On January 13, a court in Germany sentenced a former colonel of the Syrian regime to life imprisonment for participating in the murder of dozens of people and in torturing hundreds of Syrian political opponents.
Until now, criminals of dictatorial regimes had immunity under an unwritten but effective law as long as their respective regimes were in power. Under the guise of this shameful tradition, dictators and tyrants who had a safe margin of “sovereignty”, committed crimes and scoffed at political and moral condemnation.
But a historic German court ruling has upset the trend, demonstrating that the embankment of “sovereignty” had limits and that the hands of the law could prosecute them outside their own territory and bring them to justice.
Of course, the historical ruling has not appeared out of the blue. It is the result of a long and painful journey that nations have paid a heavy price for with the blood and suffering of many freedom-seekers and activists who have sacrificed their lives and fortunes for freedom and justice.
There were times when the tyrannical regime in Tehran used billions of dollars from the wealth of the Iranian people to bribe its Western interlocutors in order to blacklist the Iranian Resistance as a “terrorist” organization, thus weakening its viable alternative. They wanted to handcuff the opposition and ban every act of protest. In tandem with suppressing any and all forms of political activism domestically, the regime wanted to spread a veil of oppression abroad.
But fortunately, judicial independence in the free world was too strong and the pursuit of justice too powerful to allow the silencing of the struggle for freedom in Iran. The Iranian Resistance launched an extensive legal battle, winning dozens of court cases, and forcing governments in the U.K, the European Union, and eventually the United States to begrudgingly remove the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK/PMOI) from their blacklists.
Indeed, some of these governments, who continued to pursue a “constructive dialogue with Tehran,” were embarrassed and to cover up their failed policies worked alongside the regime to smear the successful legal campaigns. They tried to rewrite history, claiming that the delisting was not a legal victory but rather the result of an intense lobbying and public relations blitz by the MEK and its supporters. In fact, however, they were insulting the independent judiciaries that stand as pillars of democratic order.
The world has seen the arrests, trials, and convictions of former rulers and executioners, from the former Yugoslav president to a former Bosnian Serb commander, to the former Rwandan president to the former Sudanese president, who were all sentenced to life in prison for repressing and killing people.
But a feature of the recent German court ruling is that the verdict was not issued against the perpetrators of a deposed state, but against an official whose affiliated government is still in power. This means that the abuse of the principle of “sovereignty” and the immunity of sitting government officials has been brushed aside, and criminals can no longer have a safe haven. Rather, the judges of any democratic country in the world can prosecute another state’s officials involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The world is rightly celebrating this moment. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michel Bachelet called it “a historic leap towards justice.” Some other world leaders also expressed the same kind of sentiment.
At the same time, in Stockholm, the Swedish judiciary is prosecuting one of the perpetrators of the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners that took place in Iran in 1988.
The path taken by human rights activists and oppressed nations in recent decades once again reinforce the words of the late Martin Luther King Jr. who so eloquently said that “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
The historical verdict of the German court is based on the great resistance of the Syrian people with more than 500,000 martyrs and the courageous sacrifices of those who collected, verified, and disclosed hundreds of thousands of documents regarding the crimes committed by the Bashar al-Assad regime.
The verdict also sends a message to the agents and mercenaries of the criminal regime in Tehran: Beware, there is no safe haven for you in the world. As the leader of the Iranian Resistance, Massoud Rajavi has emphasized: “They must be brought to justice in the context of crimes against humanity. The investigation into genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the massacre of political prisoners in 1988 should be extended to the slaughter of the November 2019 uprising and to the fate of all prisoners who were killed throughout Iran during the rule of Khomeini and Khamenei.”