The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) has questioned Iran on the fates of 20 victims of the 1988 prisons massacre during the past five years, giving hope to families of the murdered.

The Working Group has asked of the Islamic Republic of Iran to conduct investigations into these disappearances and reveal information regarding the fates and whereabouts of these individuals.

Justice for Iran commemorated the International Day of the Enforced Disappeared by highlighting stories of victims who have been recognised as forcibly disappeared individuals by the UNWGEID asking for investigation into the mass executions of the 1980s in Iran.

“We are delighted that the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntarily Disappearances has formally recognised 20 more as such. This is significant as it is a step for the families towards getting answers from the Islamic Republic, over 30 years after the fact,” says Shadi Sadr, the Executive Director of Justice for Iran.

All those recognised by the UNWGEID had been political prisoners at the time of the prison massacre of the 1980s.

One such person was Nafiseh Rouhani, a teenager who was first arrested at age 14 and then forcibly disappeared in the summer of 1988. Despite multiple enquiries, her family were never given information on her whereabouts or her fate. Justice for Iran chose to commemorate the forcibly disappeared by highlighting her memory, lest she and others be forgotten.

The UNWGEID describes an enforced disappearance as, “a detention, followed by an extrajudicial execution, is an enforced disappearance proper, as long as such detention or deprivation of liberty was carried out by governmental agents of whatever branch or level, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the government, and, subsequent to the detention, or even after the execution was carried out, state officials refuse to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or refuse to acknowledge the act having been perpetrated at all.”

In the 1980s, the Islamic Republic of Iran began rounding up political activists and their supporters, particularly those who were left-wing and against the regime. After a fatwa (order) issued by Khomeini, the Supreme Leader, prison authorities began the mass execution of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. Due to such a high rate of execution and the need to keep them hidden, most of the dead were buried in unmarked mass graves. Their families were never given answers about their fates and whereabouts and are still persecuted for mourning their loved ones.

Justice for Iran’s project, Painscapes, which launched in 2018, is aiming to document the disappearances of the 1980s by mapping the atrocities. It serves as a tool not only for research, but to remember the disappeared before their mass graves are destroyed. Over 70 mass graves have been identified and 50 more locations are under investigation.