Kaveh Shahrooz, lawyer, writer and human rights activist who led a recent successful effort to convince Canada’s parliament to recognize the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran as crimes against humanity, addressed the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy see quotes below, followed by the full prepared remarks.

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Main Event, Tuesday, February 18, 2020

On his uncle’s arrest and murder by the Iranian regime:

“My uncle was arrested at the age of 19 in the reign of terror that followed the Iranian revolution.  His crime was selling newspapers that the new regime didn’t approve of, and for that he was subject to a five-minute kangaroo court without counsel, tortured to the point of paralysis, and given a ten-year sentence.”

“Like thousands of other families, mine heard about his execution weeks after it happened. No body was ever returned to us. To this day, we do not know where he is buried.”

On Iranian authoritarianism:

“Iran is an authoritarian regime that kills dissidents, imposes gender apartheid, and treats certain religious minorities as non-persons under the law.”

“Iranians are sick of a regime that squanders their wealth on terrorist proxies abroad.  They’re sick of the lie that America is to blame for all their problems.”

On government response to recent protests in Iran:

“The regime shut off the internet for nearly a week, preventing Iranians from organizing and stopping the world from seeing images of the regime’s brutality.”

“In approximately three days, the regime killed 1,500 people, often using snipers in helicopters to shoot indiscriminately into crowds.  And it has arrested nearly 7,000 people who will undoubtedly be tortured.  Some will almost certainly be executed.”

Full prepared remarks below:

Let me begin by thanking UN Watch and the other organizers of the Geneva Summit.  It is an honour to be among so many leading human rights experts and so many brave dissidents. 

The speakers today are from different countries.  And the dictators and extremists they battle come in different garb: in suits, in military fatigues, and in clerical robes. 

But what all the speeches [will] reveal is that from China to Saudi Arabia, from Pakistan to Malawi to Cuba, our struggle is one. 

Our struggle is for the right to think, to speak, to assemble, and to decide our own futures.

Our collective struggle is, above all us, for simple human dignity

I am a Canadian, but I was born in Iran and I am here today to tell you that nearly 80 million Iranians are part of that struggle. 

I was born shortly after the Iranian revolution and some of my earliest memories are of visiting my uncle in Iran’s prisons.  He had been arrested at the age of 19 in the reign of terror that followed the Iranian revolution.  His crime was selling newspapers that the new regime didn’t approve of, and for that he was subject to a five-minute kangaroo court without counsel, tortured to the point of paralysis, and given a ten-year sentence. 

Of that ten-year sentence, he served only eight. 

In the summer of 1988, he was, along with thousands of other political prisoners, summoned out of his cell, brought before another kangaroo court (which the prisoners called a Death Commission) , questioned for no more than two or three minutes, and sent to hang.

Like thousands of other families, mine heard about his execution weeks after it happened.  We were summoned to a prison to collect his few belongings.  We were told we were not allowed to hold a funeral for him.

No body was ever returned to us.

To this day, we do not know where he is buried.  

There has never been justice in his case.

In fact, not only has there never been accountability, but the very people who carried out that massacre continue to be promoted.

In her seminal book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt wrote “it is one thing to ferret out criminals and murderers from their hiding places, and it is another thing to find them prominent and flourishing in the public realm.”

The men who arrested, tortured, and murdered my uncle, are today prominent and flourishing in the public realm.

One such man, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who served as a member of that 1988 Death Commission, was until recently Iran’s Minister of “Justice”. 

What a cruel joke! 

Another such Death Commissioner, Ebrahim Raeesi, is today the head of Iran’s judiciary.

What a cruel joke!

The Western media that covers Iran constantly tells us that Iran’s politics is limited to a battle between “hardliners” and “reformists”.  Well, none other than so-called “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani appointed these death commissioners to their roles. 

What a cruel joke!

But I am here today to tell you that there is another story, which the Western media has not been telling.

It is the story of Iranians who have risen up repeatedly against an authoritarian regime that kills dissidents, imposes gender apartheid, and treats certain religious minorities as non-persons under the law.

There have been many widespread protests in recent years. Just last November, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets, even in the most conservative and religious corners of the country, to demand an end to a regime that has left them unable to find work, to feed their children, and to live normal lives. 

They demanded an end to the vast and uncontrolled corruption. 

They demanded the right to speak.

They demanded that Iran’s political prisoners be set free. 

The regime responded with violence that shocks the conscience.  It shut off the internet for nearly a week, preventing Iranians from organizing and stopping the world from seeing images of the regime’s brutality.   And then, in approximately 3 days, the regime killed 1,500 people, often using snipers in helicopters to shoot indiscriminately into crowds.  And it has arrested nearly 7,000 people who will undoubtedly be tortured and subject to trials falling short of international standards.  Some will almost certainly be executed. 

The other story you don’t often hear is of what the people chant when they take to the streets. 

They chant “Not for Gaza, not for Lebanon, I give my life for Iran”. 

They chant “they tell us the enemy is America; but our enemy is right here.”

And they chant “Reformist, Hardliner, it’s game over.” 

What this means is that Iranians are sick of a regime that squanders their wealth on terrorist proxies abroad.  They’re sick of the lie that America is to blame for all their problems.  And they’re sick of the lie that this regime can be reformed. 

So, what do Iranians need from us? 

They need us to be their voice and to tell our governments that the only way to help the people of Iran is by helping them topple – by themselves – this authoritarian regime. 

They need us to be their voice at places like the UN Human Rights Council which, regrettably, too often turns a blind eye to dictatorship. 

And they need us to reject the lies told by the Iranian regime’s lobby in the West: the lie that absolves Iran’s theocracy of all guilt by blaming America and Israel for all of Iran’s sins.  And the lie that Iran’s regime needs less pressure from the human rights community, not more.   

In short, what the Iranian people need from us is meaningful and sustained solidarity.

I began by saying that all of us in this room are united in common cause and common struggle, because we all recognize that the desire for human rights and democracy is universal. 

Today, the people of Iran are sacrificing life and limb to achieve that desire.  I hope you will support them.

Click here to watch Kaveh Shahrooz address the 2020 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.