individuals responsible for violations of the ICCPR are brought to justice. Failure to do so is itself a violation of the agreement. The Committee maintains that “reparation can involve restitution, rehabilitation and measures of satisfaction, such as public apologies, public memorials, guarantees of non-repetition and changes in relevant laws and practices, as well as bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations.”228

Khomeini recognized that perpetrators of human rights violations should be punished. He decreed that executions carried out for reasons other than serious crimes would constitute manslaughter. Similarly, Khalkhali knew that what he was doing violated the law. At the time, the U.N. Sub-commission on Human Rights condemned his execution orders.229 In at least one interview, he defended himself and attempted to justify his actions by linking the accused to national security concerns.230 However, the regime not only failed to prosecute him for manslaughter, it rewarded him with other positions of power and privileged status until his death in 2003.


[222] U.N. Human Rights Comm., General Comment No. 22, Article 18: Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion, ¶¶ 1, 3, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4, at 1-2 (July 30, 1993), available athttp://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docId/453883fb22.html.
[223] RUHOLLAH KHOMEINI, SAHIFIHYIH NUR [Vessel of Light], Vol. 3 (1983).
[224] IRANIAN CONST., supra note 204 art. 24. Article 24 states: “Publications and the press have freedom of expression except when it is detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.”
[225] Id. art. 26. Article 26 states: “The formation of parties, societies, political or professional associations, as well as religious societies, whether Islamic or pertaining to one of the recognized religious minorities, is permitted provided they do not violate the principles of independence, freedom, national unity, the criteria of Islam, or the basis of the Islamic Republic. No one may be prevented from participating in the aforementioned groups, or be compelled to participate in them.”
[226] Id. art. 9. Article 9 encourages Iranian citizens to broadly and actively participate in society and thereby guarantee the rejection of “tyranny” and “economic monopoly.”
[227] ICCPR, supra note 208, art. 2(3)(a).
[228] U.N. Human Rights Comm., General Comment No. 31 [80], The Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ¶ 18, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (May 26, 2004), available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/478b26ae2.html. [hereinafter General Comment No. 31]. General Comment No. 31 also provides that “all branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial), and other public or governmental authorities, at whatever level—national, regional or local—are in a position to engage the responsibility” of each state party. Id. ¶ 4.
[229] Thurgood, Government Admits to Massacre of Kurds, GUARDIAN, Sept. 10, 1979, at 7, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[230] 40 Nafar dar Sanandaj, Mariwan va Saqqez Tirbaran Shudand [40 People Were Executed by a Firing Squad in Sanandaj, Mariwan and Saqqez], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 28, 1979], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.

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