A recent report in The Tehran Times claimed that Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s newly elected president, has been invited along with 300 other world leaders, to attend the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, due to take place from 1st to 12th November this year. There is growing unrest among expatriate Iranians at this news. Raisi is known as ‘The Butcher of Tehran’ due to his active part in the massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, a role he has publicly admitted and even boasted about. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both called for his indictment for human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Agnès Callamard, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, has called for Raisi to be investigated for crimes against humanity and for his involvement in murder, enforced disappearance and torture. Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: “Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raisi to become president through repression and an unfair election. As head of Iran’s repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office."

It is feared that Raisi will regard his attendance at COP26 as a PR coup and a vindication of his criminal legacy. He will see it as an opportunity to burnish his anti-west, anti-American, hard-line credentials. Under the UK legal system, the only way to prevent Raisi from attending COP26 would be for the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to issue an exclusion order, prohibiting him from entering the UK on the basis that barring him would be conducive to the public good. There is no way to appeal such an exclusion order. It seems unlikely that she would do so, however, as questions could then be asked regarding the attendance at COP26 of other world leaders with notorious human rights records, such as Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, both of whom will have a crucial bearing on the success or otherwise of the climate change summit.

The only remaining legal channel would be to seek Raisi’s prosecution for crimes that are subject to universal jurisdiction. The British government does not wish the UK to become a safe haven for war criminals or those who commit serious violations of human rights and international law. UK law is committed to holding those who commit the most serious crimes accountable for their actions, even if those crimes were committed in a foreign country. But under the complex legal requirements, a complaint would require to be made to the police, backed by corroborated evidence, leading to a full investigation and possible indictment. To add to the complexity, the UK also has three legal jurisdictions covering England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The prosecution system in both England & Wales and Scotland would have to agree on any UK arrest warrant being issued for Raisi, in liaison with the British foreign office. And even if a decision to investigate and prosecute was ultimately agreed upon, heads of state and key state officials have immunity from criminal jurisdiction while they hold office, so Raisi would be virtually untouchable if he decided to attend COP26. 

The only benefit from such a criminal prosecution would be to signal to Raisi and to the world at large that those guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity have no impunity and ultimately can be held accountable for their felonies. The issue of an arrest warrant for Raisi, although only actionable after he eventually demits office as president, would nevertheless act as a severe disincentive to his travel ambitions and may thwart his ambition to attend COP26 in Glasgow, or indeed any other international summit meetings.

The UN Secretary-General - António Guterres, has now issued a damning report on the grave human rights violations that have occurred in Iran. His report to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, expresses concerns “at prosecutions of protesters following the protests of November 2019, with at least 500 people subjected to criminal investigations, and reports of inhuman treatment and torture to confess to association with opposition groups or foreign Governments. Violations of fair trial rights and standards in prosecutions before revolutionary courts are particularly concerning, given the use of charges involving moharebeh (waging war against God), a capital offense.” 

The Secretary-General’s report also states, “Protesters, human rights defenders, lawyers, and civil society actors continue to be subjected to intimidation, arbitrary detention, and criminal prosecution, sometimes leading to the death penalty. Women and minorities continue to face entrenched discrimination.” Expressing his concern over impunity from past violations such as the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, the UN Secretary-General accused the Iranian regime of “destroying evidence of the execution of political dissidents at that time (1988) and the harassment and criminal prosecution of families of victims calling for truth and accountability.” 

The UN General Assembly opens in New York on Tuesday 14th September and ex-pat Iranians are watching closely to see if Ebrahim Raisi will dare to attend, in an effort to defend himself and his regime against the UN Secretary-General’s accusations. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the main democratic opposition to the mullahs’ regime, has called on the UN Security Council to facilitate the prosecution of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, its president Ebrahim Raisi, its Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Eje’i and other officials, responsible for decades of atrocities and human rights violations, particularly the massacre of political prisoners in 1988, which, they claim, amounts to a crime against humanity and genocide. The NCRI say “The Iranian regime is a leading violator of human rights, the most active state sponsor of terror, and the foremost threat to peace and security in the world today. It must be subjected to international sanctions under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter.”

Ebrahim Raisi’s attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York or COP26 in Glasgow will not be welcome If he does show up at either or both events, the oppressed masses in Iran will certainly question whether the UN, the US, the EU and the UK, take torture, genocide and human rights seriously.