A better way to prosecute war crimes

Stockholm– Because the Russian army is leaving traces of atrocities The trial in Ukraine this month offers a powerful model for prosecuting war crimes. Sweden’s case against a former Iranian official accused of taking part in the mass murder of political prisoners in the late 1980s is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. According to this doctrine, the national courts of any state that has accepted this principle can prosecute a person suspected of a serious crime, regardless of where they were committed, regardless of the nationality of the suspect.

Defendant Hamid Nouri, also known as Hamid Abbas, worked in the Iranian prison system during most of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule, allegedly controlling the executions of thousands of opponents of the regime in his name. Trial: started In August 2021, and on May 4, the court held 93 hearings, hearing 35 plaintiffs, 26 witnesses, and 12 expert testimonies. If Nuri is found guilty of war crimes and murder, he faces up to life in prison. The verdict is expected on July 14.

Presumably, at the time of his arrest, Nuri, the CEO of the mining industry, began his career, as his most lucrative career began in Iran, in the Revolutionary Guards Corps. He joined the corps after Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, came to power in 1979. He then fought for two years in the Iran-Iraq war, until joining the judiciary in 1984. Four years later, Nuri climbed to the heights. the rank of prison official when the ayatollah issued a nationwide statement fatwa: by order of the mass murder of political prisoners.

The Ayatollah issued this decree in 1988, the year of his most humiliating defeat. The war, which he hoped would end with the Iranian army occupying Baghdad first and then Jerusalem, instead he signed a ceasefire without victory, which was so unacceptable to him that he likened it. to drink “a glass of poison”. Khomeini was shocked by this turn of events when his most formidable internal rival, the People’s Mujahideen Organization (MEK), launched a series of attacks from its base in southern Iran, Iraq. Although the group’s military campaign was unsuccessful, Khomeini’s fatwa was retaliation aimed at eliminating any possible threat to his rule at that vulnerable moment.

Prison killings began in July. The ayatollah for carrying out the fatwa appointed An ad hoc council consisting of a Sharia judge, an official of the Ministry of Intelligence, a prosecutor and his deputy. That deputy was Ebrahim Rice. Today he is the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. These psychics reviewed each prisoner’s case and decided their fate, usually within minutes.

Nouri was the official who allegedly supported the administration, which the prisoners called the “death shield.” One of his duties, according to prosecutors, was to take the prisoners through the “death corridor” to the chamber where the commission was meeting. The verdict was made, Nuri, according to the information, then took them to be hanged.

By mid-September 1988, some 3,000 political prisoners had been hanged. Most were MEK members who refused to leave the group. Hundreds of communists, some of whom had served their sentences and were awaiting release, were also hanged for refusing to pray or say they believed in God or Islam.

The killings were so horrific that they led to a permanent rift between Ayatollah Khomeini’s “caretaker” whom he named his successor, Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri. When Montazer found out what was going on in the prisons, he wrote two sharp letters To Khomeini, describing the actions as “malicious” և “avenger”. The third letter, addressed to the members of the execution group, called their work a “mass murder.” When Montazer called on them to warn them that they would “go down in history as criminals,” Khomeini fired him as his successor. Montazeri refused to remain silent, and in 1997, after criticizing the next supreme leader, he was placed under house arrest. He remained in custody until his death in 2009.

Human rights organizations today called An investigation into President Raisi’s role as a prosecutor in the 1988 prison massacre, but it was Nuri’s official who inadvertently put himself in legal danger when he left for Sweden. For the victims of human rights abuses in Iran, his arrest was the culmination of years of effort, the most powerful victory they have ever known.

Several former political prisoners, who for years wrote, recorded and reminisced about that era, harshly exposed and persecuted their former torturers. Eventually, a former prisoner, Iraj Mesdag, a Swedish citizen who became the main plaintiff in the case, helped develop temptation scheme The former jailer promised to sail to Sweden. When Nouri took the bait, a network of Iranian ombudsmen in the United Kingdom, Sweden, set out to lobby the authorities for arrest warrants.

As soon as Nuri’s plane landed in Stockholm in November 2019, the Swedish police arrested him. Nuri dispersed during later testimony he said that his “cruise ship had turned into a solitary cell.”

When I was present during the last week of the trial, Nuri, whom I saw, was neither weak nor depressed. Rather, he behaved with the same seemingly sadistic arrogance that the former prisoners had described. In the courtroom, he often turned his back on judges, his own lawyers, to confront his accusers, and to use obscene language in their speeches. Several witnesses avoided using the water fountain in the courtroom because it brought them so close to Nuri that he could swear at them.

His family members present at the trial marched in front of the TV cameras inside the courthouse, smiling when someone pressed his chest. image: The current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the commander of the late Juds Forces, General Jassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2020. Their theatricality was only for the Iranian leadership. to show that they have not abandoned their sponsors or cooperated with the Swedish police or prosecutor’s office; they hope that their loyalty will be rewarded.

The Nuri did not make wrong calculations. At the end of the trial, Tehran acquired its own brand of diplomacy tool, the arrest և imprison Foreign nationals – dual nationals – are accused of espionage and later used as leverage in negotiations with foreign powers. The judiciary announced the date performance: Iranian-Swedish doctor Ahmadreza Jalali, then arrested a Swedish woman tourist:together with two others European visitors to Sweden for interfering in Nuri’s trial.

Rumors of a possible prisoner exchange spread in court as survivors and witnesses gathered in court. And yet, no fear of what might be the end result of Iran’s machinations can stop them from rejoicing at what has already happened during the trial. On the last day, the members of the MEK, the Iranian royalists, the communists, fierce political rivals, usually do not want to communicate with each other.danced together outside the court building. One of the former prisoners told me that he felt he had died that summer with his friends, but he continued to see this day. Another participant, Laleh Bazargan, wearing a picture of her brother who was killed during the massacre, said:

Whatever the verdict of the Stockholm court, people like Bazargan may have the message that the court has already sent to war criminals. There is no statute of limitations for their atrocities and no international guarantee of asylum. Although the International Criminal Court in The Hague is investigating Russia’s actions in Ukraine, none of those countries is in favor of the ICC. Struggling to establish itself as an effective forum for international justice, the court has won only four verdicts in its two decades of existence.

The trial of Nuri under universal jurisdiction offers a way out of the ICC impasse. Sweden’s actions show that another kind of liberal-humanitarian intervention is possible, which is carried out not through military operations, but through the criminal justice systems of democratic societies. It can be a new source of hope for the victims of brutal autocratic regimes if other Western democracies follow Sweden’s example by refusing to shelter torturers and deny their impunity.


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