Mina stampede compensation, stepping stone toward mending ties

TEHRAN, Sep. 20 (MNA) – Iran and Saudi Arabia's damaged ties could have a chance to mend if the Saudi rulers addressed past injustice by paying compensations to families of victims of the Mina tragedy, and thus expedited the process of healing and reconciliation.

The first anniversary of the Mina stampede which took the lives of over 7,000 people from some more than 30 countries, including 465 Iranians, during Hajj rituals on Sep. 24, 2015, came as a great source of grief and continued desolation for the families of innocent hajj pilgrims who had been the victim of Saudi ineptitude and mismanagement in the land of what was supposed to be peace and security for Muslims. The anniversary came against the backdrop of many unresolved issues that from a humanitarian point of view, if nothing else, should have been handled by the Saudi regime by now, but they weren’t.

The Arab country has yet to issue an apology – official or otherwise – to the bereaved families of the martyrs for what has been so obviously the fault in its mismanagement, negligence and complete disregard for sacred human lives that the Kingdom should have protected but instead left them under the burning sun and buried under piles of bodies for a horrifying, gradual death.

The Saudi regime’s hostile attitude was also the reason hundreds of Iranians did not attend the Hajj pilgrimage this year. According to the head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi, after lengthy negotiations, Riyadh added 11 articles to a memorandum of understanding signed between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which were not there in last years’ Hajj agreements between the two countries. Riyadh's new restrictions and conditions for Iranian pilgrims, including limiting use of various medicines, refusal to raise Iran’s flag over their residential buildings, banning certain ceremonies and prayer gatherings, refusal to guarantee the safety of pilgrims, halting flights to and from Iran following the severing of diplomatic ties, and their disregard for political courtesy during the negotiations, were all to blame for the canceling of Hajj by Iran.

And last but not least, another unresolved issue that needed to have been addressed by Saudi Arabia in the immediate days following the tragedy was the offering of financial and moral compensations to the injured and the families of victims of the Mina stampede; a promise that the Arab Kingdom, with its secure place at the heart of the UN's human rights machinery, is very good at breaking. Just remember the deadliest crane collapse in modern history that happened in the Grand Mosque in Mecca on September 11, 2015, which killed more than 100 people, including a number of Iranians, and left over 300 others wounded. Saudi minister of Hajj had promised to pay compensations to the families of the martyrs of the crane collapse, but 11 months after the incident, Saudi officials have not paid any compensations to any countries whose nationals were killed in Mecca. Iran had also reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia for receiving compensations over the crane collapse before this year’s Hajj ritual, but the agreement did not materialize.

Except for Iran, other countries whose pilgrims had been killed in the Mina stampede did not put much effort into pursuing the case through legal and political channels. Saudi Arabia has enough money and deeply-rooted ties with the US to be granted a privileged perch at the UN Security Council and buy the international silence on many of its atrocities, be it the current inhuman war the regime is waging in Yemen, or their irresponsibility toward protecting the lives of millions of Muslim pilgrims, or even their complicity in the 9/11 attacks, which only just came to the surface – after 15 years since the catastrophic incident – as the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released a 28-page report in July that determined 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens, and exposed links between some of the hijackers and officials in Saudi Arabia.  

Nevertheless, the Islamic Republic of Iran is among the few countries that does not care for Saudi dollars, neither is it swayed or impressed by the regime’s powerful allies, including the US, the UK and the rest of Persian Gulf Arab states. The head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization said in August that a legal committee has been formed to deal with the legal and political aspects of the Mina case and using the French legal expertise to restore the rights of Hajj victims.

Furthermore, Leader of the Islamic Revolution, in his latest remarks on the Mina tragedy during a meeting with the families of those who lost their lives, criticized other governments that have not raised issues with what happened in Mina, and deemed their silence and indifference a ‘great disaster for the Islamic Ummah’. Ayatollah Khamenei described Saudi rulers as ‘Evil Progeny’ in his 2016 Hajj message published on Sep. 5, and blamed them for the deaths of the thousands of pilgrims in both incidents in Mina and Mecca. “Because of these rulers’ oppressive behavior towards God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj. Negligence in this regard will confront the Islamic Ummah with more serious problems in the future,” he warned.

But is there any possibility for Iran to file a case of compensations against Saudi Arabia? According to a Professor of International Law, Saber Niavarani, the government of Saudi Arabia has been, with no doubt, obliged to ensure the safety of these passengers, and as such, it is bound to two international commitments: 1) legal prosecution of offenders in case of an offence, and 2) financial or even moral reparations to the families of victims. Niavarani believes that if Saudi Arabia does not observe these two commitments, the government has violated an international law. Meanwhile, Iran’s Chief of Police announced that the country has filed a complaint against Saudi Arabia with the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) over the Mina stampede, and the police department will follow up on the issue in cooperation with Foreign Ministry and the Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization in the future. 

While Iran is mobilizing every resource to make sure the grief-stricken families of the victims are compensated for both material and psychological injury, Saudi rulers still refuse to address past injustice and expedite the process of healing and reconciliation. They have also blocked attempts at forming a truth commission to investigate into the incident and expose the truth of what had happened to the public.  The severed diplomatic ties between the two countries is also another hampering factor that allows Saudi Arabia to circumvent acknowledging its wrongdoing, which could help repair damaged relationships and ensure that wrongful acts would not be repeated.

Addressing injustice and redressing past abuses by responsible governments is critical for building peace and helping victims to put the past behind them. Throughout history, reparations have been able to repair damaged ties and allow countries to restore their positions on the international scene. The following is a list of some of the most important cases of compensations:

Treaty of Versailles (1919)

The treaty required "Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage" during World War I, and forced Germany to concede territories and pay 132 billion gold marks (US$33 billion) in reparation to the Triple Entente. The Reparation Commission and the Bank for International Settlements, however, state that only 20.598 billion gold marks (US$5.12 billion) was paid by Germany.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918)

Russia agreed to pay reparations to the Central Powers consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, when Russia exited the war in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). Under the treaty, Russia was forced to give up close to half its European territory including Ukraine, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and part of Latvia, and pay six billion marks in reparations.

Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine (1919)

After its defeat in World War I, Bulgaria was required to cede various territories, reduce its army to 20,000 men, pay reparations of £100 million, and recognize the existence of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

Pan Am Flight 103

In 1988, after a Libyan national was found guilty of planting a bomb in the cabin of Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit, which crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, and killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew as well as 11 more people on the ground, the Libyan government agreed to pay $10 million to each family of the victims. 

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

The international passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was mistakenly shot down on 17 July 2014, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. Ukraine and Western powers have been blaming Moscow for the downing of the plane, while Russian President Putin said that Ukraine bore responsibility for the incident which happened in its territory. Unless investigators determine who fired the missile, the Malaysia Airlines’ reinsurer will be required to pay reparations of about $1 billion.

Iran Air Flight 655

On July 3, 1988, 290 people were killed in a U.S. missile attack on an Iranian passenger flight from Bandar Abbas to Dubai across the Persian Gulf.  The United States never took any responsibility for the attack, called it a justifiable self-defense, and went so far as to award all the men of the USS Vincennes combat-action ribbons for what Iran deemed as a “criminal act” and a “massacre”. The incident was brought to the International Court of Justice eight years later during which the U.S. agreed to pay $131.8 million in compensation to the Iranian government, including $61.8 million to the families of the victims, although without any apology or accepting legal liability.

9/11 attacks

In a recent development, and 15 years after the September 11 attacks of 2001 which killed about 3,000 people, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow the families of victims to sue Saudi Arabia's government for damages. The 28-page report on Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the attacks exposed links between some of the hijackers and officials in the Saudi kingdom and identified fifteen of the 19 hijackers as Saudi citizens. This is while Riyadh continues to deny any responsibility and the Obama Administration confirmed that the bill would be vetoed by the president, as the bill would make “the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.” The possibility still remains, however, that Obama’s veto would be overridden with a two-thirds majority vote from both houses of Congress.  

Conclusion

The international law provides the legal basis for victims of human rights violations to receive appropriate remedy, including official apologies, financial compensations, psychological and social support, as well as the prosecution of the offenders and public condemnation of the committed crime. These reparations, throughout the history, particularly in regard to the two world wars, have been a tremendous help for allowing the countries to compensate for their wrongdoings and move on toward a better future. If Saudi Arabia acknowledges its responsibility over the death of thousands of Muslim pilgrims during the Mina stampede and agrees to pay reparations to the families of victims, this move could be a stepping stone toward mending the severed diplomatic ties between Iran and the Saudi Kingdom and expedite the healing process of the injuries suffered by the Iranian nation.    

News Code 119775

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