HUFF POST – By Hossein Abedini 15 March 2012
Camp Ashraf is home to 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition group, People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK) since 1986, as the clerical regime’s wave of executions in Iran forced the Iranian opposition to exile in Iraq through Paris.
The PMOI is the pivotal force of the broad coalition of democratic Iranian organizations, groups and personalities, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), born in 1981 in Teheran. NCRI assembles those aiming to establish a democratic and secular government in Iran, rejects Khomeini’s doctrine of absolut rule of the clergy – the principle of Velayat-e faqih.
Twenty six years later, in 2009 when the U.S. forces handed over the security responsibility of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, announced that he intended to close the camp and the expel its residents.
Although, as an excuse to close the camp, the Iraqi government claimed that the Iranian opposition jeopardised his country’s sovereignty, al-Maliki was in reality implementing a bilateral agreement between Iraq and the Iranian supreme leader, Ali Khamene. The French Press agency, AFP, exposed and reported on the existence of the agreement on 28 February 2009. To implement this agreement Nouri al-Maliki twice ordered and carried out hideous attacks on the camp killing 47, (on 8 April 2011), and wounding over 1000. During the 3 year siege of the camp 13 people also died unnecessarily due to lack of access to medicine and medical treatment.
After the 8 April 2011 attack on the camp the US, UN and EU called for investigation of the mass murder and the Spanish Court summoned Iraqi officials responsible for the attack. But al-Maliki responded by imposing an arbitrary deadline to close the camp by the end of 2011. So attention was diverted, as al-Maliki had planned, and as world leaders started to work to prevent another deadly attack, they forgot all about investigating the April massacre.
On Christmas Day 2011, the UN and Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to relocate the residents of Ashraf to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. Military base near Bagdad. There the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, would be given access to consider all requests for refugee status filed by the residents of Camp Ashraf last September.
Although the relocation inside Iraq before the UNHCR is given access to the residents makes no real sense and is illogical, irrational and economically irresponsible stance by Iraq, a group of 400 residents moved earlier this year as a goodwill gesture and a test of the conditions in their new home which according to the statements by the Special Representative of Secretary General for Iraq, Mr Martin Kobler, fulfilled international humanitarian standards. Earlier, on 28 December 2011, Mr Kobler had written to the residents of Ashraf that “as ‘asylum seekers’, you will be eligible under international law to enjoy basic protections and well-being”.
Nevertheless, once the residents arrived at Camp Liberty the story was very different. It became apparent that the infrastructure of the camp its water, electricity and sewage systems are inadequate for this number of people. Residents are deprived of freedom of movement, the right to see their lawyers family or friends and the right to receive unhindered access to medicine and medical treatment.. Regrettably, Camp Liberty is 70 times smaller than Ashraf. And, most importantly the voluminous presence of police and armed forces, together with spying cameras, have turned Camp Liberty into a prison. The lack of minimum human rights and humanitarian standards has led many parliamentarians and prominent dignitaries in the US and EU, and Non-Governmental Organizations to describe camp Liberty as a place worse than a prison. They warned against the continuation of such situation.
Instead of replying to legitimate concerns of these prominent politicians, military officials and human rights activists, the US Department of State has started a defamation campaign against them under the cover of “anonymous official”.
The first question remains that if the Iraqi government or the United Nations or these officials who have uttered these remarks, have nothing to hide in Camp Liberty, why didn’t they allow the 21 former high ranking officials who wanted to visit Camp Liberty on their own expense, to act as impartial observers?
21 former high-ranking officials suggested going to Liberty at their own expense in order to report to the public about the conditions in Liberty, but the letter did not receive a reply.
Despite all the broken promises and hollow assurances by Iraq to the UN, US and EU to follow the terms of the signed MoU, a second group of 400 Ashraf residents moved to Camp Liberty last week. They were persuaded by Mrs Rajavi, charismatic president elect of the NCRI, who was given assurances by the Special Representative of Secretary Clinton and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General that they will attempt to fulfil minimum demands of the residents.
The move was made possible following 10 days of dense talks and calls between Ashraf, Paris, Washington and Baghdad, to secure protection for the residents.
Following the relocation of the second group, the shortage of water became more serious and in view of the fact that the hot season in Iraq will soon start it is in fact alarming. The water system in Camp Liberty should be connected to Baghdad’s pipe water system in order to avert a water crisis in the Camp.
Until now, Iraqi armed forces have prevented the transfer of many utility vehicles including cranes and lift-trucks while these items are very much required considering the situation in Camp Liberty and the serious shortages in infrastructure and installations there.
Iraqi agents are also preventing, with no reason, the transfer of basic living items such as tables, chairs, heaters, generators and satellite dish. As Ashraf residents have well demonstrated their goodwill, it is the time for the US Government and the United Nations to guarantee the minimum assurances for the Liberty residents so that they can benefit from all their rights.
The anonymous US Department of State official has kept silent before the facts and has instead slandered the residents themselves as having caused the deficiencies. Instead of slurring, the State Department official had better answer to these questions:
Does the camp have drinking water? Is it true that the sewage system is broken? Is it true that when the residents arrived at the camp, there was no running water and electricity? Is it true that the residents in Camp Liberty are denied freedom of movement and that it is surrounded by T-walls making it a prison? Was the State Department, which approved the transfer of first group to the camp, aware of these conditions?
Prominent American figures have come forward and called for respect of the rights of Ashraf residents. They have underlined that US has moral and legal responsibility to protect the residents. Why does the State Department official slanders prominent Americans instead of responding to them? Are they wrong when they demand respect for human rights and humanitarian standards of the residents of Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty? Are they wrong when they say the US has legal and moral responsibility to protect Ashraf residents? They argue that the US has not lived up to its commitments. Are they wrong when they condemn previous massacres of Ashraf residents and do not regard them as “conflicts” between the Iraqi forces and the PMOI?
The minimum assurances demanded by the residents of Ashraf are legitimate and lawful and have no contradiction whatsoever with Iraqi “sovereignty”. Not agreeing to them clearly forebodes of evil intentions to break down and destroy the Iranian opposition or a massacre at Ashraf.
So far none of the minimum assurances that Ashraf residents had sought has been met. Thus those living in Camp Asharf have two options, massacre and death at Ashraf or gradual death in a place called Liberty, under the name and supervision of the U.N.
In this view no more relocation to Camp Liberty until most of the 800 already there are transferred to third countries.
Hossein Abedini Member of Parliament in exile of Iranian Resistance