The conviction of an Iranian official by a Swedish court for his part in the mass execution and torture of political prisoners was welcomed on Friday by a top UN-appointed independent rights expert.

The development came after Hamid Nouri – a former Iranian prosecutor and prison officer – was arrested at a Stockholm airport in 2019.

He was later charged with war crimes and the mass murder of detainees in Iran in 1988, in line with an order issued by the then Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Iranian authorities have denied the summary executions and enforced disappearances at the heart of the case, which civil society organisations believe involved several thousand political prisoners.

Sentenced to life

Welcoming the life sentence handed down to Mr. Nouri, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, described the verdict as “a landmark and important leap forward in the pursuit of truth and justice for a dark chapter in Iranian history”.

The rights expert, who was appointed by the Human Rights Council, insisted that “denial, despite substantive evidence and impunity” could not be tolerated any more, in reference to Sweden’s principle of universal jurisdiction, which had allowed the country’s judges to try serious crimes, regardless of where they took were committed.

I urge other States to take on similar investigation and prosecution of serious human rights violations in Iran using principles of universal jurisdiction,” said Mr. Nouri. “There is a serious accountability gap for past and present gross violations of human rights law, and national courts in other States play a fundamental role in filling that gap.”

Seeking engagement

UN Special Rapporteurs such as Mr. Nouri are tasked with specific thematic or country mandates by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, where they report back on their fact-finding or monitoring missions, usually at one of the forum’s three regular sessions a year. The expert positions within the Council’s Special Procedures section are honorary and incumbents are not paid for their work.

“Together with my predecessors and colleagues in Special Procedures, I have repeatedly called for accountability for the summary executions and enforced disappearances of 1988 and sought to engage with authorities in this regard,” Mr. Nouri said.

“However, the events continue to be denied by Iranian authorities. I hope this verdict is a first step towards full truth, justice and compensation for victims, their families and civil society organisations that persist in their demands for justice”.