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Iran-Argentina: A Curious Kind of Truth Commission

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In late January 2013, Argentina and the Islamic Republic of Iran signed an agreement to create a truth commission, composed of five international jurists, to re-investigate the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Iranian authorities had refused to cooperate during the Argentine proceedings that uncovered indisputable evidence of Iran's involvement in the attack. The announced agreement has come as a surprise. The vague and unbinding language of the agreement and the lack of provisions protecting the rights of victims to justice cast doubt on the purpose of this curious commission.

For the record, on July 18, 1994, a van packed with 275 kilograms of explosives rammed into the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association ("AMIA"), a mutual aid society. The explosion killed 85 and injured 151, many of them passersby. The half-hearted official response and infighting within the investigative agencies derailed the initial investigation in Argentina. In 1999, a new investigation was initiated after a group representing relatives of the victims accused the government of denial of justice in a case with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

In spite of the loss of key evidence in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, the new investigation was persuasive enough to convince INTERPOL in 2007 to issue international arrest warrants for six individuals. These included Ahmad Vahidi, the current Minister of Defense; Ali Fallahian, former Minister of Information; and Mohsen Rezai, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards and a candidate in the 2009 presidential election.

The January agreement is a victory for Iran. In return for a formal initiative it can use to undermine the Argentine court's judgment, Iran will provide unspecified documents and allow a single interrogation session with the officials wanted by Interpol. On January 29, an optimistic Islamic Republic News Agency pointed to "radical Zionist groups" as the accused in the AMIA bombing; noted that the judiciary in Argentina is "not very clean"; and suggested that experts may declare evidence incriminating Iran to be invalid.

Less than a week after the announced agreement, on February 2nd, Hossein Avazpour, a member of the Iranian Parliament's Foreign Policy Commission, contradicted a statement by the Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs regarding the visit by Argentine investigators to Iran to question the indicted officials. For him, the agreement's purpose is to finally close the AMIA case.

The Islamic Republic's priority in this re-investigation is not the uncovering of the truth or accountability. But why does Argentina, a country where justice actually matters, present this agreement as a historical success, when it legitimizes Iran's doubts about Argentina's judicial process and provides no guarantees of success? What do the Argentine authorities hope to gain from the cooperation of a country notorious for violating due process of law and where judges deny Iranian victims and lawyers, let alone foreigners, access to their own files when they deem it harmful to the country's image or national security?

The AMIA case is a nuisance in Iran's ever-expanding political and commercial ties with Latin America. We can speculate on the Argentine government's motives or its potential interest in resolving the AMIA problem, considering that it is the second exporter to Iran in the region with an estimated increase of 234 percent since the election of President Fernández de Kirchner in 2007.

But our purpose here is not to understand the strategic advantages or the heavy investments that have strengthened Iran's presence in Latin America. For many of us who believe in the rights of victims to truth and justice, it is the lack of interest of Latin American democracies in Iran's abysmal human rights record that is concerning and disheartening.

This agreed-upon "Truth Commission" is the start of another roller coaster of hope and disappointment for the survivors and families of the victims of the AMIA bombing. The outcome may well harm their rights and those of the victims of other acts of violence, encouraged by impunity. The Islamic Republic has a tradition of providing financial and commercial advantages, so as to do away with investigations implicating its leaders in acts of terror.

Argentina will not be the first democracy to succumb to the temptation of sacrificing ideals of truth and justice to short-term political and commercial gains. Let us hope that the independent jurists involved in the investigation will make it their priority to protect the rights of the attack's victims.