Mass Executions (Killings)
Mass execution is a term used to describe the killing of a large number of people at once or in a short period of time, often carried out by a government or other authority or perhaps by a known and unknown group. It is a form of violence that has occurred throughout history for various reasons, including political or religious reasons, territorial disputes, and the persecution of individuals or groups based on their beliefs, ethnicity, or other characteristics. If it is targeting a specific group (like ethnic or religious groups), it is commonly called genocide. However, these two terms are used interchangeably. Also, there is no universally agreed figure for the number of the killed to be classified as “mass killing.” For instance, in the U.S., executing ten people or lower is considered “mass execution.” Therefore, this call is subjective and depends on the time, location, conditions, and social effects it creates.
Numerous means of death, including firing squads, hanging, gas chambers, and others, can be used in mass executions. They are frequently employed as a form of intimidation or to stifle dissent or resistance and are typically carried out in public or covertly.
Mass executions can be used as a strategy to consolidate power or keep control over a group of people since they frequently take place as part of a larger campaign of violence or repression. Mass execution frequently occur alongside other human rights abuses such as arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearances, and forced confession. International law forbids and views mass executions as a crime against humanity.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) defines crimes against humanity as "any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity."
Since this article highlights Mass Exection in Iran (the Islamic Republic) therefore it is important to mark that as of April 2023, 123 countries are parties to the Rome Statute, but Iran is not among them. This means that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over Human Right related crimes committed on the Iranian territory or by Iranian nationals unless the crimes were referred to the ICC by the United Nations Security Council or if Iran were to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC through other means, such as a special agreement or ad hoc declaration.
In addition to the ICC, national courts can also prosecute individuals for conducting and or ruling mass executions and other international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. The principle of universal jurisdiction allows national courts to prosecute individuals for these crimes regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the perpetrator or victim, though its application is limited and complicated. It is important to note that the ICC and national courts can only prosecute individuals, not states.
However, states can be held responsible for carrying out mass executions and other international crimes through other mechanisms, such as sanctions, diplomatic pressure, or referrals to international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council.
The History of Mass Executions
Mass killing / mass execution or genocide happens in many parts of the world, including the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. A few examples of mass executions throughout history include:
The Ottoman Empire systematically killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923.
The Holocaust, during which six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazi regime in Germany and occupied territories during World War II.
The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, during which an estimated 1.7 million people were killed in the late 1970s.
The Cultural Revolution in China, during which tens of thousands of people were executed between 1966 and 1976.
The Rwandan Genocide, during which an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed in 1994.
During the Dirty War in Argentina, an estimated 30,000 people were killed or disappeared between 1976 and 1983.
The Islamic Republic regime in Iran was known to execute many (thousands reported) of political prisoners in 1988.
The Halabja chemical attack, during which thousands of civilians were killed by Iraqi forces using chemical weapons in 1988.
During the Syrian Civil War, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people were killed, many of whom were executed by various parties.
Mass Execution in Iran
The Iranian government, before and after the 1979 revolution, has a history of human rights violations, including the execution of individuals for various crimes. Before and during the 1979 revolution, multiple cases of mass killing of protestors by the government had been reported in different cities, including Qom, Tabriz, and Tehran, claiming the casualties ranged from tens to hundreds.
After the 1979 revolution, high-ranking members of the old regime, mainly military generals and officers, were executed in large numbers. Since then, according to Amnesty International, the Iranian government has had one of the highest rates of executions in the world. The government has also come under fire for its use of the death penalty, including the execution of people for crimes that do not adhere to the standards set forth by the international community.
Perhaps the 1988 Massacre of political prisoners is the most noticeable and well-known case of mass execution in Iran, when reportedly thousands of political prisoners were executed. The Iranian government's lack of transparency in its judicial processes, and use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, paves the way for the government to achieve their political ambition.
Above mentioned cases are just a few examples of the many mass executions that have occurred throughout history. While the specific circumstances and causes of these atrocities may differ, they all share a common feature in the deliberate and systematic taking of human life on a large scale.
Our Social Responsibilities to Prevent Mass Execution / Mass Killing
Regardless of the specific circumstances, mass executions are a grave violation of human rights and are universally condemned as a heinous crime. They represent a stark reminder of the horrors of violence and the importance of working toward peace, justice, and respect for human dignity. The impact of mass executions extends far beyond the immediate loss of life. They can cause profound and long-lasting trauma for survivors, families of victims, and entire communities. They can also have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the ability of people to express their views and beliefs openly and without fear of reprisal.
Efforts to prevent and punish mass executions are a critical component of the global human rights agenda and require sustained attention and action from governments, civil society organizations, and individuals around the world. By working together to hold accountable those responsible for mass executions and to support victims and survivors, we can help build a more peaceful world.
Preventing mass executions involves taking a comprehensive approach to human rights protection, which includes promoting a culture of respect for human rights and the rule of law. This requires efforts to address the root causes of conflict, including poverty, inequality, discrimination, and exclusion. By addressing these underlying factors, we can help to prevent the conditions that give rise to mass executions and other forms of violence.
Preventing mass executions also involves ensuring that individuals and communities are able to exercise their human rights without the fear of reprisal. This includes promoting freedom of expression, assembly, and association, as well as ensuring access to justice and providing effective remedies for victims of human rights abuses.
International and domestic courts have an important role to play in this regard, as they can provide a forum for victims to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable. This can help to deter future human rights abuses and promote a culture of accountability and respect for human rights.
Civil society organizations, media, and other actors also have a critical role to play in preventing mass executions. By raising public awareness about human rights abuses, advocating for reforms, and supporting victims, Civil Society Organizations can help build political will for changes and hold governments and other authorities, and any group that conducts such a heinous activity and operation, accountable for their actions.
In summary, preventing mass executions requires a sustained and coordinated effort from all sectors of society: by promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law, addressing the root causes of conflict, and providing support to victims, we can help to build a world in which the dignity and human rights of all individuals are respected and protected.