What will justice and accountability look like for victims of the Flight 752 disaster, and how can it be secured?
Six months after the Ukrainian Airlines passenger plane was shot down by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over Tehran, killing all 176 people onboard, a consortium of international lawyers and politicians will seek to answer these questions today, June 13.
The Canada-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights is hosting an online conference examining how the victims’ families and the international community could seek redress for a devastating wrong that the Islamic Republic of Iran persists in categorizing as a “mistake”.
The discussion will be streamed live from 12pm to 1pm EST on the RWCHR YouTube Channel and Facebook page. Among the panelists is Professor Payam Akhavan of McGill University, a human rights lawyer who was the first Legal Advisor to the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In his view, the Islamic Republic’s recent offer of $80,000 in compensation to each of the victims’ families is not likely to go far enough.
“An obvious aspect of reparations is the payment of compensation to the families of victims,” he told IranWire, “but most that I have spoken to want those responsible for the destruction of PS752 to be brought to justice.
“Iran has clear obligations under international law in this regard. If negotiations do not succeed, then the countries whose nationals are the victims could have recourse to both the ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] and ICJ [International Court of Justice].
Hamed Esmaeilion, an Iranian-Canadian writer who lost his wife Parisa and nine-year-old daughter Reera in the crash, will also be present on behalf of the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims.
Among those killed in the tragedy were 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents of Canada. The country has taken the lead in the International Coordination and Response Group for victims and last month, premier Justin Trudeau said Canada would “continue to put pressure on the Iranian regime to get answers, to get justice”.
Irwin Cotler, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and chair of the RWCHR, will also be on the panel. In an interview with IranWire, he said: “The six-month anniversary of this tragedy has gone almost unnoticed and unmarked. The pandemic has taken over many things – and in addition, we have a global political pandemic of resurgent authoritarianism.
“We’re also witnessing a democratic decline; democracies are not engaged in a multilateral way in protecting a rules-based international order. PS752 is a case study in the need for us to work together.”
The RWCHR takes a special interest in the miserable landscape of human rights in Khamenei’s Iran and for 10 years has held an annual event, Iran Accountability Week, shining a light on Iranian architects of repression, persecution and prosecution. It also runs a “Political Prisoner Advocacy Project” matching political prisoners in Iran with Canadian MPs who politicize their cases and lobby on their behalf: for instance, for the imprisoned Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Both Canada and Iran are parties to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation: a landmark agreement that established the ICAO and provided a framework for Iran to sue the United States over the downing of an Iran Air Airbus in 1988 that killed 290 passengers and crew. In principle, Professor Cotler said, this could now be enacted in reverse.
“There is also the possibility of criminal responsibility,” he added. “IRGC officials knowingly shot down the plane; this could be considered an international extraterritorial offence under the [Canadian] Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.”
In February a group of victims’ families filed a class-action lawsuit against Iran for “an act of terrorism” in the Supreme Court of Justice in Ontario.
Iran’s internal investigation into the disaster is being headed by the chief justice Ebrahim Raeesi, who presided over the massacre of thousands of Iranian political prisoners in in 1988. The political appointment was slammed by Payam Akhavan as “a mockery of justice” in January.
Earlier this month it emerged that Iran had set a new deadline of July 20 to hand over the black box flight recorders from the wreckage of PS752 to France or Ukraine. As far back as March the Islamic Republic had promised to surrender the flight recorders within two weeks.
“Iran’s negotiating strategy has been to delay,” Professor Cotler said. “The site where the tragedy occurred was cleared. It’s a cover-up.”
Today’s talk will be chaired by Roya Hakakian, an Iranian-born writer, journalist and poet who co-founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre. Introductory remarks will be given by the Canadian MP Michael Levitt and Senator Manilou McPhedran, a human rights lawyer. For more information or to register visit the RWCHR’s event page.