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 Whistleblowers Need Protection



14 MAY 2009

David Matas, a former president of the Canadian Council for Refugees, and I are meeting this week with with officials in various offices, including the Representative of the UN Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, concerning this new threat to the lives and safety of 3500 Ashraf residents.

The until-recently National Security Advisor of the Iraqi government, Mr. al-Rubaie, has both declared and demonstrated clearly that he wanted to make life "intolerable" for the residents of Ashraf. He added at a press conference weeks ago, "Our focus now is on removing the (Ashraf) group as quickly possible..." He has also said that he wants to place them in a remote desert of Iraq near Saudi Arabia, a location which from all indications is uninhabitable except for scorpions. In short, having failed to expel Ashrafś community to certain death in Iran because of the principle of Non-Refoulement and international pressure, Mr. al-Rubaie now wants to do as much harm to them as he possibly can by dropping them in effect in an outer reach of Iraq.

Here are some reasons why Ashraf residents cannot under international law be forcibly moved from their long-established homes--for some as long ago as the mid-1980s--to somewhere else within Iraq:

1-All of them want to remain in their present homes. As Iraqi Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi, put it on May 12th, until there is an international decision "...Iraq must guarantee the security and safety of the PMOI individuals in the context of the Fourth Geneva Convention because we are a civilized country committed to International Law." I understand that another Vice-President of Iraq, Abdel Abdol-Mehdi, has taken in effect the same legal position on the issue.

2-Threatening to remove the Ashraf residents involuntarily has no basis in any internationally-accepted standard for relocation, including the right to housing, due process and the right not to be removed except for legitimate reasons.

3-A legal opinion of Sir Michael Wood, a former senior legal advisor in the United Kingdom Foreign Office, and Dr. Guglielmo Verdirame, prepared for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), concludes; "Iraqi officials ordering or taking part in the forcible transfer (of Ashraf residents) may incur international criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity."

4-The opinion adds, correctly in my judgement, "...the planned forcible transfer raises particular concerns in relation to the following principles and standards applicable to the residents of Ashraf:
-the obligation that they must be treated in all circumstances humanely;
-the prohibition on violence to life and person;and
-the prohibition on cruel treatment, torture, and outrages upon personal dignity, including humiliating and degrading treatment."

5-Finally, the opinion says: "By forcibly displacing the residents of Ashraf, Iraq might be in breach of its obligations under one or more of the following rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
-the right to life, should lethal force be used in breach of Article 6;
-freedom from torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (article 7);
-the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose one's residence (article 12);and
-the right of aliens lawfully in the territory to be expelled only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with the law (article 13)."

6-On the highly-relevent issue of the right to adequate housing, I share the opinion's position as well: "In addition, it is also likely that the forced eviction of the residents of Ashraf would breach their right to an adequate standard of living, and in particular their right to housing (article 11). In its general comments on this right, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has observed that 'all persons should possess a degree of security which guarantees legal protection against forced evictions, harassment and other threats' and that 'forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant'.


Any forced eviction of the refugees in Camp Ashraf would also appear to violate article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines 'crime against humanity' to include a "systematic attack directed against any civilian population", including a "forcible transfer of population".

Iraq has not yet acceded to the Statute, but Iraqi officials can incur criminal responsiblity under customary international law for crimes against committed within Iraq. Canada was a major advocate of the Responsibility to Protect concept accepted at the World Summit of 2005. All states are now expected to use peaceful means to help protect 'populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity'. Any forceful removal of the residents of Ashraf to some other location in Iraq would certainly appear to be a crime against humanity, which the international community as a whole must strongly oppose.

Thank you.

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