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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

summary executions of thousands of jailed Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and Tudeh Party members in 1988,61 to the assassinations of more than eighty intellectuals, political and social activists, and ordinary citizens inside the country during a ten year period from 1988 to 1998.62 It is uncontrovertibly clear that the regime’s campaign of extrajudicial killings, whether conducted domestically or abroad, violates customary law and the ICCPR’s guarantee of the right to life, enshrined in Article 6 of the Covenant.63 To the extent that any of these killings occurred within the context of armed international or civil conflict involving Iranian military/security personnel, the regime’s actions may have also amounted to war crimes pursuant to the Geneva Conventions.

4. Relevant Instruments of International Law Prohibiting Assassinations


Iran’s campaign of political assassinations abroad triggers the applicability of several important legal instruments under international law. These instruments include but are not limited to international treaties, conventions, resolutions and declarations promulgated by the various bodies and agencies of the United Nations (U.N.), rulings by international courts and tribunals, holdings by national courts made pursuant to domestic legislation, and customary norms of international law. The most important of these instruments is the ICCPR. Examination of the rights and obligations provided by the ICCPR provides ample proof that the Iranian regime has persistently and systematically engaged in a campaign of extrajudicial murder that violates the most fundamental of all human rights: the right to life.

4.1. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

As discussed earlier, the Covenant declares that all member states are required to “respect and to ensure to all individuals within [their] territory and subject to [their] jurisdiction” all rights recognized by the Covenant irrespective of “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”64 The beneficiaries of these rights are individuals.65 In an important decision interpreting the jurisdictional applicability of the Covenant, the Human Rights Committee (Committee) held that the protections guaranteed by the Covenant are not limited to a state’s actions within its territorial boundaries.66 Noting that

[61] See Kaveh Shahrooz, With Revolutionary Rage and Rancor: A Preliminary Report on the 1988 Massacre of Iran’s Political Prisioners, 20 HARV. HUM. RTS. J. 227, 230-34 (2007).
[62] The regime’s campaign of state-sponsored assassination against domestic dissenters culminated in 1998, with the chain murders of high profile intellectuals such as Dariush Forouhar, Parvaneh Eskandari, Mohammad Jaf’ar Pouyandeh, and Mohammad Mokhtari to name a few. See Payvand, http://www.payvand.com/news/01/jan/1053.html (last visited Oct. 31, 2008). Investigations inside the country suggested, that like their counterparts abroad, the regime’s domestic victims were eliminated as part of a systematic and well orchestrated campaign of terror planned and implemented by elements inside the Ministry of Intelligence. See id
[63] In addition, the Islamic Republic’s targeted killings of political dissidents violate other fundamental human rights guarantees, including the right to judicial due process and the freedom(s) of thought, religion, and assembly. See ICCPR arts. 9, 14, 18, 21, supra note 10. See also infra § 4.1.1 for a more in-depth discussion of Article 6 of the Covenant.
[64]ICCPR art. 2, supra note 10 (emphasis added).
[65]U.N. Human Rights Committee, General Comment 31, Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on State Parties to the Covenant, para. 9, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13 (May 26, 2004).
[66]See Burgos/Delia Saldias de Lopez v. Uruguay (Communication No. 52/1979 (July 29, 1981), U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/OP/1 (1984)). The phrase “individuals subject to its jurisdiction” is not a reference to the place where violations take place, “but rather to the relationship between the individual and the State in relation to a violation of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant, wherever they occurred (emphasis added).” Id. para. 12.2.

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom