Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

20 Years of Documentation,
Thousands of Lives Saved from Oblivion
Two decades ago, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) [1] undertook an unprecedented task: to memorialize, to the extent of its ability, every life cut short by the Islamic Republic of Iran. ABC’s two founders understand firsthand the bitter reality of losing a loved one to state violence. Taking a life is just one step in the state's enterprise of denying the existence of critics, opponents, and undesirable and competing ideas. The state also tasks itself with obscuring the truth of what happened, suppressing public memory of victims, and creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear to dissuade truth-telling and deter survivors from seeking justice. Recognizing the threat to justice and devastating impact of the state policy aimed at burying the truth and marginalizing survivors, Drs. Ladan and Roya Boroumand undertook the project of safeguarding collective memory of human rights violations in context. Twenty years later, ABC continues to preserve the hope of justice contained within these memories through documentation and the promotion of truth-telling.
"Through creating a world belonging to the resurrected victims of the Islamic regime you brought us hope, the kind of hope that Havel believes in: 'Hope is not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.'”  -Azar Nafisi
Confronted with an opaque and unaccountable state and a society often paralyzed by fear, ABC’s effort is perpetually in progress and subject to revision. The shocking extent of the Islamic Republic's ongoing siege on the right to life is evident in case data, collected so far, stretching back to 1979:
  • At least 22,600 executions, mostly by hanging and firing squads, but also by stonings. 
  • At least 1,210 extrajudicial killings,including some 594 reported cases of people killed outside of Iran’s borders. This number is surely not comprehensive of all extrajudicial cases carried out by the Islamic republic of Iran. Prior to ABC's publication of this data, the frequency and number of confirmed/verifiable cases was largely unknown.
  • At least 2,458 additional right to life violations including deaths in custody (some owing to lack of medical care), suspicious deaths, and the arbitrary killing of protesters.
Violations of the right to life - recorded in our Omid memorial for researchers, survivors, and those seeking accountability - are but one element  of the intolerable human rights crisis brought about by the Islamic Republic of Iran. ABC has also collected thousands of reports on cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishments:
  • At least 23,800 sentences of flogging issued - at least 16,200 of which have been implemented. Access to flogging data is limited and therefore ABC’s data represents only a fraction of actual cases and implementations
  • At least 352 sentences of amputation - of fingers, sections of hands or of feet - of which at least 190 were implemented
  • At least 22 sentences of blinding, at least three of which were implemented
  • At least 615 people forced to endure public humiliation, such as being paraded through town in degrading circumstances or forced to recite falsely self-incriminating or embarrassing statements
ABC has also given visibility, through an itinerant exhibit and a documentary, to students who saw their studies thwarted and lives derailed for their activism, beliefs, or other peaceful exercises of their universal rights. Between 1999 and 2015, at least 11,022 students faced persecution from governmental institutions such as the judiciary, including summons, arrest, and jail time. In at least 7,892 cases, students faced coercive or retaliatory measures from non-governmental entities like universities (e.g. bans on higher education, living in student dorms, and cultural activities). 

Reports published by ABC have bolstered accountability efforts worldwide, raising awareness of ongoing crises, bringing critical attention to forgotten victims and crimes, and facilitating the prosecution of human rights perpetrators. Publications demanding improved preventive measures in prisons during the Coronavirus pandemic brought to light the plight of Iranian inmates trapped in unsanitary conditions and deprived of their basic rights to health. 

In 2009, ABC was the first to publish a comprehensive English-language research and legal analysis into the bombing of Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1994; in 2013, following painstaking research, it published untold stories of lesser-known victims of the April 1983 American Embassy bombing in Beirut (Lebanon.) In 2021, an ABC-commissioned report by renowned international jurist Geoffrey Robertson was used as indictment and trial evidence in a rare Universal Jurisdiction case in Sweden against Hamid Nouri, charged with war crimes and murder for his direct role in the 1988 mass execution of Iranian political prisoners in Gohardasht Prison. Nouri’s background as the assistant to current President and former Assistant Prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi allows ABC’s research to have even further-reaching implications for the regime’s accountability on an international stage.
A young woman for whom the Nouri trial revived traumatic childhood memories sent ABC the following message:

“[...]Listening to the proceedings has also cemented my belief in the vital task that human rights organizations such as yours have undertaken over the years. Shouldering the task of documentation and seeking justice beyond factional politics is no small feat. Therefore, I felt compelled to send you a heartfelt thank you, for without such efforts we may not have been able to seek justice for all those lives lost [...].”
Thanks to these and other developments, heightened public awareness has led to an increase in voluntary reports and submissions of data to ABC by the general public.

Two decades of documentation, tens of thousands of stories saved from oblivion. For every case exhaustively documented by ABC, there are many more consisting of only bare leads like a name, death date, or legal charge. As the Iranian regime continues to arbitrarily and summarily kill – to ruthlessly oppress its citizens with virtual impunity – the hard work of our team is outpaced by a list of cases and incidents that remain to be researched, completed, or amended, a list that is ever-growing and weighs on our conscience. 

Victims and civil society actors are testifying, documenting and memorializing, often at great personal risk and cost, yet the work of ordinary citizens cannot contend with extensive state resources, deadly weapons, intelligence technology. As demonstrated by the arrest and prosecution of Nouri in Sweden, the international community has the means to hold perpetrators accountable for taking foreign and Iranian lives domestically, abroad, or in the air. Indeed, to date the price the Islamic Republic leaders have paid for their systematic assault on the right to life has been too negligible to prevent repetition.  

The shooting down of the commercial flight PS752 is a case in point. The Ukrainian flight was downed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on January 8, 2020, and there is overwhelming indications that Iranian authorities tampered with evidence, threatened victims, obstructed justice, and hindered investigations into the crash. Holding the perpetrators of such a grave act of violence to account is possible. The international community only needs stronger resolve in upholding the values it committed to 70 years ago in the Universal Human Rights Charter to prevent mass atrocities.

Today more than ever we need to show perpetrators, their supporters, and the world's decision makers that our work in human rights and justice is backed by multitudes; that truth-telling, and understanding and acknowledging harm, are indispensable to a more humane and peaceful future; and that the work of memory and the quest for justice are existential and always relevant. Protecting victims from obscurity is work that can only be carried out with your support. 

This holiday season, please consider a donation (tax-deductible in the US and UK) through the website or anonymously to ABC to help us continue our work.
[1] Also known as ​​Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy in Iran