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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

Given the central role of the Special Affairs Committee and the Ministry of Intelligence in the assassination of dissidents abroad, there is a high likelihood that command responsibility could be imputed to many high ranking members of these two agencies. This is especially true of the permanent members of the Special Affairs Committee, which included the Supreme Leader, the President of the Republic, the Speaker of the Majlis, the Minister of Intelligence, and the heads of the Judiciary.264 This committee was responsible for spearheading the effort to silence opposition abroad by recommending individuals for assassination.265 Once the recommendation had been approved by the Supreme Leader, the committee would arrange for the Ministry of Intelligence or the Quds Force to carry out the assassination.266

In addition to the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, high ranking individuals who may carry command responsibility liability for the commission of assassinations abroad include, but are not limited to: Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Reyshahri, Ali Fallahian, Mohsen Riza’i, Ali Akbar Velayati, Reza Seyfollahi, Ayatollah Khaz’ali, Hassan Rouhani and Ali Larijani. Although a particular member of the Committee may not have been directly involved in the murder of dissidents, it is likely that all members were aware of the Committee’s role in the killings of dissidents abroad. Individual members, therefore, probably had at least constructive knowledge that the extrajudicial killings of Iranian dissidents would be committed and failed to do anything to prevent the commission of the assassinations (or punish the perpetrators). Although it is unclear whether any individual member exercised effective control over the agents who ultimately executed the targeted killings,267 their positions as executive heads of agencies directly involved in the planning and commission of the assassinations strongly suggest the existence of a superior-subordinate relationship between them and the perpetrators of the assassinations. Further inquiry into the inner workings of the Special Affairs Committee is needed to establish whether individual members were criminally accountable pursuant to the doctrine of command responsibility.

6. Conclusion

It is the judgment of the IHRDC that Iran’s global campaign of political assassinations abroad amounts to a crime against humanity. The campaign evinced a widespread and systematic character and was directed at the highest levels of the Iranian state. More specifically, a number of leading regime figures including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Reyshahri, Ali Fallahian, Mohsen Riza’i, Ali Akbar Velayati, Reza Seyfollahi, Ayatollah Khaz’ali, Hassan Rouhani and Ali Larijani may all bear a direct criminal responsibility for these actions.

At present, there seem to be relatively few logistical (and political) avenues by which high ranking regime elements involved with Iran’s campaign of foreign assassinations can be brought to justice. Yet legal channels do exist. Domestic indictments and prosecutions, such as those leveled against former Iranian Intelligence chief Ali Fallahian in Argentina, Germany and Switzerland offer some hope, particularly in situations where the perpetrators of these crimes come within the jurisdiction of the countries concerned. Criminal prosecutions based on universal jurisdiction and customary norms, whether they occur in the domestic courts of a U.N. member state or as part of a future ad hoc tribunal charged with prosecuting and convicting high ranking Iranian officials responsible for crimes against humanity, also remain a possibility. In the absence of effective opportunities to secure criminal convictions, however, prosecutors and families of victims should continue to employ innovative civil legal strategies in order to hold the Iranian regime financially accountable for its actions.

To bring the perpetrators of Iran’s state-directed violence to justice requires great resolve and perseverance. It is the hope of the IHRDC that at the very least this report (and its companions No Safe Haven and Murder at Mykonos) informs, educates and inspires victims, human rights advocates, government authorities and members of the public to remain steadfast in their pursuit to bring the Islamic Republic to account for its violations of the most fundamental of human rights: the right to life.

[264]See NO SAFE HAVEN, supra note 25, at 8-9; MURDER AT MYKONOS, supra note 35, at 6-7.
[265]NO SAFE HAVEN, supra note 25, at 8-9.
[267]This is, of course, not the case for Ali Akbar Velayati, who was indirectly implicated in the killings of Dr. Sharafkandi and his comrades in Berlin, Germany. MURDER AT MYKONOS, supra note 35, at 18.

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom