Mitchell Reiss: Residents of Camp Ashraf need international protection and they need it immediately

In an international conference held in Geneva on Thursday, September 22 by the Swiss Committee in Defense of Ashraf, prominent European and American dignitaries and personalities expressed their deep concerns about intentions of the Iranian regime and the Iraqi government against residents of Ashraf and especially the illegally set deadline of December 2011 for closing the camp.  The conference called on the UN Secretary General, the UN High Commission for Refugees and UN High Commission for Human Rights as well as the United States to take immediate measures to provide protection for Camp Ashraf and prevent repeat of similar massacres of the past and also press the Iraqi government to cancel the 2011 deadline until the resettlement to third countries of all residents is finalized.

Below is speech by Mitchell Reiss. He was the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department and then President’s special envoy for the Northern Ireland Peace Process until 2007.

Madam President, distinguished guests and all those in the audience and watching in Camp Ashraf and around the world who love freedom and democray. Thank you for inviting me to Geneva to speak today. I am honored to be with you and to be on the same panel with so many distinguised public servants.

A few years ago, I served in the US government. My responsibilities included examining foreign policy challenges around the world for the secretary of State. This meant analysing issues and assessing trends to see whether challenges were getting better or getting worse and meant recommending what the secretary should do to best promote US security.

I looked at the challenge before us today. The ? humanitarian in Camp Ashraf and the need to delist the MEK and I see that the trends are starting to favour the forces of justice and freedom. In particular I see positive trends in three important areas.

First at the United Nations.
Second, with the medias coverage of the story and third, within the US government.

Let me address each one briefly.

First, the United Nations.

Within the past few months the leaders of the MEK and those who believe in this cause have effectively lobbied the UN here in Geneva and in New York.

The UN High Commission of Human Rights have accepted petitions from the residents of Camp Ashraf who requested the granting of refugee status. And the UN High Commission is moving forward to consider these resquests. In the meantime, these Camp Ashraf residents are now officially asylum seekers under international law, which provides them with another of lay of protection against violence by the Iraqi government forces and the Iranian regime. Further these petitions do not have to announce their membership in the MEK in order to apply for refugee status.
All of this is progress, and the story of Camp Ashraf takes place within a larger recent trend with the international community has not stood by helplessly and simply watched innocent civilians be slaughtered. I am talking of course about the humanitarian intervention in Libya, by the USA and the European powers. Faced with the imminent slaughters of the residents in Ben Gazi, these countries along with the UN and the Arab League decided never again. Never again will they stand by and watch the murder of innocent civilians when they could act and save lives. And act, they did. They decided to join together and invoke the international community’s responsibility to protect.

I believe, and I know you will agree that the international community also has a responsibility to protect the innocent residents of Camp Ashraf.

It is simply not possible to stand by and do nothing. If never again applies to the residents of Ben Gazi, then it certainly applies to the residents of Camp Ashraf.

The International community cannot claim they do not know the ? in which the brave residents of Camp Ashraf live every day, not after the events of April 8th earlier this year.

Six months ago, these commitments by the UN and the larger international community did not exist. They do today. Now the UN High commissionner and the UN secretary general have publicly acknowledge the ? of the residents of camp Ashraf. I believe that this will lead to even greater involvment and protection by the United Nations.

The second trend has to do with media coverage.

For much of this year, the media’s coverage of the MEK and Camp Ashraf was negative and suspicious. At least when the media did ignore the potential humanitarian disaster altogether. This summer there was a particularly one sided and damaging in the NY Times. They grossly misrepresented the issues. In recent days, the NY Times issues a clarification, which was really a retraction of the story and vowed to do better to present the MEK’s views in the future. Perharps not incidentally the American ambassador quoted extensively in this article no longer has responsibility for negotiating with the residents at Camp Ashraf. In addition, many of your friends, some of whom are on the podium this afternoon, were personnaly singled out by the media and criticized for our support.
If it was thought that this time of slender and intimidation would work, I am here to state it will not !

We have stood with you yesterday, we are standing with you today and we will stand with you tomorrow. Pushing back against the sea of media misinformation and disinformation is a new media strategy that your leadership has adopted. I believe that the tide has now turned and in the month to come, many more people will receive a much fuller picture of the plight of the residents of camp Ashraf and the need to delist the MEK.

The third trend is taking place within the US government. Your message, our message is increasingly officials at the highest levels of the US government. The Court of Appeal’s deadline for resolution of the MEK status and possible delisting continues to exert pressure on the State department.

The administration also knows that Prime Minister Malaki’s artificial deadline to close the camp by December 31st, gravely threatens the lives of the residents there and that the US Government needs to resolve this issue or else they will be responsible for a humanitarian disaster.

Further attention will come later this fall when Congress halt hearings on Iraq and Iran. Government officials will be asked to testify. I am confident that camp Ashraf and the MEK will be on the agenda. Forcing the administration to address these issues in public, in particular, I am hoping that we can learn who ordered the removal of the US forces from the camp before the horrific event of April 8th and why they did so.

Again, six months ago, these issues did not occupy the time of senior administration officials the way they do now. Now everyone in the US government understands these issues and understands what’s at stake.

So the trends are positive, they are going on the right direction, but the challenge remains. So what do we do next ?

First, we need to continue explaining to the UN and US government why it is so very important for them to help resolve these issues before there is another humanitarian catastrophe. We need to keep up the pressure.
The residents of Camp Ashraf need international protection and they need it immediately. New communications equipment has been installed around the camps that will jam communications and thereby prevent the world from learning about what very well might be another round of atrocities like the ones we saw on April 8th.

There needs to be international monitors, preferably UN, placed to the camp to safeguard the residents. This needs to be done now.

Second. The American administration needs to be encouraged to take a more active role in shaping the future of Iraq. As America wines down its force levels. It cannot let itself be outmanoeuvred by the Malaki government or be intimidated by the mullahs in Iran.

As we all know the US has a special responsibility to protect the residents of camp Ashraf, governor Rendell and Attorney Mukasey have already spoken eloquently to that point.
This responsibility does not on december 31st, it does not end when the last American solider leaves Iraq. It ends when all of the residents of camp Ashraf  are safe and secure and when they are all allowed to live their lives in peace and in dignity. The fastest, the easiest, the best way to accomplish this goal is to delist the MEK.

Thank you

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