Comment: The deaths at Camp Ashraf are an international travesty

The Iraqi government must immediately withdraw its armed forces from the civilian camp. – By David Amess MP – 30, Apr 2011

On April 8th 2011, 2,500 members of the Iraqi armed forces, following direct orders from Nouri Al-Maliki, and at the behest of the Iranian regime, carried out a vicious assault on Camp Ashraf, home to 3,400 Iranian dissidents, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), including 1,000 women. This military assault took place against defenceless, unarmed civilians which led to the death of at least 35 residents, including eight women, and left a further 350 people wounded. Of the 35 killed, 32 were shot in their head, chest or abdomen and three others were deliberately run over by Humvees and military vehicles. At least 225 of the 350 injured suffered gunshots by the Iraqi forces.

The April 8th attack is not over though. Iraqi forces are amassing inside the camp and several Iraqi engineering battalions have completed a six-kilometre-long embankment on the northern edge of Camp Ashraf’s main road. Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and north Africa programme, has stated that “given the nature and scope of these new military installations, we’re very concerned [about] what Iraqi security forces may be planning”.

At this point, it is pertinent that I emphasise that the Ashraf residents have been residing in the camp for 25 years and have built a patch of desert into a small town using their own resources and money. They in no way pose a threat to the government or people of Iraq and the action that they have taken is totally disproportionate to whatever it is they imagine the threat to be.

Iraqi officials claimed that only three residents had been killed and that no live ammunition was used during the attack. However, one only needs to look at the numerous pieces of footage that have been posted on the YouTube website and aired by international television stations which clearly show Iraqi forces indiscriminately shooting at and running over unarmed residents. The UN high commissioner for human rights, in a statement condemning the attack, further confirmed that of the 34 killed “most were shot, and some appear to have been crushed to death, presumably by vehicles.” Simply put, an unarmed civilian population was slaughtered to death.

Furthermore, the Law Society’s human rights committee confirmed in a statement condemning the attack that, “in footage of the attacks, Iraqi security forces are seen opening fire on unarmed residents, while others are ploughed down by heavy military vehicles”.

The US state department further confirmed in a statement on April 8th that “this crisis and loss of life was initiated by the government of Iraq and the Iraqi military”. When the Iraqi government took over protection of the camp in January 2009, US officials publicly announced that Iraq had given a written assurance to treat the residents humanely and in accordance with Iraq’s constitution, laws, and international obligations. However the April 8th attack is the second time that the Iraqi government has resorted to using live ammunition and violence against the residents of Camp Ashraf.

For me it is crystal clear. The Iraqi government neither has the intention nor the capability to protect Ashraf residents, and further, it is not providing proper protection for the residents in accordance with international law. In order to avoid any further loss, the Iraqi government must immediately withdraw its armed forces from the camp, a camp which is nothing more than an unarmed civilian zone.

The Iraqi government had often justified its treatment of the camp residents under the pretext of imposing their sovereignty. But the residents have respected Iraq’s sovereignty; Ashraf has been their home for 25 years now. Furthermore, this sovereignty in no way can allow Iraq to breach international law and breach the residents’ fundamental rights under international human rights law. I have a copy of the Protected Persons status card of the one of the residents of Camp Ashraf which was issued by the Multi-National Force in 2004, and it states that until their final disposition, they are recognised as Protected Persons.

The UN high commissioner for human rights has demanded that “there must be a full, independent and transparent inquiry, and any person found responsible for use of excessive force should be prosecuted”. What is clearly needed is an international fact-finding mission, rather than one formed by Iraq, to carry out this task for the UN so that the perpetrators of this crime are brought before international courts and face justice.

What has happened, and is still happening in Camp Ashraf, is an international travesty, and what is worse still is that the majority of the public seem to know very little about what is happening to these people. Every day, news footage of protesters being violently oppressed across north Africa is shown and the response of the democratic world is unified in its outrage. Yet the attack of the April 8th 2011, received fleeting news coverage and was soon forgotten about by the world press, and let me make the point that these people that are the subject of the Iraqi government’s displeasure are not even protesting. They are just living. Put simply, we cannot allow another attack like the one that occurred earlier this month to take place again, and I truly hope that action will now be taken.

David Amess is the Conservative MP for Southend West.




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