Published June 19, 2014
Makau W. Mutua served as one of six judges on an international tribunal that has now issued a scathing verdict against the Islamic Republic of Iran over gross violations of human rights and crimes against humanity during in the 1980s.
Mutua, a well-known figure on the international human rights scene, joined his fellow judges in hearing testimony in The Hague, Netherlands, last year. The Iran Tribunal was looking into charges that Iran’s Islamic leaders brutally repressed demonstrations by young activists throughout the ’80s, executing thousands of people and subjecting others to physical and mental torture. Following a 1988 government fatwa ordering the execution of all political prisoners who “remained steadfast in their position,” thousands of prisoners were executed and their bodies interred in mass graves.
Only recently, the tribunal said, has the Islamic Republic of Iran acknowledged that mass executions occurred.
Mutua and his fellow judges heard three days of difficult testimony in October 2012 from 19 witnesses. The Iranian government, though invited, declined to participate in the tribunal’s proceedings.
The tribunal, composed of international jurists, was asked to determine Iran’s responsibility for violating its citizens’ human rights under international law. It heard evidence of imprisonment without fair trial; arbitrary executions; torture and rape of prisoners; and persecution on political and religious grounds “amounting to intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the groups.” In addition to the witness statements, the tribunal considered the 419-page report summarizing the investigation by a Truth Commission that heard from about 75 witnesses.
The tribunal heard testimony of the Iran government’s oppression of ethnic and religious minorities, including members of the Baha’i faith, Arab-Iranians and Kurdish Iranians; sexual abuse of women; and the torture of political prisoners.
The conclusion reached by the judges was that the Iranian government was indeed responsible for “substantial and widespread violations of human rights” in Iranian prisons in the 1980s, in violation of clearly established international law. The verdict, handed down at The Hague on Feb. 5, holds the Islamic Republic of Iran “fully accountable for its systematic and widespread commission of crimes against humanity.”
Mutua, a SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar at the Law School, teaches in the areas of international human rights, international business transactions and international law. He was educated at the University of Nairobi, the University of Dar-es-Salaam and Harvard Law School. Mutua is a vice president of the American Society of International Law and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has conducted numerous human rights, diplomatic and rule of law missions to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe.