THE DAILY BEAST – Dec 9, 2011 By Geoffrey Robertson QC was president of the U.N.’s war crimes court in Sierra Leone
When the last U.S. troops leave Dec. 31, Iraqi forces will destroy Camp Ashraf, home to thousands of Iranian refugees belonging to the MEK. Geoffrey Robertson on the appalling human-rights tragedy unfolding.
The time bomb that is ticking toward a new human-rights disaster is near Baghdad, in a 25-acre compound, where 3,400 refugees from Iranian religious fascism await the cruelest of fates. Whilst nominally under United Nations protection, 36 of them have been killed by Iraqi forces already this year, and Dec. 31, the deadline for the U.S. troop pullout, is likely to be their deadline as well. The Iraqi government, under pressure from Iran, has announced that on that very same date it will demolish Camp Ashraf.
The camp houses the remnants of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK)—once described by Ayatollah Khomeini as “a syncretic mix of Marxism and Islam.” It started in Tehran universities in the late 1960s, attracting idealistic students who fought guerrilla battles against the shah’s secret police, but whose dreams of a secular state were soon dashed by the rule of the ayatollah. Hundreds were killed in student protests by his Revolutionary Guards, whilst thousands were arrested and then executed or (if lucky) sentenced to long prison terms.
Some escaped to Paris, but the fickle French expelled them in 1986 under pressure from Iran. They had nowhere to go but Iraq, where Saddam Hussein welcomed them to Camp Ashraf and used them as a “Free Iran” force. After the truce in 1988, Khomeini issued a secret fatwa ordering that all MEK supporters in Iranian prisons should be killed. In a bloodbath that ranks as the worst prisoner-of-war atrocity since the Japanese death marches at the end of World War II, thousands were summarily executed, under the orders of Ali Khamenei, then Iran’s president and now its supreme leader, and Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Camp Ashraf remained. Its residents were protected under the Geneva Conventions and were in any event refugees unable to return to Iran because of a well-founded fear—indeed, a certainty—that they would be executed both as traitors and as mohareb, or enemies of God. After the invasion in 2003, the U.S. formally recognized the MEK as having the status of “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions. Their weapons were decommissioned by the U.S. forces, and every Ashraf resident signed a written agreement denouncing terrorism and rejecting violence.
In return, the U.S. promised to protect them until their final disposition. They built roads and residential complexes at the camp, with educational, social, and sports facilities, and infrastructure worth millions of dollars.
Author : Geoffrey Robertson QC was president of the U.N.’s war crimes court in Sierra Leone and is the author of Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice