Iranian authorities committed multiple violations of human rights and international law before and after the destruction of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, according to the results of a damning investigation by two United Nations experts.
Shortly after taking off from an airport in Tehran on January 8, 2020, the plane was shot down by two surface-to-air missiles launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The attack killed all 176 passengers and crew on board, including 138 people with ties to Canada.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, today released the results of a six-month investigation into the event which call into question the findings of the official Iranian investigation.
Callamard concluded that Iran had violated the “right to life” of these 176 people by resorting to lethal force and failing to take the necessary precautions while allowing military units to operate so close to civilian aircraft – to a time when the country was experiencing heightened military tensions with the United States
Callamard also said the rights of many of the victims’ family members were violated when they were denied access to the crash site and harassed by Iranian authorities for speaking out.
“As a result of these systematic violations and the failure of the Iranian authorities to meet their human rights obligations, 176 lives were lost and many more were injured as a result of what happened after the strike” , Callamard said at a virtual press conference today.
“The families of the victims and, indeed, Iranian society … find themselves without the answers they deserve. They are constantly reminding themselves: how could this have happened?”
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Callamard criticized Iran for not closing its airspace even though there was a possibility of a US attack, saying it amounted to a “failure to protect” under international human rights law.
The Iranian military was on high alert at the time of the incident due to the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike five days earlier, and a subsequent retaliatory attack by the Iran on US bases in neighboring Iraq.
Callamard said the apparent lack of coordination between civilian air authorities and Iranian military units – who had moved a number of anti-aircraft guns to the area near the airport – revealed a profound failure in the chain of command. in both cases.
Inconsistencies in the Iranian investigation
An Iranian investigation revealed that IRGC military personnel who launched the missiles flew the civilian plane for an incoming US missile.
But Callamard said the Iranian investigation fell short of international standards.
In December, she sent a letter to the Iranian government detailing her observations and asking questions about the missile strike. Iran has yet to respond to the letter, which was released today.
Callamard’s letter describes a number of inconsistencies which she says raise questions about the official account:
The Iranian investigation revealed that a military commander fired both missiles at the plane without proper authorization. Callamard wrote that the investigation failed to explain why military personnel would not be informed that the plane was about to take off.
Iran alleged that an error in the alignment of the mobile missile unit contributed to the aircraft’s erroneous targeting. Callamard said Iran had not properly explained how the radar calibration error occurred, how it led to the aircraft being targeted and why it was not detected.
Callamard said the Iranian investigation did not explain why standard procedures for assessing a potential target were not followed by IRGC military personnel – such as monitoring altitude, climb, height. rate of descent or airspeed to assess target size or visual check of target.
Callamard said Iran failed to properly explain why other planes took off without incident that night.
The IRGC’s aerospace force commander said the military unit only had 10 seconds to decide to fire. Callamard said his investigation showed the unit had at least 45 seconds to assess the target.
Callamard said that although she had found no concrete evidence that the plane was intentionally shot down, the Iranian investigation had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not targeted.
“The inconsistencies in the official explanation and the reckless nature of the errors made many, including myself, question whether the fall of flight PS752 was intentional,” she said.
“The information released so far does not answer many basic questions and clarify conjectures. Without answers, the suspicion that civilians have been intentionally targeted will remain.”
Canada has raised questions about Iran’s credibility with the PS752 investigation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special adviser on the file, Ralph Goodale, said Iran’s pattern of behavior convinced Ottawa that it could not be trusted with its version of events.
In December, Goodale released a report saying Iran should not be left in charge of the investigation since its military caused the deadly crash in the first place.
Canada has also created a team, led by a former CSIS director, to attempt to piece together the sequence of events – although it does not have access to the crash site, evidence gathered by Iranian authorities, witnesses or the accused.
Payam Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor in The Hague, told TBEN News that the UN report corroborates many of Goodale’s concerns.
He said that the fact that a UN investigator in charge of arbitrary executions investigated Flight PS752 is quite significant.
“Usually, when we talk about arbitrary or extrajudicial killings, we are talking about someone who is lined up, shot and executed,” Akhavan said.
“The mere fact that the Special Rapporteur continued this investigation indicates her preliminary view that … the actions taken which resulted in her destruction represent a situation where death was foreseeable and preventable.”
WATCH | Goodale says Iran should not investigate the Flight 752 crash:
Akhavan said the report would likely be tabled with the UN Human Rights Council and could be used in the future as the basis for a human rights resolution adopted by the General Assembly of UN or as evidence in international legal proceedings.
Hamed Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and daughter on Flight PS752, said the UN report shows the importance of the case.
“I think this is a turning point,” said Esmaeilion, who has become a spokesperson for the families of the victims in Canada.
He said now is the time for the International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN and the five countries that have lost citizens to act. He said the families wanted the case to go to the International Court of Justice.
“We are frustrated,” he said. “We were waiting for a reaction. We want to see words turn into action. We are alive and we want to see truth and justice someday.”
After the report was released, Goodale told TBEN News that the Canadian government would carefully review the report. He said that while the UN process is separate from Canada’s review, it raises many of the same unanswered questions as the current Canadian process.
“If Iran wishes to bring comfort to bereaved families and gain credibility within the international community, it behooves them to fully answer the profound question the world is asking and provide the tangible evidence on which these answers are based. “Goodale wrote. in an email.