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November 2019 Protests

As Protests Continue in Iran, Tribunal Finds Regime Committed Crimes Against Humanity in 2019

September 30, 2022
6 min read
The final session of the Aban Tribunal took place in Westminster, London on Friday
The final session of the Aban Tribunal took place in Westminster, London on Friday

A protest anthem written for those currently fighting for their rights on the streets of Iran played at the opening of the final session of the Aban Tribunal in London.

The singer Shervin Hajipour was arrested on Thursday after his song Baraye (For…) went viral on Instagram and was played some 34 million times in a matter of days.

The lyrics were constructed from Iranian citizens’ tweets about why they joined the latest demonstrations that have rocked cities across Iran since September 16.

Segments of the lyrics read: “For being able to dance in the street… For not having to fear kissing my beloved in public… For my sister, for your sister, for our sisters… For a normal life.”

Publicly at least, Iranian state continues to insist that those who have joined the September 2022 pro-democracy movement are “rioters” influenced by “enemies”.

In November 2019, the same pretext was used to justify the murder by security forces of an estimated 1,500 people, and the imprisonment of at least 7,000, as well as torture and forced displacement on an industrial scale, and system-wide attempts to conceal the killings by threatening families and withholding their loved ones' bodies. 

The Aban Tribunal was set up by Iranian rights groups outside Iran to establish what happened that bloody month, and who may be culpable for it under international law.

On Friday a panel of internationally-recognized legal experts delivered the Aban Tribunal’s final, damning verdict. The Iranian state was said to be guilty of crimes against humanity in its lethal response to the November 2019 protests, and 13 individuals were named as having a case to answer.

The judgment was delivered at the same time as Iran is experiencing the most sustained, widespread protests of the last decade. Courageous citizens have again taken a stand against the Islamic Republic since the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini a fortnight ago.

They have been met with all the same forms of lethal force, including direct fire with live ammunition, that the regime turned on its own people in November 2019.

Those who spoke at the Aban Tribunal on Friday regarded the current protests as a continuation of what came before. Baroness Sandip Verma, a British-Indian member of the House of Lords and long-time champion of the rights of women and girls, addressed the current protesters directly in her comments on the findings.

“You are not alone,” she said. “There are many others that have gone before you, and continue to fight for justice. You are powerful and you will have justice. The only failure will be if you do not try.”


What the Aban Tribunal Found

In their summary of the final conclusions, judges said the evidence available showed “beyond reasonable doubt” that the Iranian state had committed massive, gross violations of human rights in November 2019.

There were, the panel said, documented violations of rights enshrined by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified, as well as other legislation. These included “the right to assembly, the right to life, the right to liberty and security of the person, freedom from enforced disapparances, freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment including sexual assault, the right of access to justice, and the right to dignity, including dignity of the dead”.

Lawyers on the panel agreed that the order to violently suppress protests had originated with the Supreme National Security Council, but also that there had been “a plan” drawn up and enacted by officers on the ground.

Security forces, they said, had provably committed murder in 20 of Iran’s provinces, as well as arbitrary arrest. Torture was carried out in at least 11 provinces.

Panelist and criminal defence expert Colleen Rohan said: “The evidence established that the crimes were part of a systematic attack on civilians across Iran. The uniformity of pattern and acts suggests the existence of a pre-existing plan and shooting order that appears to have emanated from the Supreme Leader’s office.”

Judges unanimously found that the Islamic Republic had committed “the crimes against humanity of murder, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture in order to quell the protests and conceal the crimes committed”. A majority also found the regime had committed the crime of persecution of civilians according to their political beliefs.  

Earlier, Aban Tribunal co-counsel Hamid Sabi and Regina Paulose had received witness testimonies from more than 300 people, including Iranians who protested in 2019, the families of people killed, ex-members of the police, IRGC, Basij and security forces, health workers and others.

A total of 55 of these people also testified to the Aban Tribunal, many via videolink from inside Iran at huge personal risk, along with expert witnesses.

Based on these testimonies the co-counsel had accused a total of 160 Iranian officials – up from a previous 133, and beginning with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – of being complicit in crimes against humanity.

In the case of at least 13, the panel decided there was a “powerful case to answer” based on international norms that they had been responsible for designing and carrying out the crimes.

They were:

Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader

Hassan Rouhani, then-president of Iran

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council

Ebrahim Raisi, then-chief justice of Iran

Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, then-interior minister

Hossein Ashtari, chief of police

Hossein Salami, commander-in-chief of the IRGC

Gholamreza Soleimani, commander of the Basij

Hassan Karami, commander of Iranian police special units

Qasem Rezaei, deputy commander of Iranian police special units

The governors of Shahr-e Qods, Buhshehr and Sirjan

As a people’s tribunal, documents and findings published from the Aban Tribunal do not carry legal weight by themselves but can be used as a reference point for future sanctions and legal or criminal proceedings.

The panel recommended that the US, the EU, the UK and other authorities impose targeted sanctions on the perpetrators and establish a UN mechanism to investigate the crimes of November 2019 and refer it to the International Criminal Court.


"If Not Now, When?"

Some people who attended the hearing on Friday held up the pictures of mostly young people killed in both November 2019 and September 2022.

Baroness Verma said their faces would “get lost in the discussion” if the international community did not acknowledge and act on Iranian people’s demands for an end to abuse.

“If it’s not dealt with,” she said, “we will be visiting this again in the future, and we shouldn’t be waiting for that. We shouldn’t be waiting for more people to die.

“If we can’t do it when all the world’s focus is on the protests in Iran, when will we do it? When will we stand up and say that tyrants and dictators based on theocracy are getting away with what they believe is their right to impose?”

Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights situation in Iran, said images of protests then and now should be “a vivid reminder of the state of impunity [in Iran], the absence of accountability or even acknowledgement of the violence. It’s not merely a disregard for human life, but also a complete disregard of the rule of law.”

The Aban Tribunal, he said, had set a “new standard” by being transparent about proceedings and publishing all of its documentation online as a permanent record of what was uncovered.

Another speaker at the close was Evin Incir, a Kurdish-born member of the European parliament, who paid tribute to what she said was now “the first feminist revolution in Iran, and a continuation of the democratic revolution.”

“Democracy is not ‘if’ or ‘when’, it’s a human right,” she said. “The people of Iran have, for more than 40 years, faced oppression based on gender, ethnicity, religion. They have actually never stopped screaming for freedom. The murder of Mahsa Zhina Amini fuelled the anger even more.

“This has to come to an end. It’s time the international community takes its share of responsibility.”



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