Crimes against humanity stand as one of the gravest and most significant offenses due to their devastating impact. These crimes hold the potential for international prosecution and are never shielded by the passage of time. Since the Nuremberg trials of leading Nazis, representatives of brutal regimes from the former Yugoslavia to Syria have been convicted of crimes against humanity.
In addressing war crimes committed in World War II, it became evident that there was a significant legal void regarding reparations for offences committed against civilians.
Legal frameworks pertaining to crimes committed by the military against civilians during peacetime were not fully developed until after the end of World War II. However, over time, the concept of crimes against humanity has been refined and expanded.
According to the definition outlined in the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC) and was ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran, crimes against humanity are one of the categories of international crimes, alongside genocide, military aggression and war crimes.
These crimes are regarded as peremptory norms in international law, meaning that regardless of whether a government has formally accepted the obligations not to commit such crimes through treaty agreements, they are bound to uphold and adhere to them.
Notably, high-ranking government officials, senior military commanders and political leaders do not enjoy immunity from prosecution when it comes to crimes against humanity.
There is no statute of limitations for these crimes. Consequently they can be prosecuted whenever feasible, which is why even decades after the fact individuals involved in the Holocaust are still pursued for justice.
Protesters Attacked in an Organised Way
Now, the pertinent question arises: has the Islamic Republic of Iran committed crimes against humanity during its 45-year existence, which has been marked by numerous unlawful and criminal acts?
To examine this issue we will use the brutal suppression of protests in September 2022 as a benchmark. However, it's essential to acknowledge that this evaluation does not encompass previous crimes, such as arbitrary executions in the early years of the Islamic Republic’s establishment, including the summer of 1988, as well as the tragic events that unfolded in November 2019 and other similar cases.
The violent crackdown on the protests that erupted in Iran in September 2022 fits precisely within the definition of an organised and widespread attack, executed as part of government policies and in alignment with the government’s political interests.
Right from the onset of the protests on Sept. 16, armed agents aggressively targeted demonstrators with lethal weaponry to quell the uprising.
This campaign involved broad and arbitrary detentions, conducted without proper court orders or legal procedures.
Detainees endured harassment, including sexual, physical and psychological abuse. There were deliberate assaults on protesters, specifically targeting their eyes, in various locations throughout Iran.
Fatal shootings occurred, targeting even those who were not actively participating in the protests. The issuance of death sentences and their subsequent execution, outside the bounds of legal regulations, all bear the hallmarks of an “organised attack” coupled with a “massive assault” driven by the government’s political objectives.
Statements from high-ranking government officials such as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei advocating for the necessity of dealing harshly with protesters and disregarding their concerns, as well as the extensive efforts of members of the Iranian parliament to execute protesters through unfair trials that disregarded procedural rules and the rights of the accused, with at least nine individuals hanged, underscore the organised and structured nature of the government’s actions.
The deliberate targeting of unarmed protesters with combat weapons, rather than non-lethal riot control measures, and the direct shooting at their heads and vital body parts, along with the method of arrest and mistreatment in detention facilities, all indicate the organised nature of these criminal behaviours.
It is crucial to note that these methods have been used by the government in previous years, establishing a pattern of repression by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Over 500 deaths have been identified as a result of these repressions since September alone, with more than 70 of them being under 18 years of age, falling within the international definition of children.
The government’s methodology and the pattern of behaviour in suppressing protests reveal that agents and their commanders engaged in criminal actions with the aim of swiftly and effectively controlling and suppressing protests, employing acts such as murder, rape, sexual assault and bodily mutilation, including blinding protesters.
The motivation and execution of the government’s policy in this regard can be deduced from both its endorsement of the criminal conduct of its agents and its silence in the face of the glaring crimes and misconduct committed by these agents.
For instance, there were instances of sexual assault by armed agents against women who were arrested on the streets, but these incidents were never investigated by competent authorities, and the outcomes were never disclosed to the public.
Officers whose actions were captured and published on social media, showing them directly targeting citizens, were never brought to trial or subjected to a fair legal process.
According to the International Criminal Court, the elements defining crimes against humanity encompass murder, killing, exile and forced displacement, imprisonment and physical deprivation of liberty, torture and physical abuse, forced nudity, persecution and harassment of individuals and their families, enforced disappearance, discrimination, and other abhorrent and inhumane behaviours that outrage human conscience.
Numerous examples can be presented for all the actions constituting crimes against humanity from September 2022 until the present, demonstrating the perpetration of such crimes by the authorities and agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This pattern persists with consistent practices, including arrests, the issuance of death sentences, unfair trials, forced disappearances, brutal repressions, unrestricted use of lethal weaponry, and the immunity of perpetrators, commanders and agents from prosecution.
In response to the central question of this article, it can be unequivocally stated that the events in Iran since September 2022 qualify as crimes against humanity within the framework of the international criminal legal system, leaving very little room for doubt.
The recent establishment of an independent international fact-finding commission by the United Nations Human Rights Council is a crucial step expected to serve as an initial stage in substantiating the committing of crimes against humanity by the Islamic Republic of Iran since its inception in 1979.