Conference in Washington DC and the Speech given in

Remembrance of the 1988 Massacre



Speech delivered by Founding Director of MEHR, Mohammad Parvin

The massacre of thousands of political prisoners is the most horrible crime committed by the Islamic regime of Iran (IRI). It was not the first one neither was it the last. It has been going since 1979. We are not gathering here to mourn the victims of this massacre but to find out how we can expose and stop these crimes. After all, as human rights activists, this is our main task.

As far as Iran is concerned, I believe we have not had much success. And when I say “we” I mean both Iranian and international human rights organizations. I will try to explain this, hoping that by defining the problem and highlighting the obstacles we may be able to find a solution.

Iranian people have been experiencing the terror of the IRI right after its inception in 1979. They have not been able to dress, speak, write, vote, pray, dance, love, laugh, and live the way they want, and they have paid with their lives, hundreds and thousands of lives, for not giving up these basic rights.

They are still using every opportunity to show their hatred for the system of terror of IRI.

They know that the act of terrorism and all atrocities committed by this regime is not the arbitrary act of the hard liners of the regime. These are the norms of the regime and laws that everyone abides by, including the current president, Mr. Khatami. Most of the people know this, they have shown that they no longer have any faith in the so-called reformists within the Islamic Regime, and they want a secular democratic system.

There is a serious struggle for a free secular regime in Iran and I would like to examine this situation briefly. The Iranian struggle for freedom and democracy is a non-violent struggle to challenge the authority of the regime through demonstrations, strikes.  They have also started to refrain from participating in all the elections called for by the regime. Non violence struggle for freedom and democracy is the essence of the freedom movement in Iran. It is a civil disobedience movement that proves the illegitimacy of the Islamic regime. If this movement becomes organized, form its own independent networks, and be able to mobilize millions to disobey this regime, then the end of the regime will be very close. It is a huge task but it has to be done and can be done.

Of course, there is a wide spread belief that that the fall of a regime should not be the concern of a human rights organization. However, I believe if the human rights violations are written into the constitution of a regime and is institutionalized, as is in Iran, then any serious concern abut human rights would directly targets the regime and its existence. Therefore, to stop human rights in Iran we must change its constitution and eliminate all un-elected positions of those who rule the country. 

Unfortunately, the Islamic Regime is not the only obstacle against the struggle of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy. Outside of Iran, Iranians face interest-driven governments, lobby groups with shady funding, and media that lack honest reporting. These individuals and groups legitimize the Iranians’ oppressors.  

Instead of exposing the human rights violation in Iran and applying all the possible pressure on the Islamic Regime to stop the violation of Human rights, western governments and media driven by “interest” factor have deliberately ignored horrible situation of the Iranian people.  By doing so, they have deprived us of the help of the freedom loving people of the world who have not been informed about the real situation in Iran, simply don’t know what is happening there, and we don’t have the means and resources to reach them. 

For example, very few non-Iranians know about the massacre of thousands of political prisoners that occurred during the summer of 1988. With the exception of Amnesty International that published a report soon after this massacre, you can hardly find any articles or reports published in the Western media.  

Two years ago, MEHR, in consultation with other Iranian groups all around the world, announced the September 1 as the Memorial Day for the victims of this massacre. Last year, we proposed this day as a Universal Memorial Day for the victims of the massacre to the Southern Regional Conference of the Amnesty International. This resolution was later approved at the Annual General Meeting of AI in Atlanta. A million thanks to Amnesty for making this possible.  

But have you heard a word about this event in Western media?  This and many other horrible crimes of the Islamic regime are completely ignored. Of course, they don’t miss any opportunity to legitimize this system of terror for their own interests. 

As we are witnessing these days, there has been an orchestrated effort by the European Union leading by UK, France, and Germany to manipulate the signing of the Atomic Energy protocol and legitimize the current regime in Iran. The conditions that European governments and US State Department have outlined for the re-establishment of relation and removing sanction on the regime of Iran, do not include the observation of human rights. And if there is any reference to it, it is vague and does not state any specific demand. Of course, they are very specific on other conditions which are: 

- AlQade members in Iran must be returned

- New protocol for the inspection of Atomic energy sites must be signed.

-   Iran must participate in the rebuilding effort of Iraq as a guarantee of non-interference in Iraq situation.

There are a few other similar conditions but nothing about the human rights in Iran. They are silent about it, and even if they say something to save their face, they are just hollow words and gestures. Although we strongly believe that the IRI must comply with these conditions, we don’t believe the Islamic regime should be accepted with open arms and be legitimized before human rights abuses have stopped in Iran. Regardless of how many of these types of treaties they sign, this regime is still a terrorist regime that has terrorized our people for the last twenty five years and is not worthy of recognition.

Some of the US media have been always considered the Islamic regime as the best alternative for the US (meaning corporate American and specially oil companies!) in Iran. They use every occasion to justify the r-establishment of the relation with this regime arguing that this regime can be reformed. As an example, let’s just read LA Time editorial on October 11 and see how it manipulates the winning of the Nobel Prize by Mrs. Ebadi to advocate its own cause:

“Ebadi's prize should encourage reformers and supporters of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in their struggle to loosen the grip of fundamentalist clerics. Statements like the peace prize committee's bring cheer to the moderates without demonizing opponents. Lumping a government into “axis of evil” forces reformers into the camp of their foes, lest they be considered traitors.

The Bush administration is right to campaign against possible Iranian nuclear weapons, but it also should engage Tehran and quietly support reformers' attempts to gain more power. Washington's request for Iranian help in rebuilding Iraq is a smart move in that direction. Iran has offered to provide water and electricity to Iraq and will take part in an international donors' conference this month in Madrid.

Nikki R. Keddie, UCLA professor emerita of history, writes in the newest edition of her book "Modern Iran" that since the 1980s Iran's foreign policy "has become increasingly pragmatic," but since 2001 Washington's foreign policy has become "increasingly ideological" and threatening toward Iranian leaders. That should change.

The United States should find many ways to salute Ebadi and colleagues who believe Islam is compatible with democracy, an especially important message after Sept. 11, 2001.”

The international human rights organizations and specially Amnesty International have put up a great effort to expose and stop the atrocities in Iran. Amnesty International has issued a record number of urgent actions in defense of Iranians political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Amnesty has created a very informative web page about Iran and has been supportive of other HR activities about Iran including MEHR’s efforts. Unfortunately, due to the limitation of mandate of HR organizations in countering the Iranian regime and also due to some possible illusions about the nature of the current regime in Iran and the role and the effect of its so-called “reformist” faction, all these efforts have not been so affective in stopping the HR violations in Iran. The reason is obvious: As long as the Islamic Regime of Iran is in power, the human rights violation will not stop. It will be a good idea if human rights organizations take a more realistic look at power structure in Iran and IRI’s constitution so that they can adopt a better strategy to stop human rights violations.

Of course, as I indicated, the limitation of current mandates/ missions of human rights organizations do not allow drawing such conclusion, no matter how true they are. Although HR organizations have been witnessing the atrocities of this regime for 25 years and know that these atrocities are written into the constitution of this regime and therefore are lawful acts, they still follow their routine in a very mechanical way.

The human rights groups keep writing to the Supreme leader and president of the Regime and ask them to show mercy to their victims and urge their members to follow suits. We have always promoted these activities. These types of appeals, depending on the international situation have occasionally been helpful here and there, but have failed to achieve any tangible results in terms of slowing down the human rights violations. The limitation of this type of approach combined with some illusions about the possibility of reform within the Islamic Regime manifested in the tactics that are employed raises questions about the positions of human rights organizations on a number of other issues and especially separation of religion and state. 

Of course, it goes without saying that I very much respect the international HR organizations and specially Amnesty, and admire the excellent work that they have done to advance the human right issues all around the world. I am a proud member of Amnesty since I was a college student and my critical approach is only to help further advance the mission of my organization and other similar organizations.  

Let’s now see what is the cause of all these illusions. The big “”NO”” that our people said to the Islamic Regime by voting for Khatami seems not to be appreciated as such by many including H.R. groups. The propaganda machine of big powers and big corporation portrayed the election results as a victory for democracy in Iran and that, Khatami with a mandate of 20 million votes will change the course of the country and will gradually bring about freedom and democracy. The western media never mention that 234 candidates out of 238 were eliminated by an un-elected group of clergies and that Khatami was one of the four selected. They didn’t tell the people of the world that the supreme leader, Khamenie, one of the most hated among the leaders of this regime openly favored Nategh Noori, one of the four selected candidates and that was why people voted for Khatami, a relatively known figure, just to say NO to him. The question that I always ask those who call this an election is that would you tolerate this in your own country as an acceptable election? If only Vatican-approved priests were allowed to run for the U.S. presidency, would anyone in their right mind call this an election and call the United States a democracy?

Unfortunately, the lack of participation of Iranians in the activities of international organizations never helped to improve this situation and this illusion still exists. We Iranians should take a lot of blame in this regard.  

Another issue of concern is that international HR organizations are usually reluctant to take a position about the separation of religion and state. I believe religious ideology like all other ideologies must not be used for governing for two main reasons.  

First, the religious rules are rigid and cannot be changed. Second, the attempts of some people to change the religious rules have created different interpretations and many controversies. So, the religious laws have both elements of rigidity and ambiguity. Ambiguous rigid rules cannot become universally accepted and therefore are in conflict with universal concepts of democracy and human rights. I believe, it is quite important that this issue to be addressed by the HR organization. Unfortunately, Human Rights Organizations seem to be reluctant to take position where the issues at hands are somehow related to religion. It appears at times that this sort of conservatism may have theoretical basis in cultural relativism. An issue that I don’t have time to discuss here.                             

Fortunately, these are the issues that are recognized by AI and have been addressed in recent conferences. It is for all human rights activists to become engaged in a constructive dialog with HR Groups and push them for a more radical and truly universal approach towards human rights abuses in the world in general and Iran in particular.  

All international HR groups argue that since they are not political, they cannot take stand against the governments. There is a practical contradiction in this statement. Islamic Regime of Iran abuses the human rights on a daily bases. It arrests innocent people, torture them, and kill them. And all these are written in their law. When you tell them not to kill, not to torture and you expose them for doing so, you are opposing the constitution of the regime. There is nothing more political than this. 

To help the international HR groups to have a better understanding of the power structure in Iran and the nature of different factions of the regime, we should take part in their activities, and have a constant dialog on these issues. We have to expose the true nature of the so-called elections in Iran and try to get coverage in the media. Something that we failed to do regarding the last elections and it had a disastrous effect. It legitimized the system of terror and made it more difficult for us to raise the human rights violation issues.  

Now, it is time to go back to our initial concern about the role of the Iranians abroad in exposing and stopping the human rights violation in Iran. To be heard by the world community and to be reckoned by the interest driven western governments, the Iranians should become a power. A large number of Iranians living abroad and specially in the US, make it possible to form a strong voting block that votes only based on the issue of human rights in Iran. By doing so, we will put ourselves in a position that the world will listen to us and we can get help from the freedom loving people of the world.  By utilizing this help and using the power of our own votes, we can stop the help of the western governments to the regime of Iran and therefore help the Iranian struggle inside Iran for freedom and democracy. 

After twenty-five years, human rights organizations should accept the hard and bitter reality that appealing to the leaders of the Islamic regime to show merci to their victims has yielded very limited results and must be complemented by other actions, actions that would involve pressuring and persuading the western government that all relations with the Islamic regime should be contingent upon the observation of human rights in Iran.  

Is this in contradiction with the mandates of the HR organizations, if we say no help should be given to a regime that has been violating the human rights of its people on a systematic basis from the day of its inception?  

If we don’t do this, we may always stay at the stage of exposing HR violations and will never be able to stop them. Let’s assume that the whole world knows about the atrocities of the Islamic regime. What do we want from them? Are we going to ask them to write letters to the Supreme leader and beg him to save the life of the victims, or we going to urge them to stop their government from helping this regime, or both? 

I believe, unless we explore all the possibilities including bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Islamic Regime, we will never be able to reduce the human right violations in Iran, let alone stop it.


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