March 2, 2021 | Policy Brief

UN Rapporteur: Iran Committed Human Rights Violations in Downing of Ukrainian Airliner

March 2, 2021 | Policy Brief

UN Rapporteur: Iran Committed Human Rights Violations in Downing of Ukrainian Airliner

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, announced on February 23 that the Islamic Republic of Iran committed multiple human rights violations related to the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. Callamard’s official communication to Iran raises allegations of the regime’s apparent disregard for international law and enumerates 26 sets of outstanding questions, further challenging Iran’s official narrative.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down the aircraft on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 innocent civilians aboard, 138 of whom had ties to Canada. Nearly 14 months later, the regime in Iran has yet to publish its final investigative report, as mandated by Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

In December 2020, the Canadian government released its own report, which emphasized the significant flaws in Iran’s investigation into the PS752 downing and concluded that the “party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret.”

On the first anniversary of the downing, Callamard urged the international community to adopt “urgent measures” to address gaps in safety standards for civil aviation in conflict zones and to ensure “proper investigations should [attacks] occur.”

In a 45-page letter to Iran in December 2020, Callamard said Iran’s investigation into PS752 has “failed to meet international standards.” According to Callamard, the regime committed human rights violations in its failure to take precautions to protect civilians’ right to life; its failure to secure the crash site, resulting in looting and the desecration of human remains; its failure to pursue a prompt, effective, and independent investigation in line with international obligations; and its failure to protect the rights of protestors in the aftermath of the downing.

Like the Canadian report, Callamard’s letter challenges the Islamic Republic’s official narrative, noting that the IRGC’s claim of a misaligned missile battery is factually incorrect. In addition, Tehran’s assertions that the unit misidentified the outgoing aircraft as an incoming U.S. cruise missile, experienced a total communications failure for several crucial seconds, and fired twice without authorization from a central command center are similarly unsubstantiated.

Critically, the letter states that “those within the chain of command, both civilian and military” – including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and commander in chief of its Armed Forces – must be investigated.

The letter concludes: “The mistakes indicate a reckless, if not criminal, disregard for standard procedures and for the principles of precaution, which should have been implemented to the fullest given the circumstances and the location of the missile unit in the proximity of a civilian airfield.”

Without “an impartial, independent and comprehensive investigation,” Callamard said on February 23, some “may even wonder if that particular flight was targeted deliberately.”

So far, Tehran has shown no indication that it intends to heed Callamard’s words. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on February 25 that Callamard’s investigation was outside her mandate’s “sphere of activity” and constituted “unwarranted involvement” in the case. Earlier this month, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) revealed a secret audio recording in which a “senior Iranian official” – identified by CBC sources as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif – states that the truth about PS752 “will never be revealed.”

The Biden administration should work with Ukraine and Canada to ensure an independent, international investigation to examine the issue of intentionality, identify all responsible individuals within the regime’s chain of command, and initiate proceedings under the Montreal Convention of 1971, which concerns criminal liability and financial compensation in attacks against civilian aircraft.

Failure to hold the Islamic Republic accountable for its human rights violations risks undermining the safety and security of global civil aviation, an industry critical to U.S. interests.

Dylan Gresik is a government relations analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Iran Program. For more analysis from Dylan and the Iran Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Dylan on Twitter @DylanGresik. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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