UN experts have said the Islamic Republic of Iran committed multiple human rights violations in shooting down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, and in its handling of the atrocity.
In a 45-page official letter to the Iranian regime, which was issued two months ago and published for the first time on Tuesday, February 23, Agnes Callamard, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, writes: “The inconsistencies in the official explanations seem contrived to mislead and bewilder.
"The mistakes that have been admitted... suggest at minimum a reckless disregard for standard procedures and for the principles of precaution."
Flight 752, a civilian aircraft, was shot out of the skies over Tehran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the morning of January 8, 2020, killing all 176 people on board.
The strike took place at a time of heightened US-Iran tensions following the killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Ghasem Soleimani, and subsequent attacks by Iran targeting US bases in Iraq.
At the close of a six-month inquiry into the disaster, Callamard sent this letter to the Iranian government on December 24, 2020 detailing the findings and asking further questions about the strike. It remained confidential for 60 days in accordance with UN protocol.
The letter details multiple violations of international law by the Iranian authorities, crucially violations of the right to life of the 176 passengers and crew aboard the plane. The UN’s Special Rapporteur has yet to receive a response from the Iranian authorities.
"In situations of high military tension, the most effective means to prevent attacks on civil aviation is to close the airspace," she wrote. "Had Iran, knowing full well that hostilities with the US could readily escalate, closed its airspace for civilian traffic that evening, 176 human beings would not have been killed."
Contradictions in the Official Explanation
Iran’s internal investigation into the disaster found Flight 752 was “mistakenly” targeted by IRGC military personnel, who mistook the civilian aircraft for an incoming missile.
"The explanations provided by the Iranian authorities as to how the IRGC TOR Unit struck the civilian flight present many inconsistencies," Callamard wrote. “Simply put, they do not add up."
Among the contradictions the letter listed was an alleged “alignment error” of its mobile missile unit; Iran, Callamard noted, had not provided any explanation as to why this radar miscalibration occurred, why it had not been detected, nor how it led to the targeting of a civilian plane.
Iran, she wrote, also did not explain why the IRGC failed to follow “the most basic” standard procedures, such as monitoring the plane’s altitude, climb or descent rate and airspeed, evaluating its size or conducting a visual check.
The Iranian regime had also failed to explain how information about cleared civilian flights was communicated to IRGC units.
Furthermore, the UN Special Rapporteur stated, the IRGC’s Aerospace Force Commander had claimed that the unit had only 10 seconds to decide whether or not to fire. In fact, she said, the unit would have had at least a 45-second decision window and possibly more time to evaluate the target.
No information was provided by the Iranian regime on why other flights that took off that night, before PS752, were not targeted.
Obstruction and Injustice to Families
The letter also questioned again why the Iranian regime had refused for three days to admit that the plane had been shot down by the military, even though senior authorities would have known almost immediately.
"Instead of opening a proper investigation,” Callamard wrote, “the authorities allowed the crash site to be looted and then bulldozed, hampering the collection of evidence and depriving families of irreplaceable mementoes of those whom they had lost. The investigation by the Iranian authorities also disregarded the responsibility of high-level officials.
"The Iranian government claims it has nothing to hide, yet it has failed to carry out a full and transparent investigation in line with its international obligations. As a result, many questions are left unresolved.
“The families of the victims are left without the answers they deserve... Some may even wonder if that particular flight was targeted deliberately.
“Moreover, the Iranian government has failed to meet its obligations of respect for the remains of the deceased, including by its disrespectful handling of the crash site; by its efforts to obstruct family wishes to repatriate remains; and by its interference with private burials. All this is compounded by entirely unacceptable harassment and threats against some family members."
A Year of Condemnation
Other independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council have previously raised concerns about the Flight 752 disaster and its handling by the Iranian authorities, starting with a letter as early as February 2020.
In October 2020 Javaid Rehman, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, raised the issue of the Iranian’ brutal response to protests against the attack, including excessive use of force against protesters and arbitrary detention, in a report to the General Assembly.
He has also raised his concerns regarding the harassment, including death threats, of the families seeking justice for the victims of Flight PS752 in his latest report to the Human Rights Council.