The Iran Atrocities Tribunal, also known as the Aban Tribunal, is an International People’s Tribunal investigating whether Iranian authorities committed crimes against humanity and grave violations of human rights in the atrocities of November 2019. Six internationally renowned lawyers are seated on the panel of judges to review the accusation of crimes against humanity against 160 officials.
In November 2019, protests broke out over fuel prices that led to nationwide, peaceful protests. The following week saw unprecedented repression, leaving thousands dead, injured, arbitrarily detained and tortured. The nationwide protests were peaceful and consisted mostly of people blocking roads with their cars and shouting slogans. Most protests started off targeting the rise in fuel prices but quickly turned to their qualms with the establishment. The response of the Iranian government was brutal. Over the week that followed, protests across the country were repressed by police and military forces with firearms and other weapons of war. Meanwhile, the state imposed a nearly total shutdown of the internet – the atrocities happened behind closed doors, away from the international public eye.
People’s tribunals first appeared in 1966 when Bertrand Russell initiated the International War Crimes Tribunal, known as the Russell Tribunal. This was a reaction to the world’s poor response towards the crimes committed by the US during the Vietnam war.
The judgments of these tribunals provide reliable facts and evidence that can be used to urge official international organisations or governments to take action and create a historical ‘evidence base’ record (where no other may ever exist) of the criminality of horrifying events. They also provide some resolution to the survivors or loved ones of those killed or victims who have died since the event being investigated.
Months after the November 2019 atrocities, no tangible action was taken by the international community nor domestically against the authorities, and victims and their families were being silenced. After calls made by families of those who were killed or greatly affected, three civil society organisations, Justice for Iran, Iran Human Rights and ECPM – Together against the death penalty saw the need for a platform to have their voices heard. They asked six internationally renowned lawyers to sit on the panel of judges and make a verdict over the accusation of crimes against humanity. They include the chair, Wayne Jordash QC who has been appointed as the advisor on international criminal law to the General Prosecutor of Ukraine.
The first call for witnesses was issued in November 2020, when the Tribunal was officially established, and was repeated in November 2021. More than 400 people responded. These included victims of injuries, arrest or torture, family members of killed victims, as well as bystanders, eyewitnesses, medical professionals, members of police and armed forces, and government and judicial officials.
Evidence was collected and verified by co-Counsellors, Regina Paulose and Hamid Sabi, and their teams. In November 2021, the Tribunal came to fruition and has since had two sets of hearings, each several days long.
According to evidence gathered by Counsel, 160 stand accused of crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and rape. Among them are the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, current president, Ebrahim Raisi, and former president, Hassan Rouhani. They have chosen not to respond to Counsel’s call to defend their positions.
The panel is expected to make a final judgment over whether the acts committed amount to crimes against humanity and other grave human rights abuses, based on evidence gathered by Counsel and told by witnesses.
The first set of hearings lasted 5 days, from 10th-14th November 2021, and took place in London. The Tribunal heard testimonies from 34 eyewitnesses and six experts on international law and Iran’s situation. The testimonies were given virtually or in person. To protect their identities due to continuing persecution, many witnesses chose to cover their faces with items of clothing such as masks, sunglasses, and scarves.
Following the public interest in the first set of hearings, many more witnesses asked to testify. The tribunal established a second set of hearings from 4th-6th February 2022, in London. A further 19 people gave public testimony. These included high-level government officials, including a Commander of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC).
The Tribunal also accepted written testimony from 171 remaining witnesses.
You can read more in detail about the testimonies here.
There was widespread coverage of the first session, especially in Iran. More than 15 million viewers watched live broadcasts each day for five consecutive days as the hearings were covered by major Iranian media outlets, including, Iran International, BBC Persian, Radio Farda, Persian Voice of America, Radio Farda and Iran Wire. It became the most watched event in Iran’s history of civil activism.
Though the second session in February was semi-public and live recording was prohibited, the Tribunal still garnered a lot of attention in Iran, due to Persian mainstream media coverage.
Iran’s government officials and their affiliated media outlets reacted to the Tribunal on a large scale. The Iranian government has refused to respond to the evidence presented, but on February 7th, 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that they had made a formal complaint to the UK government to cease the Tribunal’s proceedings in favour of diplomatic relations. The UK government is not a participant in the independent Tribunal.
Organisations such as Amnesty International, Article 19 and the International Bar Association, and European officials, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Swedish MP Amina Kakabaveh, have commended Aban Tribunal for its endeavour in ending impunity in Iran and called on the international community to support the Tribunal.
Alongside a broader civil society coalition, the NGOs, who have organised the Tribunal will continue to campaign for justice for all victims of human rights abuses that occurred in November 2019.
Their hope is that the judgement will trigger a UN-led independent investigative mechanism, such as those for Syria, Myanmar, and Nicaragua, and that those responsible for crimes against humanity will be held to account under international law, whether by domestic courts or internationally. They will advocate for those responsible to be put on human rights sanction lists adopted using the Magnitsky Acts.
If you have any information regarding the November 2019 atrocities, please contact the Co-Counsel Signal/WhatsApp number at: +447770057007.
You can donate to the Tribunal here – all proceeds will be used to cover the costs of the Tribunal.
We ask the press, public figures and private citizens to show solidarity with the Iranian people. Often, these atrocities occur outside the public eye, as officials wish them to be. Be an ally to the Tribunal. Be the voice of the voiceless. These are some examples of actions you can take:
-Talk to your family, friends, and neighbours and ask them to support the Tribunal
-Write to your MP and ask them to echo the Tribunal’s call on the UN and you government
-Do anything and everything in your power to bring it to the attention of media, law and policymakers.
A crime against international law demands an international response.