Portraying an unrealistic and distorted picture of the prison conditions at Camp Liberty sets the stage for attack on and suppression of Ashraf residents

On Tuesday night, January 31, the public relations office of UNAMI in Baghdad issued a statement about the readiness of Camp Liberty for the transfer of Ashraf residents, and announced:

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UNAMI Human Rights Office have now confirmed that the infrastructure and facilities at Camp Liberty are in accordance with the international humanitarian standards stipulated in the MoU [Memorandum of Understanding].”

Thus, once again, Ashraf residents are facing a fait accompli as was the case with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Mr. Martin Kobler, UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, and the Government of Iraq.

It seems that the aforementioned statement was written without the knowledge of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, and the World Health Organization, all of which are the parties involved in the Ashraf issue, and at the same time, it intends to ignore the full responsibility of Martin Kobler, as UNSG Special Representative in Iraq, while instead placing the responsibility on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UNAMI’s Human Rights Office in Baghdad.

The goal, as Ashraf resident representatives wrote to Mr. Kobler on January 25th and 29th “is quite clear:

either you accept these conditions completely “voluntarily” and concur with them or else you and your leadership will be to blame for the subsequent firing of missiles and then a massacre on the next deadline”!

1. In both the statement issued by UNAMI and also Mr. Kobler’s announcements, the most basic human rights criteria have been ignored, while finding it to sufficient to point out that, for example, in an area of more than half a square kilometer (exactly 0.683 square kilometers), which according to UNAMI has the capacity for 5,500 people, for every 8 persons, there is one sanitation facility and for every 7 persons, there is one water tap. The statement by UNAMI points out that, of course, humanitarian standards only require one sanitation facility for every 20 people and only one water tap for every 100 people!

2. The reality at Liberty, however, as Mr. Kobler has explicitly stated to Ashraf representatives, is something else:
• There is no drinking water.
• The residents have no right to freedom of travel, to access lawyers, and to access medical services.
• They cannot take their vehicles and moveable belongings with them and are only allowed to take their “individual belongings.” The issue of vehicles and portable or fixed assets has been completely overlooked.
• While Camp Liberty, encircled with thick 3.6 meter high concrete walls is surrounded by the Iraqi security and military forces and all the possible entrance and exit points are controlled by them, armed security forces have an extensive presence.
• The residents have no face-to-face 24-hour access to UN observers and, like in Ashraf, they can only be contacted by telephone.
• There has been no mention made of the facilities that are required for the wounded and disabled persons.
• Instead of designating it as a refugee camp, they have illegally designated Camp Liberty as a “temporary transfer location – TTL” to cover up the excessive lack of necessary standards for refugee camps and violation of the laws and regulations related to refugees and asylum seekers.

3. On January 25th, Iraqi government’s representative, in the presence of Mr. Kobler, told Ashraf residents’ legal advisors that in the process of being transferred to Liberty, the residents will have to go to the headquarters of the Iraqi forces’ brigade individually and after undergoing a physical inspection, they will be transferred to Iraqi busses, with their personal belongings separately taken to Liberty by Iraqi forces; immediately after arrival at Liberty, they will be finger-printed. These procedures are no different than transferring prisoners of war and captives.

4. The January 25 letter of the representative of Ashraf Residents outside Iraq to Mr. Kobler asked: “Are we going to be surprised by another ‘done deal’ just as the signing of MoU, but this time about the readiness of Liberty?”
“Please wait until we meet as previously planned in Paris on the first week of February, prior to making any political or public relations announcements, so we would be able to find a solution to the extremely tragic, complicated and terrifying situation. I expect only impartiality from you.”
“Allow for us and for the lawyers of both sides, in the legal committee that you proposed today, to find a solution. This can be a joint legal committee with the participation of lawyers of the government of Iraq, UNAMI, and UNHCR who would meet in a session chaired by you in Geneva, Brussels, or Paris. This will enable us to try to sign a document for transfer arrangements acceptable to all sides as the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has stated and you reiterated on December 6 at the Security Council. I hereby invite you, and through you the representatives and lawyers of the Iraqi government, to attend the joint legal committee, which will not be a public session,,  and I will arrange for all the costs.”

5. United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) wrote to Ashraf lawyers in London on January 26 that, “The UNHCR has sent a shelter expert to advise the Government of Iraq.”
On January 27, SRSG wrote to the representative of the Residents of Ashraf outside Iraq, saying, “I do not exert any influence on the UNHCR site planner as they confirm that camp liberty is in accordance with international humanitarian standards. During our meeting in Ashraf yesterday the site planner presented his findings to the representatives of the residents.”
However, at a January 25 meeting with Ashraf’s legal advisors, the site planner clearly told them that his job was to check and assess the infrastructure and is not to determine compliance with the standards, which is a political matter and is not his concern. It is clear that infrastructures, such as how many showers are required for a certain number of people, could be observed in any prison; the main issue revolves around the standards of behavior.
For that reason, the representative of Ashraf Residents outside Iraq wrote to SRSG on January 27, saying, “It is very clear that within the framework of the United Nations, you, as the SRSG, are responsible for the relocation plan to Camp Liberty and all its details, unless you declare that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for the plan, in which case we will take up the issue with the UNHCR”.

6. In his letter to SRSG on January 29, the representative of Ashraf Residents added: “We deeply regret that the Government of Iraq (GoI) refuses permission to a team of Ashraf experts or their lawyers to visit Camp Liberty prior to the residents’ relocation. You confirmed that this opposition by GoI to grant such a simple request is due to a concern that following such a visit, residents would refrain from relocating. However, a visit to Camp Liberty prior to transfer of the residents is their minimum right and GoI’s obstruction has no logical or legal justification. It seems that by presenting only a few photographs that you passed on to us, which are absolutely not reflective of the reality on the ground, GoI wishes to drive Ashraf residents to a prison without giving residents’ representatives or lawyers a chance to see the site.”
“You stated that the Secretary-General has no time to look into the details given in our letters and you subsequently told us to reply with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, if the residents have the intention to go to Camp Liberty. Our reply was: As you know, at the request of Mrs. Rajavi, President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, since December 30, four hundred Ashraf residents were prepared to move with their movable belongings and vehicles to Camp Liberty. However, many of them were disappointed after hearing public statements by Prime Minister Maliki about arrest warrants for Ashraf residents, as well as by the disgraceful statements that Hassan Danaifar attributed to you. Nevertheless, Madam Parsaei in Ashraf did her utmost to convince other residents to move to Camp Liberty. As declared by Mrs. Rajavi on December 28, we are ready and committed to relocate 400 residents of Ashraf to Camp Liberty with their vehicles and movable belongings… It is indeed regrettable that GoI turns down this minimalist request while at the same time taking from the residents their homes which thousands of people have worked on and invested in for 26 years and which are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In his statement on December 21, 2011, Prime Minister Maliki himself said Ashraf “is a city of Iraq and not a camp as has been referred to in the media”. So, why does the GoI not allow the residents to take along their vehicles and movable property with them to Camp Liberty? You have told us that you could only get an agreement from GoI for ten vehicles for the 400 people.
“Contrary to what you promised, this MoU, which determines the destiny and life or death of all Ashraf residents, was signed with GoI without our knowledge and we had no participation whatsoever in the negotiations that led to it. None of the minimum guarantees requested by Mrs. Rajavi from you, which were also documented in writing in repeated letters sent to you by Ashraf residents’ representative outside of Iraq, have been included in this MoU.”
“We informed you that based on all the evidence, the Iraqi government’s measures are considered forced eviction, the standards that must be taken into consideration based on the international law are different and far beyond the standards mentioned by the UNHCR site planner, and these standards cannot be neglected by UN officials.”
 
7. In a January 29 letter sent by the representative of Ashraf Residents to SRSG, it was stated: “You asked if Ashraf residents seek the UN’s and your personal work to continue regarding Ashraf. Surely we do seek that and insist on it. As prominent international jurists, including Professor Eric David, have said, the UN responsibility in the case of Ashraf is a legal responsibility and a judicial obligation to prevent a repeat of cases such as Rwanda. Our request from SRSG regarding what is happening on the ground in Iraq is that you only act in accordance with what has been stipulated in the UNSG’s reports about “implementation of any arrangement that is acceptable to the Government of Iraq and the camp residents”, and UNSG’s assertions that “the agreement lays the foundation for a peaceful and durable solution to the situation, respecting both the sovereignty of Iraq and its international humanitarian and human rights obligations” (Dec 6. 2011).
Also, you as the SRSG pointed out in the Security Council on December 6: “Any workable solution must be acceptable to both the government of Iraq and to the residents of Camp Ashraf. The solution must respect the Iraqi government on the one hand and applicable International humanitarian, human rights and refugee law on the other hand”.

8. The Representative of Ashraf residents reminded: “Concerning the meddling of the Iranian regime in Ashraf’s case and the brazen statements attributed to you and widely broadcast by all of the Iranian regime’s media outlets against Ashraf residents by Hassan Danaifar, Iranian regime’s ambassador in Baghdad (and a notorious commander of Quds Force), we reminded you of a well-known fact that no UNHCR, UN or other concerned international organizations’ official is allowed to sit down and discuss the condition of an asylum-seeker with a government that he or she has escaped from.”

9. “After the signing of the MOU with GoI, as Mrs. Rajavi requested from you in Paris, we emphatically urged you and continue to do so that a comprehensive document regarding the detailed arrangements for transfer of residents from Ashraf to Camp Liberty which would leave no room for further tensions and crises be drafted and signed by our lawyers and GoI, as well as the SRSG and representatives of the U.S. and the EU. You did not accept it. Although you refrained, we nevertheless once again insist on our legitimate, logical and legal request that would prevent numerous future challenges; we urge you to bring this suggestion to the attention of UNSG. This comprehensive document would facilitate the transfer of Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty.”

10. In the statement issued by UNAMI in Baghdad on Tuesday, there was no reference to the fact that the presence of Ashraf residents in Iraq over the past 26 years has been legal and peaceful, a fact stipulated by the court which ruled about the release of 36 Ashraf residents who were taken hostage in 2009. The change of government in Iraq could not have altered the acquired rights and legal status of Ashraf residents and the obligations of the GoI towards them. Refusing to acknowledge this reality would be to cover up a forced eviction, which turns the transfer to Camp Liberty without the minimum guarantees into a forced displacement.
 
11. The National Council of Resistance of Iran has obtained secret documents from inside the clerical regime regarding a “joint working plan” for dismantling the main Iranian opposition through imposing conditions at Camp Liberty on the Iranian opposition and by exploiting UNAMI in Iraq in the process. According to this plan, Ashraf must be closed down prior to the April 2012 deadline and the residents would be transferred in groups of 350, and subsequently in groups of 200. According to the plan, UNAMI should be placed in constant contact with the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad and this has been made clear and understood. The objective is to make as many of the residents possible to be forced to repent, surrender and return to Iran. The objective of placing Ashraf residents faced with a fait accompli situation is to make them submit to inhumane and illegal conditions at Camp Liberty. And if they refuse to submit, they would subsequently be portrayed as bearing the responsibility and blame for the attacks and massacres they will be subjected to.
 
12. Hassan Danaifar, the mullahs’ regime Ambassador in Iraq, brazenly stated on January 30th that consular representatives of the clerical regime would be stationed in Camp Liberty (State-run Mehr News Agency).
The International Committee of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf (ICJDA), comprised of 8500 jurists in Europe and North America, wrote to SRSG, “Any intervention by a regime with which Ashraf residents have opposed because of their political beliefs and are now charged by it as “Moharebeh” (waging war on God) and are condemned to death, is completely illegal and unprincipled… It is a known fact that none of the officials of the United Nations are allowed to engage a government on the situation of an asylum seeker who has fled from it.”
As the National Council of Resistance of Iran stated on January 30, “as the Iranian resistance has reiterated on several occasions that it considers any meddling of the mullahs’ regime in the fate and future of Ashraf residents as a red line and Ashraf residents would never accept it. These statements once again reveal the Iranian regime’s efforts to defeat the peaceful solution for Ashraf, something that the Iranian Resistance has warned about time and again. It therefore requires the UN and especially the UN Special Representative in Iraq to immediately condemn statements of the Iranian regime’s Ambassador in Baghdad and declare that the UN and its relevant bodies such as UNAMI and UNHCR will prevent direct or indirect meddling of the Iranian regime in Camp Liberty and the fate of Ashraf residents.”
 
13. The January 31 UNAMI press release in Baghdad has been decorated with the following statements: “The Government of Iraq is committed to respect the rules of international human rights law. Nobody will be forcibly returned to Iran. Relocation by the residents of Camp Ashraf is entirely voluntary. The Government of Iraq is responsible for the safety and security of the residents of Camp Ashraf during their transfer and for the duration of their stay.”
However, the reality is anything but:
• The GoI has continuously degraded and treated Ashraf residents inhumanely. In the last three years it has killed 47 people and wounded or ran over 1,071 people with armored vehicles. By imposing a siege and refusal to allow them access to medical services, it has caused the death of 12 residents. While the United Nations is silent about these crimes, the National Court of Spain has summoned those accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes against the international community.
• Ashraf residents will only believe the Iraqi government’s claim to respecting international human rights laws when they see an independent investigative commission report on the slaughter of 47 residents and when, as the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Mrs. Pillay, and the SRSG, Ad Melkert, demanded in an April 15th, 2011 statement, the perpetrators are held accountable.
• The northern part of Ashraf is looted by the Iraqi military and continues to be pillaged. Liberty has been looted after the withdrawal of U.S. armed forces. Relocation without transferring Ashraf residents’ belongings would grant a permit for further looting and pillaging of Ashraf’s properties in the next step.

14. Mr. Kobler has repeatedly stated that the UNHCR will issue a certificate of compliance with international standards, but despite all pressure, UNHCR has refused to do so and has only reported that the technical infrastructure are in accordance with the international standards for refugee camps.
In UNAMI’s press release, the standards of treatment are intentionally ignored. Is this meant to cover up the truth or is it meant to escape being held accountable for forcefully depriving the residents of Ashraf from their places of residence and for the next massacre?

Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran
February 1, 2012

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