How we’ll take Iran to court for crimes against women

The people of Iran must know that someone out there is documenting their plight and bringing it, in all its harrowing detail, to the international stage

Alicia Alinia
Wednesday 19 April 2023 18:06 BST
Moment man attacks Iranian women with yoghurt for not wearing hijabs

It’s rarely easy to discuss politics calmly as a British lawyer. It’s even harder as a child of Iranian immigrants.

The news from Iran over the last few months has been alarming. Over 15,000 protesters – calling for more basic freedoms for women – have been arrested, and security forces are estimated to have killed at least 537 people. State-directed torture and sexual abuse has become routine. Meanwhile, schoolgirls across the country face horrifying chemical attacks without much support from the government.

So far this has elicited an ineffectual response from Western governments. Condemnation and sloganeering has been futile. Iranians and human rights activists abroad are right to feel frustrated by this state of affairs, but there’s a lot we can do still do.

International law grants rights to all people regardless of where they live, not just to citizens of certain countries, said the former head of the UN, Kofi Annan. As lawyers concerned about global human rights, it’s time we put that into practice.

Today, a group of lawyers, academics, journalists and activists, some of Iranian heritage, will join together to launch a new initiative to get justice for human rights abuses in Iran. We aim to build a global group of experts to help document and analyse the human rights abuses in Iran, with a view to securing justice for the victims in international courts.

We want to put the Iranian government on notice. It can choose to dismiss Western government actions as posturing and interference, but it cannot take the same attitude when its own people have submitted evidence of brutal human rights violations to independent bodies.

The recent and unprecedented arrest warrant issued for Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court judges was an example of how international law can be pushed beyond what was previously thought possible. In our modern world, where citizens can more easily record and share evidence of state abuse, it set an important marker. Expect to see a lot more such arrest warrants.

The beauty of international law is that much of it is newly established. That makes it fertile territory for creating new precedents. We believe that monitoring and documenting human rights violations in Iran and preparing that evidence so it can stand up in court, is a powerful way to hold the regime to account. Those guilty should have evidence presented against them at international courts.

In November 2022 the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to establish an independent international fact-finding mission to “thoroughly and independently investigate alleged human rights violations” in Iran. It has also invited groups and organisations to submit evidence towards that mandate. We believe this is an excellent starting point.

We also believe that by using the full force of the law alongside a globally connected community of academics, politicians and the media, we can be a force to hold those abusing their power to account.

The people of Iran must know that someone out there is documenting their plight and bringing it, in all its harrowing detail, to the international stage. Perhaps one day they will finally get the justice they deserve.

Alicia Alinia is global chief operating officer at Pogust Goodhead

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