“Seeking Justice” Civil Rights Movement Aims to Uncover Facts and Keep Victims’ Memories Alive
A New Civil Rights Movement is Born in Iran
June 10, 2021 – Ahead of Iran’s June 18 presidential election, public discussions on the Clubhouse social networking app by victims of state repression–including vivid descriptions of torture in prisons and other human rights violations–have energized a growing Iranian civil rights movement.
The “Seeking Justice” (Dadkhahi in Persian) movement includes former political prisoners, relatives of political prisoners who were executed in the 1980s, a group of mothers whose children were executed or killed by state security forces (known as the Mothers of Laleh Park), and relatives of some of the 176 passengers who were killed onboard the Ukrainian plane that was shot down in Iranian airspace by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2020.
This movement aims to peacefully deliver justice to victims of state repression as well as keep victims’ stories and memories alive to prevent further injustices and human rights violations.
Justice-seeking movements have long existed throughout the world. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, which courageously stood against Argentina’s military commanders and the systematic murder of thousands, is one prominent example. Over time and with perseverance, justice-seeking actions like those of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have grown into major movements.
Justice-seeking movements around the world move forward and never give up, regardless of the adversity they face.
In Iran, the struggle to deliver justice has been driven by the ceaseless determination of relatives of victims of state repression and human rights violations, as well as these families’ determination to keep the call for justice alive.
According to Article 34 of the Constitution, “It is the indisputable right of every citizen to seek justice by recourse to competent courts.” However, victims of human rights violations do not have access to effective grieving mechanisms.
Yet Iranian officials’ refusal to implement such mechanisms has not dampened this movement’s determination to deliver justice and ensure victims’ stories are never forgotten.
Keeping Victims’ Memories Alive
Justice-seeking movements are defined by their common struggles and focus on causes including fact-finding investigations, identifying the perpetrators of violence and tyranny, holding rights violators accountable, and advocating for mechanisms that could deliver justice to families through various means including compensation for injuries and loss of life.
One of the key components of all justice-seeking movements is their insistence on keeping victims’ stories and experiences of the injustices committed against them alive. This ongoing struggle has the power to transform short-term actions and reactions into long-term historic movements.
These movements are also heavily focused on reforming legal institutions and demanding evidence-based, transparent, and fair investigations. In other words, these movements seek to make rulers accountable to individuals whose rights have been violated. As these movements grow, so too does the public’s awareness of their rights.
In Iran, the “Mothers of Khavaran,” composed of mothers whose children were killed in Iran’s mass executions in the 1980s, is an example of an ongoing struggle to keeps victims’ memories alive by demanding facts about what happened to their children.
In 1988, a committee–known today as the “death committee“–formed by then-Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini paved the way for at least 4,500-5,000 prisoners to be executed and buried in unmarked mass and individual graves, based on the committee’s determination of their “loyalty” to the newly established Islamic Republic. These prisoners had already been tried and were serving their issued prison sentences.
The four-panel committee included Ebrahim Raisi, who is currently running for president despite also being judiciary chief.
Despite more than three decades of harassment, threats and persecution by courts and state security forces, these mothers have persisted, including by holding gatherings at Khavaran Cemetery in south Tehran twice a year in August and March.
A statement issued by the families of the victims on June 4, 2021, called for the 1988 executions to be formally recognized by the international community as a crime committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“As relatives of Khavaran victims, to this day we do not know how this crime was committed or where they buried our loved ones in unmarked graves,” said the statement. “For years, we have been looking for the truth and seeking justice.”
Seeking Justice, Not Revenge
Justice-seeking movements should not be associated with revenge. These movements are not guided by personal hostility against the perpetrators of state violence and crimes against the people.
Justice should be served not by the victims’ families, but in a court of law presided by independent judges following judicial standards based on principles of human rights.
In the words of artist and human rights activist Parastou Forouhar, whose parents were murdered by Iranian intelligence agents in the 1990s, “… seeking justice is based on awareness and critical thinking, not vengeance. This is a legacy that must be shaped by a legal process in the courts if there is going to be any hope for the establishment of justice and cleansing instruments of oppression from society.”
Public awareness of human rights and insistence on fair and transparent judicial processes are the most important components of justice-seeking movements around the world. Demands for bloody revenge or retribution are completely out of the question in any struggle for meaningful and lasting justice.
Iran’s Justice Seeking civil rights movement envisions a future where courts are built on principles of fairness and transparency while keeping victims’ memories alive. This ongoing struggle also gives strength and hope to victims of state repression and abuses regardless of the obstacles they face.
Challenges and the Road Ahead
Article 34 of Iran’s Constitution states, “All citizens have a right to access such courts, and no one can be barred from courts to which he has a legal right of recourse.” Yet courts continue to deny this right to victims of state repression and human rights violations by making them pay a heavy price through harassment, threats, and prosecutions, all orchestrated by judicial officials and state security forces.
For more than 40 years of the Islamic Republic’s existence, justice-seekers have been demanding accountability from a state that not only fears the disclosure of facts, but also routinely cracks down on efforts to seek justice. Naturally, this has made many victims and relatives apprehensive about seeking justice and sometimes silenced them.
Yet ongoing state repression has made the struggle for justice in Iran greater than ever before.
In recent years, various components of this struggle have intertwined to form the outlines of a justice-seeking movement. Groups and individual activists are offering effective support to each other and emphasizing the need for solidarity and common peaceful actions that could eventually turn into a major movement.
An example of this growing unity is the collaboration between the Mothers of Laleh Park and families of other victims of state repression.
On April 1, 2021, the same day of the anniversary of the referendum that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, activists launched a highly evocative online Persian-language campaign to narrate 100 stories from 100 victims of torture and oppression in Iran’s prisons.
This campaign was widely hailed for strengthening solidarity among justice-seekers across the country and abroad.
As more and more activists join hands and minds, Iran’s Justice Seeking movement is forming to seize this historic opportunity to unite civil and human rights advocates towards the common goals of seeking and delivering justice.
The movement’s latest action includes a lawsuit filed in Iran by a group of civil rights activists against those who order or enforce solitary confinement in the country’s detention centers and prisons, bringing to the fore public discussion in Iran of a longstanding practice that the UN has labeled as torture.
Read this article in Persian.