Ending Ashraf oppression would ‘send strong message’ to Iran

PUBLIC SERVICE EUROPE – By: Ryszard Czarnecki MEP 18 April 2012
Today their focus may be on Afghanistan but US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the rest of the international community should not forget their pledges to the Iranian dissidents in Iraq’s Camp Ashraf, writes Polish MEP

When United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton and all the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation foreign and defence ministers convene in Brussels today, one issue will top their agenda: the tumultuous, fragile situation in Afghanistan. The deadline for withdrawal from the country is fast approaching, yet the enigma of finding a lasting solution has become even more perplexing.

In the discussions, the US experience in Iraq, which witnessed a similar occupation in the first decade of the 21st century, should not be lost. In that case, the Americans left Iraq prone to Iranian influence without much defence – and with the ebbing US influence, Tehran tried to fill up the vacuum.

This is best manifested in the plight of Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The appalling violence and intimidation of these refugees, members of Iran’s Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or PMOI/MEK, shines a light on the dark truth about the new rulers of Iraq. It reveals that the Shiite officials of Nouri al-Maliki’s government are more than happy to dance to the tune of the Tehran regime in trying to crush the MEK, the mullahs’ only viable opposition.

The core members of the MEK – who promote democracy and a non-nuclear future for Iran – were hounded out of their homeland and set up Camp Ashraf near Baghdad 26 years ago. But when Iraq went to war in 2003, US forces assumed control of the camp, and a thorough investigation found not one terrorist among the 3,400 dissidents. The residents voluntarily disarmed to the US and, in return, were given official protection, under the Geneva Convention.

The oppression of these residents and Maliki’s disregard for international law was evident within weeks of Iraq assuming responsibility for its security in 2009. He gave assurances that the refugees would be given “humane treatment” yet on April 8 last year, a beautiful spring day turned to bloodshed. Video footage showed unarmed civilians apparently being shot in the head at close range by Maliki’s army, as well as being run over by their American-made Humvees.

It was condemned by many international bodies as nothing short of a massacre. But Maliki did not stop there – within days he had vowed to close Camp Ashraf completely. Another atrocity was averted only after a massive international campaign saw the United Nations draw up a memorandum of understanding with the Iraqi government to assure the safety and welfare of Ashraf residents.

Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the resistance, persuaded the residents to move to a new home, Camp Liberty, a former US military base. But again the Iraqis chose to deceive, turning the home into a prison, where conditions do not meet the bare minimum humanitarian standard. Four groups of the dissidents – 1,600 people in total – have moved to Liberty despite all the shortcomings. They showed tremendous flexibility and forfeited many of their fundamental rights by accepting relocation within Iraq to a camp with minimum facilities.

The area designated for Iranian dissidents is considerably less than a square kilometre. There is a critical shortage of water and electricity, and the sewage system is broken. In addition, the camp is rigged with surveillance cameras, along with more than 150 of the same Iraqi police who took part in last year’s horrific April massacre. Nevertheless, the dissidents have proved true to their word. Now the UN and the international community should do their part.

The dissidents’ human rights – their property rights, including movable and non-movable properties – must be honoured. The government of Iraq should recognise the status of the residents of Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty as asylum seekers and respect their rights under international law. The UN must recognise Camp Liberty as a refugee camp designed to be a stopping-off point for the PMOI. Instead, it is considered a Temporary Transition Location, which deprives the residents of the most essential humanitarian standards.

Clinton recently told a congress hearing that the MEK’s “cooperation” in moving to Camp Liberty would be a “key factor” for their removal from the US black list – a designation maintained for the past 15 years to please Tehran. This label now serves merely as a hindrance to these refugees’ final relocation and as an excuse for further violence by Iraq. With half of the residents already having made the move, a sign of full cooperation on their behalf, Clinton should now do her part.

So far as it pertains to the main issue of the day in Brussels, upholding the rights of Iranian dissidents would also send a strong message to Tehran’s rulers, who are among the main intruders in the affairs of Afghanistan. In order to have a solution for Afghanistan, all foreign meddling should stop – and Tehran, as the epicentre of extremism, tops the list.

Ryszard Czarnecki MEP is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, and a former Polish Europe minister

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