Iran tribunal: What a legalistic shambles

The ‘resolutions’ of the Iran Tribunal have proved Hopi right, argues Yassamine Mather

In the good old days of the Moscow trials it was customary for fallen members of the Soviet leadership to disappear from group photographs, their image wiped out of history, as they fell out of favour with Stalin. How ironic that the 21st century unholy alliance between Iran’s soft left and neo-conservatives in what is known as the Iran Tribunal seems to have adopted the same method in dealing with the embarrassing outcome of its second phase.

The Farsi version of the long-awaited final resolution never made it to the IT website and the English version1 has been either removed or hidden away somewhere where it is difficult to find.2 As the embarrassing clauses were translated into Farsi, the organisers were confronted with a barrage of criticism. The soft left has attempted to justify the disappearance of the final statement with the claim that the ‘findings’ were temporary resolutions - although the ‘prosecutor’, Payam Akhavan, and his allies consider the job done and deny the ‘temporary’ nature of the findings.

For months the soft left acted as cheerleaders for this dubious project and told us they easily outnumbered the ‘three or four’ liberal (neo-conservative) figures involved in the tribunal; there was no danger of their politics being watered down - they were in charge and they knew what they were doing. They dismissed our criticisms of the participation of these rightwing, pro-imperialist figures as scaremongering by sectarian forces. However, as we have said on a number of occasions, the problem is not just the presence of the likes of Akhavan and the Boroumand Foundation (which openly flaunts its connections with the imperialist-funded National Endowment for Democracy in the Untied States), Sir Jeffrey Nice (the Conservative Party’s chair of Human Rights!) or dozens of similar figures. It is a fact that these individuals, the organisations they are associated with dominated the agenda of the Iran Tribunal.

So, unlike the deluded soft left, we in Hands Off the People of Iran were not surprised that clause one in the IT resolution called in the first instance on Tehran itself to deal with the issue of the executions of political prisoners in 1988. The tribunal recommended: “That the Islamic Republic of Iran as the prime authority, bearing the greatest responsibility, investigate these atrocities and bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.”

This is a very interesting development. The entire religious state - its current supreme leader, ayatollah Khamenei, his predecessor, ayatollah Khomeini, leading figures of the ‘reformist’ Islamist opposition, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mir-Hossein Moussavi - all were directly involved in the decision to physically eliminate the radical left in Iran, and these executions were part and parcel of that process. How on earth can they be expected to “bring the alleged perpetrators to justice”?

Now, Hopi has faced many accusations from the more die-hard supporters of the Iran Tribunal because of our principled approach to this event and amongst them was the allegation that we had cuddled up to the Islamic Republic because of the threat of war. The resolution passed at the end of the second IT phase proved who truly harbours illusions about the theocratic regime. From the very beginning it was predictable that the tribunal, as a minor player in US plans for regime change from above, would follow the usual imperialist cycle of threats, negotiation and further threats. This is what happens when you give bourgeois lawyers a free hand - their understanding of international law is solely based on acceptance of existing states and institutions.

The second point in the IT resolution states: “That the Human Rights Council of the United Nations establish a commission of inquiry, as recommended by the special rapporteur, to investigate these atrocities.”

Now the rapporteur, Maurice Copithorn, visited Iran in the late 1990s and, as many witnesses have said, he was not interested in these executions, because at that time the US, and by extension the UN, was in favour of negotiations with the ‘reformist’ wing of the regime: the last thing they wanted brought out was Iran’s ‘human rights’ record. So this clause demonstrates the result of relying on the UN to monitor abuses.

By far the worst clause is the third one: “That the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation mandate its Independent Permanent Commission of Human Rights to designate these violations a ‘priority human rights issue’ and ‘conduct studies and research’ into it.” In other words, the OIC, consisting of 57 reactionary regimes, is given the task of overseeing Iran’s compliance with the findings!

The whole story would be comical, were it not for the enormity of the crimes committed. Apart from the fact that referring Iran to the Sunni-led OIC is a blatantly political message from our ‘non-political’ ‘human rights’ advocates, at a time of worsening regional tensions between Sunnis and Shias, it makes a mockery of the whole claimed process of achieving justice for all those executed by the Iranian regime in 1988, who were overwhelmingly working class partisans. The execution of communist men and women in a religious state is to be judged by another group of backward religious states headed by Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates, Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt ... In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive a car, many of them cannot venture out of the house unaccompanied, let alone join a Marxist organisation calling for the overthrow of the religious state. It will be interesting to see how helpful Saudi sharia law is in winning justice for the comrades we lost in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic.


Over the years we have seen some bizarre positions taken up by sections of the left in relation to Iran. In the first years after the revolution, pro-Soviet parties followed Moscow’s directive that Iran’s move from the sphere of influence of the US represented some sort of ‘revolutionary change’ and subsequently the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, the war with Iraq, and so on were claimed as proof of the regime’s ‘anti-imperialism’. Not only that, but appallingly these groups justified and supported the regime’s suppression of working class protests, and the imprisonment and execution of leftwing political prisoners. Many Trotskyist groups and organisations also adopted such positions. In fact it was years later, following revelations about the Irangate scandal, that our position was vindicated and the left finally admitted that such events had nothing to do with anti-imperialism.

As far as Iran’s new rulers were concerned, taking hostages in the US embassy in November 1979 was part of a plan to simultaneously divert attention from rising workers’ protests and the consolidation of the power of the new state. The hostages were pawns in the political games played by the US and later Israel. Certainly the Hezbollah hostages in Lebanon, they were released as part of the elaborate Iran contra deal: hostages were exchanged for Israeli weapons, to help Iran fight its ‘anti-western’ war against Iraq. In exchange for these weapons, Iran paid funds into Swiss accounts belonging to the Nicaraguan contras, as well as sending oil to Israel.

However, while the congressional hearings that finally exposed Iran’s sham anti-imperialism only took place seven years later in 1986, it has taken just a few months for Hopi’s position on the Iran Tribunal to be vindicated with the release of the ‘resolutions’ of the second phase.

Of course Hopi comrades have been very patient in dealing with the accusations levelled against us because of our principled stance (there have also been cyber attacks on our website and attempts to hack into our email accounts), as well as the sneers and even threats by what can only be described as the most ignorant factions of the Iranian left. The comrades on our steering committee responded very well and indeed the whole saga has consolidated our position, strengthened our unity and once again proved that principled opposition to popular frontism does pass the test.


Having said that, I believe there is a need to reply to some of the accusations levelled against Hopi, especially as they are still being repeated, now as former advocates of the tribunal are trying to distance themselves from both the findings and the process itself. Apparently our ‘sectarian’ attitude in wanting to expose the tribunal did not help them realise its true nature.

So let me reply to one such individual, Taghi Rouzbeh of the ‘Central Committee’ faction of Rahe Kargar.3 He might well be an expert on the various factions of the Iranian regime (his supporters will tell you he can predict which ayatollah in Ghom will take which side in the debate over nuclear capability), but when it comes to Marxist politics, his knowledge could fit on the back of a postage stamp.

First of all, sectarianism refers to positioning within the left at the expense of the class. “By directing socialism towards a fusion with the working class movement,” wrote Lenin, “Karl Marx and Frederick Engels did their greatest service: they created a revolutionary theory that explained the necessity for this fusion and gave socialists the task of organising the class struggle of the proletariat.” This has nothing to do with the dissolution of a revolutionary project into a non-revolutionary one or, in the case of the Iran Tribunal, into a pro-imperialist, reactionary one.

When we warned the Iranian left about the dangers, we were not acting in a sectarian manner. We were saying that, contrary to their claims, they are not part of the ‘third force’ confronting both the Iranian regime and imperialist forces. Once we give free rein to the likes of Akhavan and so accept the hegemony of bourgeois forces, including those who are proud of their association with the National Endowment for Democracy, we are no longer defending the Iranian working class. On the contrary, such forces are allies of the ‘first force’ - the imperialist powers and world capitalism - irrespective of whether this betrayal is carried out consciously or not. In the same manner, apologists of one or other faction of the Islamic regime, those who refuse to call for its overthrow, should be counted within the ranks of the ‘second force’.

Far from being sectarian, Hopi was acting in a responsible way, trying to stop comrades from falling into a dangerous trap.