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3400 Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf, Iraq

December 12, 2009

Hon. Lawrence Cannon,
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Canada

Dear Mr. Cannon,

3400 Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf, Iraq

We have just learned through published reports from international news agencies about Iraqi government plans to relocate forcibly the above unarmed women and men - approximately 50 of which are Canadian citizens - to a detention centre in the south of the country just a few days from now on the fifteenth of this month.

Reports about an impending transfer to Neqrat al-Salman, to which the previous government of Iraq banished political opponents, must be a source of profound concern to all who believe in the United Nations rules for treatment of displaced communities and human dignity. Iraq's prime minister has reportedly characterized the relocation as a step towards the ultimate expulsion of the residents, which significantly heightens the risk of their possible extradition to Iran, where they could face torture and death.

The residents of Camp Ashraf, members of the Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), have been designated “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Any action aimed at their forcible displacement within Iraq accordingly would constitute a clear and grave violation of international law in general and the Geneva conventions in particular. The residents of Ashraf are entitled to continued protection while residing at Ashraf and the government of Iraq is barred under international law from subjecting them to inhumane treatment, forced or involuntary deportation, expulsion, repatriation or extradition to Iran or other third countries.

As you will appreciate, the most basic rights of all Ashraf residents under international law are at stake. A catastrophe is looming and the international community, and most particularly the United States in the particular circumstances, cannot allow it to take place. We remind you that the residents were violently attacked by Iraqi police this past July, resulting in eleven deaths and hundreds of injuries among them. We are thus calling for your leadership on this important matter, and we do so shortly after International Human Rights Day.

Specifically, we call on you to press the Iraqi government to abide by the assurances it provided to the international community last year, promising to treat Ashraf residents humanely and according to international law. We urge the Government of Canada to take urgent action in partnership with the United Nations to protect the residents against forcible displacement, thus preventing the anticipated human catastrophe that could result from such actions by the government of Iraq.

In a statement issued yesterday, Amnesty International criticized the Iraqi government for attempting to relocate forcibly the residents of Ashraf. It said in part, "Amnesty International fears that forced removals of the residents of Camp Ashraf would put them at risk of arbitrary arrest, torture or other forms of ill-treatment, and unlawful killing." In addition, as the situation in Ashraf has been highly volatile over the past year, we would ask you to assign an envoy to receive our information and concerns on a regular basis so that we can work effectively together to preserve the safety and security of those who want to fulfill the rule of law and other aspirations of the Iranian people.

Thank you,


David Kilgour and David Matas,
Members, International Committee of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf

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