Addressing a conference in Geneva on March08, Howard Dean, Former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Governor of Vermont, denounced the situation at camp Ashraf has the potential to be a human catastrophe and there are some things that we can do now to make sure that does not happen.
The conference was attended by Swiss lawmakers, former high-ranking US officials, jurists and international figures support Iranian people’s uprising for a democratic change in Iran, and call for guarantee of Ashraf residents’ protection.
Excerpts from transcribed text of his speech follow:
Thank you very much and I certainly want to thank Madam Rajavi for her extraordinary speech. I often come to Europe to give speeches and one thing I always hear from the Europeans is that the Americans are very difficult because we always act without thinking. But here we are at another European conference and today it is important that we not do what we so often do in Europe which is to think without acting. This cannot be another conference where we say a lot of things and nothing happens.
The situation at camp Ashraf has the potential to be a human catastrophe and there are some things that we can do now to make sure that does not happen. It is not simply a matter of protecting their human rights, that we should demand, and I was particularly pleased to hear from my Canadian friend about the things that he continues to do. But the international community moves very slowly. The international community almost always moves too slowly. And now is the time that things must happen quickly. Secretary Clinton, a day or two ago, here, said that “let me clearly state that we directly support the aspirations of the people who are in the streets, in Iran, in the Middle East.” And she has said that “we are against violence. We would call to account the Iranian government that is once again using its security forces and resorting to violence to prevent the free expression of ideas from their own people.” Secondly we support the universal human rights of the Iranian people. They deserve to have the same rights that they saw being played out in Egypt and Tunisia and that are part of the birth right of the Iranian people. And thirdly we think that there needs to be a commitment to open the political system in Iran to hear the voices of opposition and civil society. Today we are hearing the voices of opposition and civil society.
Madam Rajavi talked a week ago or so, in Paris, about her platform of universal suffrage, of women’s rights, of the ballot box being the sole legitimate determinant of the future of a people and of human rights everywhere. That is not a terrorist program and the MEK should not be listed as a terrorist organisation and this has practical implications. Most of you know that I was against the invasion of Iraq. The reason for that was that I believed that that would enhance the influence of Iran elsewhere in the region which is exactly, unfortunately, what has happened? And the idea that prime minister Maliki, who would not be in the position he holds today where it not for American troops, is taking the American constitution and turning it upside down when regarding the people of camp Ashraf, is wrong and we should not put up with it. We put Maliki in and he ought to respect human rights and the American constitution.
Thanks to president Obama we are going to be leaving Iraq, as we should. But we must make sure as we leave Iraq, that the people of Ashraf do not pay the price. Even though American garrisons no longer protect Ashraf and even though there are already human rights abuses with the speakers and the harassment and the limitations on medical care, it will get worse when our troops leave. This is a preventable human catastrophe and the international community has to act now. Enough meetings and discussions, we have to act now. Our institutions, the United Nations, and the international community here in Geneva and elsewhere have to do something about this now. Because if the people of camp Ashraf are expelled, they will be killed. They have no place to go and one of the reasons they have no place to go is because despite the fact that they have embraced democracy, they have embraced women’s rights and they have embraced human rights, they have done all the things that the Iranian regime won’t do, they are on a terrorist list in the united states, Canada and Australia and ironically, Iran. We can do better than this as a world. We owe those 3400 souls the possibility and opportunity that they would have if they were protected in the way they should be. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to publicly condemn the use of the loudspeakers, torture and withholding of medical treatment. This issue must be, and I believe will be, referred to the United Nations Security Council to adopt binding measures. We cannot tolerate the public torture of 3400 human beings. We have been down this road as a species before, we know what happens if you appease and tolerate abuse. The extraordinary saying in world war two; when they came for the Jews I did not say anything, because I was not a Jew. When they came for the homosexuals, I did not say anything, because I was not a homosexual. When they came for the Catholics, I did not say anything because I was not a Catholic. When they came for me, there was no one left to defend me. We cannot let this happen to the people in Ashraf, we are all one people and we are in solidarity with anyone who speaks up for human rights, who believes that non-violent change is the way to go.
I want to, as an American, speak for a moment about the notion that this is an Islamic republic. It is not. As a Christian and as someone who is married at a Jew and who has Muslim friends, we know that almost every religion on the face of the earth has at one time or another been used to justify violence and the abuse of human rights. They call themselves an Islamic republic. I studied the Koran in college, that does not make me an expert, but I do not recognise Islam in the human rights abuses of the mullahs and the ayatollahs. I do not recognise Islam there. They claim they have a mandate of god. God will decide who has a mandate to do what God wishes and it is not what is going on in the prisons of Iran. The people who stood in Tahrir square where good Muslims and we welcome their wish for a humane change, human rights and a ballot bow in Egypt. The people who stood in Tunisia are Muslims. The people who stand in Libya against a dictator who is committing genocide against his own people are good Muslims. And we as Americans stand with any people of any religion, including Muslims, who stand up for the human rights of all of us, which is exactly what is going on in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya.
So, this is a moment which requires actions and not just talk. This is a moment where the international community can look down the road, in probably less than a year, when the last of the American troops, I hope, leave Iraq. We need to be out of Iraq. But we cannot leave behind 3400 people who are persecuted by a regime that we helped put in place. America has a special burden here, we also have a special responsibility to remove the designation as a terrorist organisation from the democratic opposition in Iran so that they may be free to pursue their dreams.