Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad
This legal report complements two earlier IHRDC publications documenting Iran’s statesponsored campaign of political assassinations abroad: Murder at Mykonos: Anatomy of a Political Assassination (2007), and No Safe Haven: Iran’s Global Assassination Campaign (2008). The two prior reports meticulously present facts surrounding the preparation, planning and commission of assassinations of political opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran during a twenty-seven year period following the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. These reports reveal the operation of a sophisticated intelligence and security network designed to pursue and eliminate the regime’s critics wherever they sought refuge.
The regime’s campaign can be traced to nearly twenty countries around the world, from neighboring Pakistan and Iraq, to far-flung locations such as France, the Philippines and the United States. Victims specifically addressed in the two previous reports are but a sampling of the more than one hundred and sixty dissidents who dared challenge the clerical establishment’s grip on the country. The regime’s campaign of global assassinations is, therefore, essentially an extension of its consolidation of power within the country’s borders. It is an exercise in operational and psychological intimidation – a message to all dissidents seeking refuge abroad that the regime’s long reach is not limited by national boundaries.
The international community has slowly begun to hold the Islamic Republic accountable for its acts of violence on foreign soil. Since 1979, at least twenty officials, agents or proxies of the Islamic Republic have been tried and convicted of involvement in the orchestrated killings of Iranian dissidents and others abroad. Arguably, the two most significant prosecutions to date were the indictments surrounding the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994, and the 1993-97 trial surrounding the assassinations, detailed in Murder at Mykonos, of several members of a Iranian-Kurdish dissident group in Berlin, Germany. In an unprecedented move, Argentinean and German prosecutors indicted high ranking officials of the regime, including former Ministry of Intelligence head Ali Fallahian, former President Hojjatoleslam Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati on criminal charges connected to the killings of these civilians.
To date, none of these high ranking officials has been brought to justice. Nonetheless, the Mykonos trial conducted in the aftermath of the Berlin assassinations exposed the Islamic Republic’s modus operandi and subjected the regime’s high ranking officials and criminal masterminds to judicial scrutiny for the first time. The trial revealed the intimate involvement of various organs of the Islamic Republic in the widespread and systematic assassination of dissidents abroad. Eye witness testimony and evidence compiled by various intelligence agencies around the world exposed a chain of command linking Supreme Leaders Ayatollah Khomeini and successor Ayatollah Khamenei to the agents charged with the actual commission of the killings abroad. At the heart of this operation were members of the Special Affairs Counsel, appointed by the Supreme Leader to spearhead the campaign to stifle political opposition abroad, and the regime’s security and intelligence ministries, the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, an elite commando unit. Agents employed by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Quds Force were charged with the overall planning and implementation of the assassinations. In addition to employing Iranian agents, the regime also relied upon the assistance of its proxies and mercenaries such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. For this reason, the Mykonos trial provided an invaluable logistical and conceptual legal model for those seeking to expose the regime and its officials for its campaign of targeted killings committed abroad. The regime’s transgressions do not merely violate the criminal laws of the jurisdictions in which the assassinations took place – they also implicate an array of international legal norms and obligations. Viewed within this context, this report aims to supplement the two previous reports in order to construct a powerful and comprehensive indictment, based on the rule of law, of the regime’s state-sponsored campaign of assassinations abroad.