On July 28, at the request of Iran's regime, Iraqi security forces attacked unarmed refugees at Camp Ashraf, using guns, axes, clubs and American-made Humvee armored vehicles. The camp is home to 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). The attack left nine people dead and 500 injured; 36 have been taken hostage by Iraqi forces. American soldiers were present on the scene but did not prevent the massacre. Iraq's security forces, whose cruelty and brutality have shocked the world's conscience, are still stationed in Ashraf and can at any time commit further crimes. They clearly hope to obliterate Ashraf and its residents.
All Ashraf residents surrendered their weapons to US forces in 2003 and signed an agreement with US forces, stipulating in part that the Americans accepted the responsibility to protect them until the determination of their final status. In February 2009, Ashraf's protection was transferred to Iraqi forces. Before that, numerous parliamentarians, jurists and human rights organizations, who in light of the Iranian regime's influence within the al-Maliki government predicted such crimes, called on the US government to avoid transferring the protection. All of the residents stressed in private interviews with American forces in August 2008 that they would have no security if their protection were to be transferred to Iraq. None of these warnings were heeded.
Accurate news is difficult to obtain as journalists cannot enter Ashraf. Lawyers who want to visit clients are not being given visas to enter Iraq. After two weeks, Iraqi officials will still not allow residents to bury those who were killed in the attack. In extremely hot weather and with poor electricity, it is simply inhuman not to allow bodies to be buried.
Amnesty International has recently (Aug 11th) voiced concerns about the detained residents of Ashraf. The key points of AI's statement:
--Thirty-six Iranian residents of Ashraf remain at risk of being forcibly returned to Iran where they could face torture or execution.
--At least eight residents were killed and many more injured during the raid. At least seven are said to need urgent medical care.
--Following the raid, 36 were taken to a police station inside the camp before being transferred to a police station about 25 km south of Ashraf.
--According to reports, the detainees were told to sign documents written in Arabic by those detaining them, but refused to do so. They have also sought access to lawyers, so far unsuccessfully.
Reporters Without Borders (RWB)
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) condemned the government of Iraq for detaining journalists for trying to cover the operations by the Iraqi army inside Ashraf. Eight Iraqi journalists working for local and international media were denied entry to Ashraf on August 1 and, the following day, several journalists were detained for four hours and their equipment was temporarily confiscated. At no time since the start of the Iraqi army's siege of the camp on July 28 have journalists been allowed into the area to film or to interview families and victims.
"It is clear the Iraqi authorities are ensuring that no reports or images emerge from Camp Ashraf but, in so doing, they are showing they have something to hide," RWB said. "This situation is unacceptable. The army must allow journalists to do their job in the camp, so that the world can know what is happening there."
US State Department
On August 12th, a transcript of the State Department's regular news briefing has Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, saying about Ashraf:
''That Iranian exile group, MEK, is accusing the United States of failing to live up to some written commitments to look after its people's interests at the -- at their camp in Iraq. Anything to say about that?''
''Well, we think that the outbreak of violence at Ashraf was an avoidable tragedy. We certainly understand and -- and -- you know, and support efforts by the Iraqi government to extend its sovereignty into the camp. I think even the Iraqi government would -- would acknowledge that that effort, while understandable, you know, was not necessarily executed as it should have been. "
No comment seems necessary about Crawley`s assessment.
At a press conference on August 11 at the Press Club de France in Paris, David Matas, one of Canada's best-known lawyers and my colleague on the International Commission of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf from Canada, said:
''Iraqi police on July 28, 2009 attacked the residents of Camp Ashraf, killed nine, kidnapped thirty six and wounded hundreds. The American armed forces, who were present, videoed the attack, but did nothing else. They did not object during the attack or after. They did not make a public statement about what they had witnessed. They did not release the videos they had taken.
''US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when asked at a press conference in Washington DC, the day after the attack on Camp Ashraf about the attack the day before, said:
'And although the U.S. Government remains engaged and concerned about this issue, it is a matter now for the Government of Iraq to resolve in accordance with its laws'."
''The United States, elsewhere in the world, condemns violations of human rights. It should do no less in Iraq when the violations occur in front of its own armed forces.
''I expect and hope that the US would take note of and censure grave violations of the human rights of the residents of Camp Ashraf. But now that is not happening. We have to find others in the international community who are able and willing to do what the United States is not doing.
''I came from Canada this morning. Tomorrow I intend to go to Geneva where I hope to meet with officials from the Red Cross and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to ask if they could send observers immediately to Camp Ashraf. I would hope that observers would be present in the Camp and not, like the Americans, outside.
"Because the Iraqi police have attacked the residents of Camp Ashraf with impunity, an international presence is necessary to put a brake on their cruelty. An international presence, which can report publicly and objectively on what is happening in the Camp, will, I believe, serve to restrain the behaviour of the Iraqi police.''
David Matas has voiced what any fair-minded Iraqi, Canadian, American or resident of any rule of law country would say about the nightmare continuing at Ashraf as we meet here under the peace tower on Canada's Parliament Hill. Those who hear what is said here today must resolve to act reponsibly, whether in Baghdad, Ottawa, Washington or any other capital, where human dignity counts.
The criminal operation against Ashraf residents, who are all “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, was carried out at the request of the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader.
All of us here , in solidarity with others demonstrating today in more than a hundred cities around the world, are seeking:
1. Iraqi forces must immediately withdraw from Ashraf;
2. US forces, must assume responsibility for protecting Ashraf;
3. Lawyers and international human rights organisations, which have been banned for the past seven months, must be allowed in Ashraf;
4. The UN Security Council or Secretary General must send a representative to Ashraf;
5. Those who ordered or perpetrated the brutal attacks and massacre in Camp Ashraf must be prosecuted by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.
6. The PMOI/MEK must be removed from the list of terrorist organizations in Canada and the US, as was done for good rule of law reasons early this year by all 27 member governments of the European Union.