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Haunted Memories: The Islamic Republic’s Executions of Kurds in 1979

halt to executions.202 However, by November 1979, at least 550 people had been executed in Iran, many of them at the behest of Khalkhali. He was removed from his position as head of the Revolutionary Court but was made head of a narcotics taskforce in May 1980 from where he continued to order executions. He was removed from that position in December 1980, reportedly by then-President Bani Sadr who himself fled the country in June 1981. However, Khalkhali continued to wield power and influence in the Islamic Republic until his death in 2003.203

Military tanks outside Baneh (Ettelaat Sept. 5, 1979)

On October 24, a referendum was held on the draft Constitution presented by the Assembly of Experts. It was approved by the electorate and became effective on December 3. The Constitution created a centrally-controlled system similar to that under the Shah but within an Islamic framework. Article 15 provides that Persian is the official language of the Islamic Republic and that “[o]fficial documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as text-books, must be in [Persian]. “However, the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian.” While the rights of three religious minorities are recognized, there is no recognition of ethnic minority rights. 204

Widespread fighting in the Kurdish regions continued into October.205 On October 31, Kurdish fighters retook Mahabad and negotiations with the central government resumed.206 However, Khomeini consistently rejected any plan involving local control and the fighting eventually blossomed into a full-scale war that lasted for years. The KDPI split in 1980 when a small group sided with the Tudeh Party, the largest Communist Party in Iran. The main part of KDPI remained loyal to its chairman Dr. Ghassemlou and continued to battle Tehran/Qom until many leaders and members were forced into exile. Dr. Ghassemlou was assassinated in Vienna in 1989 as he was preparing to enter into yet another negotiation session with the Islamic Republic.207

5. Violations of International and Iranian Law

The executions, without fair trials, that the Revolutionary Court under the authority of Ayatollahs Khalkhali and Khomeini ordered in Iran’s Kurdish regions violated Iranian law and the Islamic Republic’s obligations under international human rights law. The arrests and executions based on the political beliefs of the victims also violated the victims’ rights of expression and association, and to redress.

5.1. Executions without Fair Trials

Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ISCOR), to which Iran was a party in 1979 (and still is), codifies the supreme right to life held by every human being.208 Even in countries that still use the death penalty as a form of punishment, it must be a considered a “quite exceptional


[202] Thurgood, Minister “Stirred Up Kurds Hostility,” GUARDIAN, Oct. 19 1979, at 6, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[203] Afshar, Obituary: Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali, supra note 76.
[204] Qanun-i Assasiyih Jumhuriyih Islamiyih Iran [CONSTITUTION OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN] 1358 [adopted 1979, amended 1989] art. 15 [hereinafter IRANIAN CONST.], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/iranian-codes/3017-the-constitution-of-the-islamic-republic-of-iran.html.
[205] HIRO, supra note 20, at 112.
[206] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 84.
[207] IZADY, supra note 3, at 210.
[208] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 6(2), Mar. 23, 1976, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 [hereinafter ICCPR], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/international-conventions/3197-international-convention-on-civil-and-political-rights.htm. Iran signed the ICCPR on Apr. 4, 1968 and ratified the agreement on June 24, 1975 without reservations. Article 6 provides: “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.” Id. art. 6(1).

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