ILA — United Nation Secretary General Ban-ki Moon should press the issue of residents of Camp Ashraf (and now Camp Liberty) to Iraqi authorities.
What qualifies me to comment on this matter is not only that I have scrutinized this issue over the years, but also that I was in one of the last international delegations that could visit Ashraf in 2008. Since 2009, Ashraf has been off-limits to international observers, journalists, lawyers and others by the Government of Iraq.
About a year ago, Iraqi armed forces stormed Camp Ashraf — the home to members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran for the past 25 years - at the behest of Tehran’s rulers and left 36 residents dead and more than 300 severely injured.
When Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki declared the deadline to close Camp Ashraf by the end of 2011, the spectre of a humanitarian crisis loomed on the horizon. As the clock was ticking towards the end of the year, the UN and the Government of Iraq signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the fate of Ashraf residents.
On Dec 28, 2011, upon the recommendations and encouragement of Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Ashraf residents responded positively to assurances given by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and European Union Representative on Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton, and accepted the transfer from Ashraf to Camp Liberty based on the promises of the Special Representative of Secretary General to meet their minimum demands.
So far, 1,200 of the residents have moved to Camp Liberty in three groups of 400. But while residents trusted the promises and have shown their good faith, so far no significant measures to fulfil those assurances have been taken.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) recently issued a statement urging the UN Secretary General to ensure the minimum guarantees for the residents, and stressing that the UN must stop turning Camp Liberty into a prison run by the Iraqi government. The representatives of the people of Europe pointed out: “This camp is suffering from a serious shortage of drinking water and electricity. Open sewage has made the area terribly polluted and there is a danger to human health.
Many of the trailers are also extremely badly damaged, making them unusable. Liberty residents are not allowed to leave the camp. They have no direct access to medical services nor to lawyers. There is a police station and nearly 150 armed Iraqi forces equipped with machineguns in this very limited area of half a square kilometer in which 3400 people have to live. Several surveillance cameras and eavesdropping devices have been installed in the camp, the output of which is being passed to the Iranian authorities, threatening the residents and their families.”
Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon should urge the Iraqi government to implement the minimum guarantees demanded by the residents, including the removal of all armed units, surveillance cameras and eavesdropping devices from the camp; resolving the infrastructure problems, particularly regarding water, electricity and sewage; providing direct access to medical services, lawyers and UN monitors; allowing free movement or at least increasing the camp area; and providing the security of all residents until they leave Iraq, preventing the arrest of even one resident.
In order to continue the transfer of the residents to Liberty and to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in either Ashraf or Liberty it is imperative that:
♦ Police and armed forces are completely removed from Camp Liberty and agreements in this regard are implemented.
♦ The residents have the right to move their movable property to the new site and to sell other property or to transfer it elsewhere.
♦ Obstacles that the Iraqi government has put in place for building infrastructure are quickly removed so that the residents can build their basic necessities, such as a rest place for patients or paving the walkways for their transportation.
♦ The refugee status recertification of the residents by the UNHCR and their relocation to third countries are expedited.
Tehran’s mullahs are besieged by international isolation and growing popular loathing, and increasingly paranoid at the fear of losing their only ally in the region in Syria as the winds of the Arab Spring reach out to Iran, and are in dire need of annihilating their only organized opposition.
For all the political and humanitarian reasons, this should be prevented. UN Secretary General’s reiteration of assurances on guaranteeing the rights of residents of Camp Ashraf and Liberty in general, and the following steps in particular, would reinforce the positive steps taken so far by the residents to guarantee a peaceful solution to this humanitarian crisis.
Antonio Stango, a political scientist, lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, is the founder and the Secretary General of the Italian Helsinki Committee, member of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. In 2003 he served also as an expert for the EU / TACIS Project “The Legal Protection of Human Rights in the Russian Federation”.