Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Kazem Rajavi


Age: 56
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Islam (Shi'a)
Civil Status: Married


Date of Killing: April 24, 1990
Location of Killing: Coppet, Switzerland
Mode of Killing: Extrajudicial shooting
Charges: Unknown charge

About this Case

Information regarding the life and assassination of Mr. Kazem Rajavi (Radjavi) was obtained from Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) interviews with Mr. Rajavi’s lawyer, Maitre Nils de Dardel (July 7, 2023) and with Frank Garbely (6 July 2023), producer of “Witness C,” a documentary focusing on Kazem Rajavi’s case with support from various informed sources.  Witness C, Abolqassem Mesbahi, is a former Iranian high level intelligence officer based in Paris and Geneva and well informed about extraterritorial operations in Europe and their financing. He provided key information to the German, Swiss and Argentinean authorities on terrorism cases (July 6, 2023). Information was also drawn from a series of newspaper articles; Washington Post (10 June 1990 and 22 July 1990); Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs (June 1990); Independent (1 January 1994); New York Times (8 January 1994); Le Monde (16 December 1994); Swissinfo (9 April 2006 and 11 June 2020); Tribune de Genève (9 July 2015); Iran Focus (25 April 2016); Civitas Maxima (22 July 2021); Justiceinfo.net (26 October 2021). In addition, Swiss government documents from the Parliament website (Parliament questions 29 April 1997), the Geneva State website (26 October 2005) and the case of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (23 September 2021) were important sources. ABC drew key information is a documentary called “Temoin C” (Witness C) produced by Frank Garbely and aired on Swiss public television in 2011.    

Kazem Rajavi, born on 08 February 1934 in Tabas, was a university professor and human rights activist. He moved to France in 1959 to continue his studies and gained doctoral degrees in law, political science and sociology. Mr. Rajavi taught at multiple universities across France and Switzerland. He was married with two sons and a daughter and lived in Switzerland. 

In 1971, whilst Kazem Rajavi was living in Switzerland, his brother, Massoud, a member of the Mojahedin Khalq Organization, was imprisoned and sentenced to death. He mobilised Amnesty International, other groups and politicians to put pressure on Iran. With the assistance of Geneva lawyers and others, Mr. Rajavi founded the Swiss Association for the Defense of Political Prisoners in Iran and won a stay of execution, commuting the sentence to life in prison for humanitarian reasons (ge.ch website). It is following this campaign that Mr. Rajavi became involved in advocacy and campaigning to shed light on human rights violations in Iran, and Switzerland granted him political asylum. 

Mr. Rajavi was on the left of the political spectrum and opposed the monarchy. In 1974, he completed his doctoral thesis on “La dictature du prolétariat et le dépérissement de l'État, de Marx à Lénine” (The dictatorship of the proletariat and the decline of the State, from Marx to Lenin), which was published in 1975. He is also the author of “La Revolution Iranienne et les Moujahedins,” (The Iranian Revolution and the Mojahedins) published in 1983. 

Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Mr. Rajavi was appointed as the first Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva for the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, in 1981 he left the position, after just one year, in protest to the repressive policies of the State, including the assassination of adversaries (Witness C documentary, testimony of Jean Ziegler). After leaving his diplomatic position, Mr. Rajavi was granted political asylum in Switzerland in 1981 and became the representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Switzerland. 

Throughout the 1980s, Mr. Rajavi, dedicated his time to shedding light on the human rights violations of the Islamic Republic. He is accredited with contributing to the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Iran and the first resolutions on Iran of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, condemning the atrocities of the Regime. As a result of his advocacy, he became known to the Iranian State and reportedly received death threats from the Islamic Republic including in the form of an official fatwa (Iran Focus, 2016, Tribune de Geneve, 2015). He had also received death threats including from an Iranian official in Geneva. According to Nils de Dardel, one of the lawyers in charge of the case on behalf of Rajavi’s family members and a friend of Kazem Rajavi, the latter felt threatened. He had asked de Dardel to request the Lausanne’s police justice department for personal protection, which he had done without success. (Witness C documentary). 

Background of Extrajudicial Killings by the Islamic Republic of Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran has a long history of politically motivated violence in Iran and around the world. Since the 1979 Revolution, Islamic Republic operatives inside and outside the country have engaged in kidnapping, disappearing, and killing a large number of individuals whose activities they deemed undesirable. The actual number of the victims of extrajudicial killings inside Iran is not clear; however, these murders began in February 1979 and have continued since then, both inside and outside Iran. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center has so far identified over 540 killings outside Iran attributed to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Dissidents have been assassinated by the agents of the Islamic Republic outside Iran in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, India, and Pakistan in Asia; Dubai, Iraq, and Turkey in the Middle East; Cyprus, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Great Britain in Europe; and the United States across the Atlantic Ocean. In most cases, there has not been much published, and local authorities have not issued arrest warrants. But documentation, evidence, and traces obtained through investigations conducted by local police and judicial authorities confirm the theory of state committed crimes. In some instances, these investigations have resulted in the expulsion or arrest of Iranian diplomats. In a few cases outside Iran, the perpetrators of these murders have been arrested and put on trial. The evidence presented revealed the defendants’ connection to Iran’s government institutions, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Iran’s Minister of Information.

The manner in which these killings were organized and implemented in Iran and abroad is indicative of a single pattern which, according to Roland Chatelin, the Swiss prosecutor, contains common parameters and detailed planning. It can be ascertained from the similarities between these murders in different countries that the Iranian government is the principal entity that ordered the implementation of these crimes. Iranian authorities have not officially accepted responsibility for these murders and have even attributed their commission to internal strife in opposition groups. Nevertheless, since the very inception of the Islamic Republic regime, the Islamic Republic officials have justified these crimes from an ideological and legal standpoint. In the spring of 1979, Sadeq Khalkhali, the first Chief Shari’a Judge of the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, officially announced the regime’s decision to implement extrajudicial executions and justified the decision: “ … These people have been sentenced to death; from the Iranian people’s perspective, if someone wants to assassinate these individuals abroad, in any country, no government has any right to bring the perpetrator to trial as a terrorist, because such a person is the implementing agent of the sentence issued by the Islamic Revolutionary Court. Therefore, they are Mahduroddam and their sentence is death regardless of where they are.” More than 10 years after these proclamations, in a speech about the security forces’ success, Ali Fallahian, the regime’s Minister of Information, stated the following regarding the elimination of members of the opposition: “ … We have had success in inflicting damage to many of these little groups outside the country and on our borders.”

At the same time, various political, judicial, and security officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have, at different times and occasions, confirmed the existence of a long term government policy for these extrajudicial killings and in some cases their implementation. 

Read more about the background of extrajudicial killings in the Islamic Republic of Iran by clicking on the left hand highlight with the same title.

Mr. Kazem Rajavi’s Death 

Around midday on 24 April 1990, Mr. Rajavi was driving back to his house in Coppet, close to Geneva, when, according to witness reports, his route was blocked by two cars. Three men were reported to have jumped out of the cars and began shooting insults at him. Two have been identified as Yadollah Samadi and Ali Kamali (Abolqasem Mesbahi in Witness C documentary). Mr. Rajavi was shot multiple times, including a gunshot to the head. A Czechoslovakian gun (Uzi FN 9mm sub-machine gun) and bullets were used, identifiable from the 11 cartridges found at the scene by Swiss police (Witness C documentary). A blue baseball cap was found next to Kazem’s body. A blue baseball cap was also found at the site of the assassination in Geneva in 1987 of Mr. Moradi Talebi, an Iranian Air Force pilot who had defected and was seeking asylum in Switzerland (Tribune de Genève, 2015). 

Following the assassination, the assailants quickly fled the scene and some reportedly boarded a plane to Tehran within hours. On the day of the assassination, Iran Air’s weekly scheduled flight from Geneva to Tehran was delayed by 1 hour and 18 minutes. The Washington Post published an investigative report based on which, witnesses reported that 3 passengers with Iranian diplomatic passports boarded the plane amongst an entourage of diplomatic vehicles (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 1990), just before it finally departed. According to the same article, at least one of the suspected assassins was on the flight’s passengers list (Washington Post, 1990). 

Swiss police stated that one of the cars used by the assailants was a rented Volkswagen Golf, rented by Yadollah Samadi, which was later found abandoned at Geneva Airport with a dented front. According to the available information, the American government, which had a powerful listening station in Geneva helped the Swiss authorities locate the second car, which is reported to have been parked in the premises of the Iranian Permanent Mission to the UN (Tribune de Geneve, 2015). 

Information on the operation came to light over several years and involved Iranian diplomats and government officials as well as a female Swiss police inspector who was married to an Iranian revolutionary guard member with a refugee status, who also happened to be a friend of the Iranian Consul (Interview with Frank Garbely, July 6, 2023). Based on the available information, the assassination of Mr. Rajavi was meticulously planned. According to the Swiss Investigative Magistrate Jacques Antenen, "Thirteen persons were involved in planning and carrying out the murder. All of them had service passports, marked 'on assignment'. A number of those documents had been issued on the same day in Tehran" (Swiss Info, 2006). Many of the passports were registered to the same address in Tehran; a street where an annex of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an Iran intelligence (VEVAK) building are located. Many of the suspects had reportedly travelled directly from Tehran to Geneva and their ticket numbers were sequential (Tribune de Genève, 2015). 

The preparation of the assassination had started in 1989 (ABC interview with Maitre Nils de Dardel). Six “commandos” arrived in Geneva in the weeks prior to Mr. Rajavi’s assassination and prepared for their mission. One of the commandos was caught by police cameras speeding 12 times on the Geneva to Tannay (Coppet) route, which led to Rajavi’s residence and, where the assassination ultimately took place (Witness C documentary). 

Key information was also provided by a defector, Abolqassem Mesbahi, also known as Witness C, a former intelligence officer for Iran who claims to have warned the Swiss Police of the threat against Rajavi and provided the names of two of suspects and the name of the hotel where they stayed before the murder. Mesbahi had been in a small circle of individuals trusted by Ayatollah Khomeini and Rafsanjani in the years after the revolution and was, he claims, among the founding members of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry known as VEVAK. According to available information, in May 1985 he was interrogated and expelled from France for espionage and involvement in terrorist operations. Soon after, he was sent to Geneva where he was based until 1989, and headed Iran’s intelligence operations in Europe. Mesbahi had met and negotiated on behalf of President Rafsanjani multiple times with high-ranking Western officials, including the French Foreign Minister Rolland Dumas who confirmed that he had met with Mesbahi and the latter was well informed and had clearly full authority to negotiate (Witness C documentary). 

The credibility of Mesbahi’s information was ascertained through cooperation and information sharing between Swiss, German and Argentinian authorities. Mesbahi thus became a key witness in the trial of individuals who had machine gunned Kurdish leaders in the Mikonos restaurant in Berlin (interview Frank Garbely, 6 July 2023).  

Mesbahi revealed to the Swiss authorities that there was a Swiss mole in the Geneva Police, identified as Police Inspector “F.S” who had Mr. Rajavi under surveillance and who had “a complete map of the house, the security around the house, and photos…she was so close to the kitchen that she could make the photo” of Mr Kazem Rajavi making tea. F.S was paid by Iran for this information (Witness C documentary). The Washington Post gained a copy of a secret memo from another former Iranian General Consul, Manouchehr Taleh, in which he stated that a Swiss lawyer “with good access to the Swiss police” is willing to sell the names and addresses of Iranians living in Switzerland. Mr. Rajavi’s address was reportedly on the list (Washington Post, 1990). 

According to an individual who collaborated with the Iranian mission at the United Nations, “the consul general was directly involved in the preparation of attacks in Geneva.” According to the same source, “Part of the residence of the Iranian Ambassador at the United Nations was reserved for members of Hezbollah or other elements whom the intelligence service put in charge of terrorist operations.” An Egyptian, a former Muslim Brotherhood member who was Iran’s Consul General’s secretary in Geneva from 1984 to 1989, confirmed that the Consul recruited individuals, particularly young people from north Africa, whom he sent to Iran to be trained to carry out acts of terrorism. (Witness C documentary). The name of Karim Abadi, the Consul General in Geneva, and the Iranian ambassador were also mentioned in the investigation. 

Following Mr. Rajavi’s assassination, Karim Abadi, had a phone call with an intelligence officer in the Revolutionary Guards Corps in which the officer enquired as to Mr. Rajavi’s fate, his assassins, and their car. Based on an excerpt of the phone conversation’s transcript, published in the Washington Post the “agent in Iran asked if ‘both of them’ are ‘safe.’ Then he slipped and said, ‘I'm talking about Dr. Kazem's case.’ Abadi responds, ‘He no longer has any problem at all. His problem is solved.’ The agent in Iran still fretted: ‘You know this was the worry of Hajji himself . . .’ Hajji is a reverential term for Rafsanjani. Then the agent pressed for more details. He asked Abadi if ‘their Golf car’ is ‘in your possession.’ Abadi said it was. The agent in Tehran then added his regards to ‘Mr. Malaek’ and asked if Malaek could help one of the ‘fellows’ that Tehran is worried about. Mohammed Hossein Malaek is the Iranian ambassador to Switzerland.” (Washington Post, June 10, 1990). 

Following his death, Mr. Rajavi’s body was interred in Najaf, Iraq. 

Iranian Officials’ Reaction 

Iranian authorities did not react to the news of the assassination of Mr. Rajavi and accusations levelled against them. However, in August 1992, in a speech that was broadcast on the state-run Iranian Radio and Television, Ali Fallahian, the regime’s Minister of Information at the time, when speaking about members of opposition groups, stated “… We have had success in inflicting damage to many of these little groups outside the country and on our borders”. 

Iran brought a case in the Geneva Courts against Ms. Myriam Gazut Goudal, a journalist in Switzerland who had written an article about Mr. Rajavi’s murder for “insulting a foreign state”. The prosecutor, Bernard Bartossa, demanded Ms. Goudal’s acquittal stating that the Iranian State “was perfectly capable of committing these crimes” and that the free press should be able to report on such things and call for their inadmissibility. The Swiss Federal Court ultimately ruled in the journalist’s favour (Le Temps, 2000). 

In 2006, a spokesperson for the Swiss authorities stated that the shooting has been a discussion between Bern and Tehran since 1990 (Swissinfo, 2006). In October 1996, Swiss Judge Roland Châtelain, who was investigating Mr. Rajavi’s murder, submitted a request for mutual legal assistance. The Iranian authorities declared that they were ready to grant mutual aid, provided, however, that the names of the persons and the state of affairs are not passed on to third parties (lawyers, relatives) which under Swiss law, the Swiss authorities could not accept (Parliament Questions, 1997). 

Swiss Officials’ Reaction 

The Swiss authorities immediately issued an investigation and many of the facts were established within a month, including the name of the assassins and the hotel they stayed at, Residence Longchamp (Witness C documentary). Iranian State involvement was immediately suspected and international arrest warrants for 13 individuals suspected to have been involved in the planning and execution of the assassination were issued. 

On 15 November 1992, two of the suspects involved in Mr. Rajavi’s murder, Mohsen Sharif Esfahani and Ahmed Taheri, were arrested in France on suspicion of planning an assassination in Germany.  Swiss Judge Roland Châtelain requested the extradition of the two suspects to Switzerland, and in February 1993, the high court in Paris ordered their extradition (Independent, 1994). In August 1993, the French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, signed extradition decrees under the 1957 European Convention on Extradition (Le Monde, 1994). However, in December 1993, France, expelled the two suspects to Tehran which it stated was “for reasons of the State” which were in its “national interest”. The Swiss Justice Minister, Arnold Koller, expressed his “anger and disappointment” at the French government’s actions, suggesting that France made the expulsions out of fear of Iranian retaliation.  Mr Koller stated that the actions of France undermined the ability to combat terrorism and that other countries should not follow this example: “This case must remain the exception, or the fight against terrorism will be compromised” (International Herald Tribune, 1994). 

Following Switzerland’s complaint against Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, the Conseil D’Etat (High Court) in France ruled in favour of Switzerland. The Conseil D’Etat, on December 14, 1994, ruled that the French government could not invoke national interest as a justification for not extraditing and had in fact violated the 1957 Convention Switzerland blamed France for not having respected the European Convention on Extradition. (Le Monde, 1994). 

In January 1997, Judge Châtelain interviewed Abolqassem Mesbahi, a former intelligence officer for Iran, who confirmed that Iranian President Rafsanjani and VEVAK Minister Fallahian ordered Mr. Rajavi’s assassination (Witness C documentary). On 20 March 2006, Swiss Judge Jacques Antenen, who took over the case from Judge Châtelain, issued an international arrest warrant for Ali Fallahian, the former Iranian Intelligence Minister, on suspicion of having ordered Mr Rajavi’s assassination (Swissinfo, 2006). 

In February 1997, following the identification of the mole in the Geneva Police, “F.S”, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor instigated a judicial inquiry on espionage which was strictly confidential, including from the Geneva Police and Geneva Authorities. The inquiry revealed that “F.S” was married to an Iranian refugee, reportedly a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp. The couple were friends with the Iranian consul. (Interview, Frank Garbeli, July 6, 2023) “F.S” and her husband were arrested in June 1997, on their return to Switzerland after fleeing to Iran. They were released just two days later. Furthermore, the Court refused to indict her, and she was cleared of the charges, returning to the police with a promotion. Following her career in the police, “F.S” has reportedly worked for the United Nations. (Witness C documentary).

It is further reported that Geneva Police denied for 10 years the existence of an account in a Geneva Bank, which was identified by Abolqassem Mesbahi as a Ministry of Intelligence account, and that the Swiss Federal Council prevented the police or judiciary from taking any action against the bank. Mesbahi claimed to have used the account, which could contain up to USD 200 million, to fund weapons and for paying informants, sources and operatives. (Witness C documentary). 

On 29 May 2020, the prosecutor’s office of the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland wrote to Mr Rajavi’s family announcing that the case would soon be closed “because the statute of limitations has been reached” (30 years). Saleh Rajavi, Kazem’s brother, appealed the decision to close the case on the grounds that Kazem’s murder “was part of the Iranian regime’s plan to kill all active members of the opposition and was linked to the massacre of political prisoners'' in 1988 (Justiceinfo.net, 2021). "This policy was intended by the highest leaders of the Iranian regime and implemented in particular the fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader Khomeini” (Swiss Federal Criminal Court, 2021). It was argued that, as such, Kazem’s murder constituted genocide and crimes against humanity, crimes which are not subject to a statute of limitations. For a full analysis of the 1988 prison massacres, see ABC’s report “The Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran”, 2011.   

On 23 September 2021, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court held that “the assassination…may have been committed with genocidal intent or with the intention of committing crimes against humanity” and that such crimes are not barred by statutes of limitations. The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland was ordered to take on the case, as Federal crimes. The case is ongoing. 

In 2005, in memory of Mr. Rajavi, the State of Geneva commissioned the placement of a plaque on the building in which Mr. Rajavi lived (Swissinfo, 2006), as well as the naming of a street in Geneva after him (Geneva State website). The official issuance on the renaming of the street stated that Mr. Rajavi had been assassinated.  

However, Swiss authorities, who refused to be interviewed for the 2011 documentary on Mesbahi (Witness c), have not commented nor denied the information provided by Mesbahi in the documentary regarding the events preceding the assassination of Mr. Rajavi. The Swiss authorities have also refused to comment on the investigation of FS, the police officer who provided information to Iran, and the lack of accountability in her case. (Witness C) 

Reaction of Mr. Rajavi’s Family 

Mr. Rajavi's spouse and children have not been outspoken publicly, however, they have pursued the case legally and soon after his death, his wife travelled to Washington DC to talk to members of congress and ask the US to isolate Iran (Washington Post, July 1990) 

In recent years, the case is still open and lawyers, mandated by one of Kazem Rajavi’s brothers, have prevented the case from being closed due to the thirty-year statute of limitations through moving it from a local to a Federal case.  In the face of the refusal of their request by the Confederation’s public Minister, they referred the case to the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland and won. The latter ruled on September 23, 2021 that prosecution of Iranian officials for the 1990 assassination of Kazem Rajavi cannot be barred by the country’s statute of limitations. However, Maitre de Dardel, one of the lawyers interviewed by ABC, expressed frustration at the pace of the investigation and the lack of transparency and accountability in the case (ABC interview with Maitre de Dardel, July 7, 2023; IHRDC translation of the court’s decision). 

Legal analysis 

France’s expulsion of the two suspect assailants to Tehran in 1994 was condemned by Switzerland as “a flagrant violation of all international and European conventions on extradition” (Independent, 1994). Both Switzerland and France ratified the 1957 European Convention on Extradition which obliges State Parties “to surrender to each other…all persons against whom the competent authorities of the requesting Party are proceeding for an offence” and which was binding on them at the time of the request for extradition. 

From the known facts, none of the exclusionary provisions in the Convention applied to allow France to refuse the formal extradition request from Switzerland. The crime of murder undoubtedly met the minimum sentencing provisions and is not a political, military or fiscal offense. Furthermore, none of the other provisions on nationality, lapse of time, place of commission of the offense etc. applied to the case. As such, none of the provisions of the Convention allowed France to “refuse” to extradite the two suspects to Switzerland. The French High Court reached the same conclusion in their 1994 decision, following Switzerland’s complaint against France. 

Switzerland may have breached its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the right to life. The right to life is composed not only of the negative obligation to refrain from conduct which would result in the arbitrary deprivation of life, but also a positive obligation to protect the right to life in situations where there are “reasonably foreseeable threats” to life. The European Court of Human Rights held that this positive obligation applies when State “authorities knew or ought to have known at the time of the existence of a real and immediate risk to the life of an identified individual”. 

It is indisputable that Kazem Rajavi received real threats to life from the Iranian State on multiple occasions, including through an official fatwa. Furthermore, it is reported that Mr. Rajavi repeatedly requested additional protection from the Swiss authorities in response to these threats. Niels de Dardel, lawyer to the Rajavi family in Geneva, stated that it is undeniable that Swiss authorities knew of the assassination plot against Mr. Rajavi. In addition, Mr. de Dardel stated that Mr. Rajavi had asked him to make enquiries for protection with the Justice Department in Lausanne, which he had done (Witness C documentary). Furthermore, Abolqassem Mesbahi, a former intelligence officer for Iran, stated that he had informed Swiss police of the planned attack on Mr. Rajavi. A member of the Iranian UN delegation is reported to have also warned the Geneva police of the planned assassination of Mr. Rajavi (Witness C documentary). It is therefore irrefutable that the Swiss authorities knew of the real threat to Mr. Rajavi’s life. Furthermore, as a well-known advocate active at the United nations and prominent dissident, he was clearly at particular risk, which Switzerland ought to have known.

In response to such threats, States are obligated to “take measures within the scope of their powers which, judged reasonably, might have been expected to avoid that risk”. Close contacts of Mr. Rajavi, including his family lawyer Mr de Dardel, and fellow professor Mr Ziegler, have stated that no protection was provided by the Swiss authorities, despite the indisputable threat to his life (Witness C documentary). Therefore, Switzerland appears to have breached their obligations to Mr. Rajavi under the ICCPR and ECHR in respect of the right to life.

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