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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

2.7.2       Excessive Use of Force

Regardless of whether the demonstrations were unlawful under Iranian law, their generally peaceful nature obliged the authorities to avoid excessive use of force. Iranian law provides that law enforcement may only use weapons in the case of illegal demonstrations if the use is “by order of the leader of the operation,” and

a)      other methods were used under the law and were unsuccessful, and

b)      before using weapons, the rioters and disturbers were given an ultimatum regarding use of weapon.[309]

Under international law, in dispersing “assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.”[310] Law enforcement “may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”[311] Firearms “should not be used except when a suspected offender offers armed resistance or otherwise jeopardizes the lives of others.”[312]

Videos, witnesses and independent news sources verify that the vast majority of the demonstrators were unarmed members of the general public who assembled peacefully, sometimes chanting and sometimes walking in silence through the streets.[313] Yet, there is abundant evidence that irregular forces used excessive force. They shot into crowds, and beat and stabbed unarmed demonstrators and bystanders, including women and children.[314] They also made liberal use of tear gas in crowded metropolitan areas.[315]

Witnesses report that though demonstrators sometimes resorted to violence—beating security forces, throwing rocks or making fires—they did so in direct response to assaults by irregular forces.[316] Some demonstrators struck back at security forces trying to violently disperse them.[317] Some threw rocks to keep the forces at bay, and made fires to help barricade themselves off from motorcycle-mounted Sepah or Basij, and because the smoke alleviated the effects of tear gas.[318]

Evidence shows that the primary objective of the security forces was to violently disperse and antagonize protestors, and not to maintain order.[319] Members of the Basij—an irregular force originally created to be mobilized in case of invasion—and vigilante groups such as Ansar-i Hizbollah, were deployed against demonstrators. They unlawfully instigated violence and, even after protests and while demonstrators were dispersing, stole and damaged personal property. Some reportedly rewarded themselves with the rape of detainees.[320]

The Iranian authorities violated Iranian and international law by using irregular forces to employ excessive force, including incitement to violence, and causing injury and death to peaceful demonstrators.

2.7.3       Failure to Protect Right to Life and Murder

The authorities’ use of excessive force led to violations of the right to life of the victims and constituted murder. All persons have a fundamental right to life under international and Iranian law.[321] Not surprisingly, murder is a crime under Iranian law.[322] Article 6 of the ICCPR provides that under international human rights law:

Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.[323]

The HRC has advised that this provision includes killings by security forces:

The Committee considers that States parties should take measures not only to prevent and punish deprivation of life by criminal acts, but also prevent arbitrary killing by their own security forces. The deprivation of life by the authorities of the State is a matter of the utmost gravity. [324]

The total number of those killed after the election remains unknown largely due to the fact that government authorities affirmatively prevent families and the public from learning of the whereabouts and fate of many victims. In September, the Iranian government stated that a total of 36 people, including security forces, had been killed.[325] Several organizations have attempted to collect and publish lists of those killed.[326] One list, created by a commission established by Mousavi and headed by Alireza Beheshti, son of one of the most prominent leaders of the 1979 revolution, put the number of election violence victims at seventy-two before the Ashura demonstrations. It was mailed to the Majlis’s Foreign Policy and National Security Commission, which rejected it because it lacked “essential data” such as the ID numbers of the victims.[327] For some observers, the reliability of this list was bolstered by the arrest of Beheshti days after completion of this list.[328]

The killings by the security forces following the June 12 elections were in violation of the victims’ rights to life and constitute murder in violation of Iranian and international human rights law. If it is found that the killings were widespread, systematic, and with the knowledge of the perpetrators, they also constitute a crime against humanity.[329]

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