The acceptance speech of Mothers of Khavaran
2014 Gwangjou Human Rights Prize
It is with joy that we take this opportunity to express our gratitude on behalf of all mothers and family members of Khavaran. We are truly delighted that through this award our call for accountability will reach the global community.
More than a quarter of a century has passed since we began the quest for recognition of our rights and access to truth regarding the fate of our loved ones. The oppressors have not fallen short in their efforts to give rise to our suffering. They threaten, summon and detain us. They vehemently oppose any effort to come together and remember our loved ones, in our homes, or by their gravesides. They refuse us entry into Khavaran. They deny us the right to lay a flower or a sign on their unmarked graves. Despite all these expressions of violence and persecution, we remain unwavered in our quest to learn of the truth that shall set in motion the reign of justice in our land.
Throughout these decades, innumerable survivors have been treated unjustly for ideas and ideals espoused by their late offsprings, efforts to find the truth about their fate, or marking their anniversaries. Some were expelled from employment. Others were denied the right to travel, while majority face a perpetual cycle of socioeconomic deprivation designed to belittle and dehumanise these wronged ones.
During the first decade of the Islamic Republic, the precious lives of our loved ones were cut short through execution, assassination or deadly torture. The authorities refused us the right to receive and observe the rites for our dead, but instead buried them unceremoniously, without the humanity to inform a single survivor.
Khavaran is an area in southeast of Tehran, an annex to a cemetery where non-Muslims are forced to bury their dead. It was called Lanatabad, the Abode of the Damned. It came into being in 1981, when the first cohorts of Communist political activists were put to death. Soon other leftist activists faced the same fate. None of those laid to rest were buried by their loved ones. It was state officials who secretly threw them in single or mass graves. Thus began years of oppression of Mothers of Khavaran, denying us the right to honour our dead. Despite all this, we persisted, gathered together by their gravesides and pressed on to find the truth of their fate, as the foundation for retributive justice.
But Khavaran is not the only gravesite where dissidents are buried in an unceremonious manner. In other corners of Tehran, in different provinces, there are similar cemeteries, unmarked and perhaps as yet unknown. Where our loved ones are buried without a word to us or their families, all the while, the government harassing the survivors for asking why and how they were killed. All of them are a part of us. We are part of them. Together, we are Mothers of Khavaran.
Regardless of perils and persecution, we have taken advantage of every opportunity to open our homes and remember those whose lives were taken far too soon, to bring to an end as era of denial and to challenge the politics of forced public amnesia.
Time and time again we have sought response from our government authorities, but there has been none. No one has dared to shed a light on why and how they were taken as individual citizens or as comrades sharing an ideology.
We then pleaded to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. Despite our repeated calls, nothing has come to pass.
We seek no revenge. We oppose retaliation. Even against those whose hands are covered in the blood of our children. What we do seek is justice. What we do demand is a transparent and fair court that will openly try those involved in this crime against humanity, so that Iranians stand together and commit to the call of ‘never again’!
Majority among us are aged and frail. Others are long gone from this world. But one truth remains. To the last breath we will seek justice in honor of those who rest in peace at Khavaran. To the last breath we will exert every effort to build a society where every child, woman or man is free to believe, to live and to progress.