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Condemned by Law: Assassination of Political Dissidents Abroad

against the Islamic Republic based on various federal and state civil statutes ranging from the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to California tort law.28

A considerable number of domestic prosecutions in Europe have also implicated the Iranian regime for its direct role in the planning and commission of assassinations of political dissidents abroad.29 Several individuals involved in these assassination plots have been charged, tried and convicted for their responsibility in these murders. In 1994, three men connected to the 1991 assassinations of Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar and Soroush Katibeh were tried in the Paris Criminal Court.30 One of their killers, Ali Vakili Rad, was sentenced to life imprisonment.31 Seyyed Massoud Hendi, who had vouched on behalf of the killers on their visa applications to France, was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for assisting in the murder.32 In 1996, a French court upheld the sentences of Mojtaba Mashhady and Hossein Yazdenseta for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts in connection with the 1990 assassination of Dr. Cyrus Elahi.33 After his release in 2000, Mashhady was charged with “complicity in assassination in connection with an individual or collective undertaking with the aim of seriously disturbing the public order by intimidation,” though his trial ended with an acquittal for lack of evidence.34 And in 1997, a German court issued a judgment in the case of five agents linked to the 1992 assassinations of four Kurdish leaders in Berlin.35 The court also took the landmark step of issuing a warrant for Hojjatoleslam Ali Fallahian, who served as the Iranian Minister of Intelligence at the time, in recognition of the fact that he and other high ranking Iranian officials had masterminded and ordered the assassinations.36 Authorities in Austria and Switzerland have made similar attempts to apprehend and prosecute those responsible for attacks within their jurisdictions, but these efforts have not yet resulted in any convictions.37

3.2. International Law Applicable to Assassinations

Rules regulating the practice of targeted killings of individuals borrow heavily from two international legal regimes: 1) humanitarian law, which applies exclusively in times of international or internal “armed conflict,”38 and 2) human rights law, concerned with the protection of fundamental rights for everyone at all times.39 In concert with human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the laws of war provide an

[28]See generally Bakhtiar, 571 F.Supp. 27.
[29]See infra § 5.2; see also generally NO SAFE HAVEN, supra note 25.
[30] See NO SAFE HAVEN supra note 25, at 46-47.
[31] Id.
[32] Id.
[33]Id. at 35-38.
[34] Id. at 33-38 (citation omitted).
[36]Id. at 17.
[37] See NO SAFE HAVEN, supra note 25, at 26-30, 31-33. There has been significant criticism by the international community for these failures, which some have blamed on pressure from the Islamic Republic. Id.
[38] See, e.g., Geneva Convention IV arts. 3, 147, supra note 10; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, entered into force Dec. 7, 1979, 1125 U.N.T.S. 3 [hereinafter Protocol I]; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 149, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, entered into force Dec. 7, 1979, 1125 U.N.T.S. 609 [hereinafter Protocol II].Id.
[39]See INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS ADVISORY SERVICE ON INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW, International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law: Similarities and Differences, January 2003, available at www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/57JR8L/$File/IHL_and_IHRL.pdf (last visited Oct. 31, 2008) [hereinafter INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS].

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom