Justice for Iran, 21 May 2019 — Experts on enforced disappearances warned that  the efforts to seek rights to truth and justice continue to be suppressed and forgotten in the MENA and Caucasus regions. On Friday, a panel discussion was held in Istanbul to launch the new book, Any Hopes for Truth? A Comparative Analysis of Enforced Disappearances and the Missing in the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus. The book was published by the non-governmental organisation Truth Justice Memory Center and focuses on continuation of enforced disappearances in nine countries—Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Iran, Lebanon, Russia, and Turkey.

Any Hopes for Truth? explains the historical and modern backgrounds of enforced disappearance in each country and compares patterns of crime, legal situations, memorialization efforts, and individual stories. The book “attempts to underscore the importance of the phenomenon of enforced disappearance, illustrate its various manifestations, reveal its diverse forms of occurrence in different geographical contexts, and highlight its ongoing consequences.”

Istanbuler audiences attending the book launch panel

Debunking Common Assumptions

At the launch, the author of the new book and founder member at Truth Justice Memory Center, Dr. Özgür Sevgi Göral explained why her research was necessary. She stated that, in releasing the publication, she aims to change the global assumption that enforced disappearance is an issue of Latin American dictatorships from decades past.

Panellists from Cyprus, Turkey, Iran, and Russia discussed the similarities and differences of current and past struggles of the phenomenon, and how its victims’ families have responded in countries where enforced disappearance is as a government policy.

A Collective Effort Spanning Continents

In collaboration with several non-governmental and grassroots organisations, activists, and scholars, Dr. Goral researched the phenomenon around the MENA and Caucasus regions, finding that the acts and consequences of enforced disappearance are diverse in each context. Each demonstrates a different dimension of the crime; yet some aspects are tragically similar, such as the impunity of perpetrators and government harassment of victims’ relatives.

One chapter of the book was written in collaboration with Justice for Iran, which contributed to the Iran chapter with a joint-report about mass graves and enforced disappearances, published with Amnesty International. This section carefully explains the various dimensions of enforced disappearance across Iran and the current situation for families, amid the shroud of total impunity protecting perpetrators. In her publication, Dr. Göral points out that relatives of the disappeared are harassed by authorities, for their attempts to memorialize them and seek rights to truth and justice.

Backlash In Iran

At the launch, Shadi Sadr, Justice for Iran’s Executive Director, delivered a brief history of Iran’s massacres in the decades following the Islamic revolution of 1979; explaining that thousands of political dissidents were massacred, and clandestinely buried in mass graves, as well as the legal impossibility of families being able to attain truth and justice for their disappeared relatives.

Shadi Sadr explained why the Islamic Republic of Iran is “a regime with absolute impunity” and how that affects the families’ searches for truth and justice. She said, currently, the Head of the Judiciary and Justice Minister are both among those responsible for forcibly disappearing thousands of political prisoners in the 1988 massacre. Only a few family members of disappeared people have had the courage to file legal complaints. One of them is Maryam Akbari-Monfared, who is now a political prisoner herself. Despite this, she has filed a complaint seeking truth and justice for her sister and brother, two victims of the 1988 massacre. Although it was obvious that her complaint would not be successful, by filing it she could inform the public on a greater scale about the injustice her family has been subjected to.

Closer To Closure In Lebanon

Mona Nasseraldin of Act for the Disappeared spoke about a law which was  recently passed in Lebanon. After much effort on the part of families whose loved-ones were disappeared in the 1950s during the civil war, the new law establishes a commission consisting partly of family representatives to establish the truth through different ways including excavating the mass graves and identifying remains. She mentioned that the greatest challenge in the way of truth and justice is now the government, which has yet to assign the budget and resources necessary for executing the law.  

Accountability In Russia

According to human rights lawyer Tatiana Chernikova from Human Rights Center ‘Memorial’, cases of enforced disappearances in Chechnya are being reviewed by European Court of Human Rights, and while the court has ruled in favour of families for most, those families have not been able to access truth. The failure of the Russian government to begin investigating cases means that, for now, justice can be had only in the form of compensations.

Lingering Pain In Cyprus

Shirin Jetha and the other panellist from Cyprus explained that a fifth of families in Cyprus can report at least one missing family member, after the armed conflicts in the 70s. Though mass graves have been investigated and some human remains have been identified to families, there is no plan to render justice there, due to different reasons including a distrust of groups and individuals representing the struggle.

Terrible Truth In Turkey

A map of mass graves in Turkey, indicating that a large number of them lie in Kurdish regions

The President of the Istanbul Branch of the Human Rights Association, Gülseren Yoleri, discussed in detail the history of how the Turkish government has used enforced disappearance as a policy. So far, over 1300 names of individuals forcibly disappeared by the Turkish government in the 90’s have been registered, the majority of whom are Kurds. A map she presented to the audience reveals the chilling fact that almost all the mass graves in Turkey are located in the Kurdish regions of the country.

Any Hopes for Truth uncovers genocide and violence against ethnic minorities in several other countries as well, signifying a disturbingly common thread across disappearances in the MENA and Caucasus regions.

Visit the interactive webpage for the book by clicking here.

New Exhibition In Istanbul

At the same time as the launch of Any Hopes for Truth, The Truth Justice Memory Center opened an exhibit on the disappeared in Turkey with the portraits of the disappeared depicted on blocks of marble.

This exhibit also featured the Saturday Mothers who are still searching for missing relatives while Turkish authorities conceal their fates and whereabouts for decades. Their peaceful protests, wherein they hold photographs of their lost loved-ones, has been met in the past with police brutality and has been banned from time to time.