The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Dear Mr. Cannon,
Re: Iran, Iraq, Ashraf, MEK/PMOI
Thank you for your response to my eletter. This is a comprehensive response to your own letter.
Canada has a proud legacy of promoting human rights on the international stage. Of particular note are its contributions to the drafting of the Universal declaration of Human Rights and its global peace keeping efforts. As you accurately note, the promotion of human dignity and the rule of law has become an integral part of Canadian foreign policy. We need only look at the stance taken by Canada’s previous Foreign Affairs ministers, your predecessors, when they boldly condemned the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Today, Canadians recognize that our interests are best served by an international system that is democratic, stable, and based on the rule of law. Many want our national government to promote these interests as vigorously as possible. Yet, when it comes to the treatment of Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf, your government has done nothing substantial. We sat idly by, watching as the Iraqi government violated its commitments to our southern neighbour and ally; breached its international obligations; and repeatedly trampled upon its own court rulings when it refused to release the Ashraf hostages. What, we must ask, was your government’s response? A mere exchange of letters with Iraqi officials.
Canadians deserve an explanation for such reticence on the part of their government when it comes to an issue as important as the one being discussed here. The issue of protected persons at Camp Ashraf—civilians who have been targeted, injured and seriously threatened with forcible displacement or repatriation to Iran—should enjoy a high priority in Canada’s Middle East policy in view of our earlier role in the world.
I bring up the situation in Ashraf because human rights in Iran and Iraq deserve a commensurate level of attention and investment of resources as other firmly established Canadian foreign policy interests. In light of Iraq’s geopolitical position and its significance for democratic trends in the Middle East, promotion of the rule of law in that country has a direct bearing on other features of our foreign policy, not to mention our ties with the United States. As U.S. troops gradually pull out from Iraq, Canada has an interest in ensuring that Iraq’s government steers clear of the Iranian theocracy’s vortex of influence.
Ashraf is central to that agenda because, as many experts and Iraqis have argued, it acts as a bulwark against the ideology of fundamentalism emanating from Tehran, which seeks hegemony in Baghdad. Ashraf refugees are Muslims and yet they are firm opponents of the Iranian regime which perceives itself as an Islamic state. The residents believe in a modern and democratic interpretation of Islam, which is diametrically opposed to the fundamentalist interpretation of clerical rulers in Tehran. This genre of modern Islamic ideology, in and of itself, embodies enormous value to influence hearts and minds in a country like Iraq; it provides a counterweight to Iranian influence in Baghdad. These realities need to be taken into account for Canada’s calculations of economic and political interests in Iraq. With respect to North American interests, I see no legitimate reason for U.S. to abandon Ashraf. These refugees are also an invaluable source of intelligence on the Iranian regime’s clandestine nuclear program and its interference in Iraq.
I will, in due course, address all the statements you cited in your letter with regards to the nature and history of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran/Mujahedin-e Khalq (the “PMOI/MEK”), but I respectfully request that you make a vital distinction: opinions about the PMOI/MEK’s past activities or perceived nature must be separated from the situation of the 3,400 defenceless civilians at Ashraf. My reasons for this follow.
First, your assertions that the PMOI/MEK is a an “Iranian terrorist organization” is becoming increasingly controversial. The organization is no longer considered a terrorist entity in the European Union member countries. There are myriad parliamentarians around the world, including Canada and the United States, who publicly support it as a legitimate opposition movement, campaigning for a democratic Iran that is free of nuclear weapons and respectful of human rights.
Second, the recently-revealed motive for the PMOI/MEK’s listing in the U.S. has made the listing itself untenable. U.S. officials admitted that the listing was done to placate the newly-elected president Mohammad Khatami in 1997.
Third, although the U.S. has listed the PMOI/MEK as a terrorist organization, it granted Ashraf residents protected persons status under the Geneva Conventions, thus clearly demarcating its views on the PMOI/MEK from the current status of Ashraf residents. Indeed, the gravity of the situation in Ashraf, and the potentially high human rights toll involved, demand from Canada a similar demarcation.
I invite you to consider the facts below concerning residents of Ashraf. They should be deemed more important than the discussion on the PMOI/MEK’s nature and history. At the end of this letter, I will also try to form a rebuttal to each and every allegation that was cited with regards to the PMOI/MEK, although as I have indicated, an idle academic discussion on the nature and history of the PMOI/MEK is at best tangential to our immediate responsibilities with regards to the growing and serious human rights abuses against the residents of Ashraf. They need help from the international community and that is where the focus should be for now. Considering Canada’s time-honoured tradition with regards to protection of human rights, I believe this country has a special role to play in the situation.
Camp Ashraf Facts
The 3,400 Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf have resided legally in Iraq since 1986. The Iraqi state has always viewed and treated them as political refugees, and, as such, their residence in Iraqi territory has been lawful. This is, of course, a fundamental premise for our purposes.
In 2003, the circumstances surrounding Ashraf fundamentally changed. The current plight of the residents is a direct consequence of the armed conflict between Coalition Forces and Iraq beginning in March 2003. Ashraf residents were not a party to that conflict and officially declared their neutrality. As such, they were civilians for whom the Coalition Forces were responsible to provide safety. After the invasion, Ashraf residents willingly handed over all their weaponry—which they had used for self-defence purposes—to the U.S.-led Coalition. In exchange, the U.S. government promised the residents protection and carried out this responsibility until January 2009 after the signing of the SOFA security agreement with the government of Iraq. The U.S. government has officially recognized the residents as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which was ratified by Iraq on February 14, 1956. Both the U.S. and Iraq are bound by the Geneva Conventions and must treat protected persons in accordance with the provisions stipulated therein.
This has been confirmed by the European Parliament, which in 2007 concluded in a resolution that having been political refugees in Iraq for over two decades Ashraf residents “have the legal status of ‘protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention’.” Moreover, on April 24, 2009, the Parliament demanded that the Iraqi government treat Ashraf residents “in accordance with obligations under the Geneva Conventions.”
Iraq, like Canada, is also bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”). In addition to the Geneva Conventions, Camp Ashraf residents also benefit from the protections accorded by these treaties. Although the Iraqi government has notoriously violated some of the provisions of these treaties with regards to the residents of Ashraf, specifically since January 2009, the government of Canada has done little or nothing to press Baghdad to modify its behaviour. Indeed, this is in stark contrast to our government’s proclaimed objective of promoting respect for important international treaties such as ICCPR and ICESCR.
In relation to the ICCPR, Article 17 provides as follows:
1. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
According to the Committee, the term 'home' “is to be understood as the place where a person resides or carries out his usual occupation.”
According to the UN Human Rights Committee, such interference cannot take place except in cases envisaged by law. To the best of my knowledge, there are no laws in Iraq that would justify the current treatment of Ashraf residents by the government of Iraq. However, even if there were such laws, they would not be sufficient because even “interference provided for by law should be in accordance with the provisions, aims and objectives of the Covenant.”
The Iraqi government’s actions and rhetoric regarding Camp Ashraf, including the July attacks, have arbitrarily interfered with the residents’ privacy, families, and homes. It has also targeted their honour and reputation. Even if carried out under the pretext of sovereignty claims, these actions must be properly characterized as “unlawful” under international law; they are blatantly in breach of the provisions and aims of the Covenant. Such unreasonable treatment could also be described in the context of the aforementioned Covenant as “arbitrary interference,” even if done under legal pretexts. That Iraqi armed forces cut food and medical supplies to the camp and suddenly attacked its unarmed residents using excessive force which resulted in eleven deaths would substantiate such an argument.
In many ways, the Iraqi government’s treatment of Ashraf residents violates civil and political rights, rights that have been enshrined in the ICESCR. Article 11 of the ICESCR reads:
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its first General Comment on the right to adequate housing noted that this right “cannot be viewed in isolation from other human rights,” and added that the right to housing “should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.” This right, too, was clearly violated during the attack on Ashraf residents and the ensuing occupation of the camp. Ashraf residents are being deprived of an adequate standard of living and their security, peace and dignity are being threatened on a daily basis by Iraqi forces.
Since January of this year, when Iraqi forces gained control over the camp from U.S. forces, Ashraf has come under siege, following which, according to the residents and UN human rights advisors, food, medicine and fuel supplies have been cut off. Even before the July attacks, the Iraqi government was violating international law with regards to Ashraf, but the U.S. and Canada did nothing to stop it.
In connection with Iraqi intentions of forcible transfer of Ashraf residents, its government’s acts constitute persecution under the International Criminal Court Statute. The ICC Statute defines persecution as follows: “’Persecution’ means the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity” (article 7, § 2, g). The Iraqi government has persecuted the residents of Ashraf by reason of their identity to a group, that being the PMOI/MEK. And this is in clear violation of the ICC Statute.
Jurisprudence from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (the “ICTY”) has also explicitly recognised that forcible transfer can constitute persecution. Aside from Iraqi official proclamations about such forcible transfer, in July, 36 residents of Camp Ashraf were forcibly transferred from the camp to a police station in the city of Khalis and held there despite court orders calling for their release and despite the fact that they were on a hunger strike and in need of medical attention. The court found that they had committed no crimes and must be released. But, they were again forcibly transferred to a remote prison in Baghdad in early October. In view of the court findings, the reason for this transfer could not be anything but affiliation with the PMOI/MEK, in contravention of the Rome Statute.
In summary, the treatment of Camp Ashraf residents, the deprivation of their fundamental rights, the Iraqi government’s consistent rhetoric about its intentions to expel them, the deadly attacks against Camp Ashraf by government forces, and the forcible displacement and detention of the 36 residents for a period of nearly three (3) months without any charges, together appear to constitute persecution, a crime against humanity under the ICC Statute.
According to well established jurisprudence, as confirmed by the ICTY First Instance Chamber, “[p]ersecution can also involve a variety of other discriminatory acts, involving attacks on political, social, and economic rights.” Imposing restrictions on Camp Ashraf residents with regards to medical care and the ban on the entry of lawyers, politicians and journalists to the camp clearly constitutes such persecution.
In broad terms, these actions constitute an “attack” against Ashraf in the context of crimes against humanity because, according to the ICTY interpretation of the ICC Statute, “[t]he attack in the context of a crime against humanity is not limited to the use of armed force; it encompasses any mistreatment of the civilian population.”
The July attack against the camp could legally be deemed a clear case of crime against humanity. At least for the purposes of Article 7 of the ICC Statute, the attack on Camp Ashraf was widespread and directed against a civilian population. Moreover, although the civilian population was provoked for two days, it did not react in like manner. Yet, the armed forces continued their attacks, causing more casualties.
You mention in your letter that two Iraqi police officers were killed by the residents during the July raid. To the best of my knowledge, these reports are unconfirmed. Indeed, in a report on the incident, Agence France Presse wrote, "The death of two police officers, announced by the hospital in the nearby town of Khales, was not confirmed by authorities in Baghdad." These claims seem to have arisen from a tendency within the Iraqi administration to react to international protest over the excessiveness of force used in the camp by government forces. Moreover, the government made a flurry of other accusations, which turned out to be false or unconfirmed. At first, it denied reports of casualties in Ashraf and, after these reports were verified, it claimed that the residents who died had either threw themselves under government armoured vehicles or else were shot by PMOI/MEK “snipers.” These are, of course, ridiculous statements and it would not appear fair if the Canadian government bought them.
It should not be forgotten that the Iraqi government had an almost full monopoly on the spreading of information and news about the attacks. It banned journalists from entering the camp to independently verify its claims. This infuriated Reporters Without Borders, which said in a statement on August 5, 2009, that, “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.” In this context, the Canadian Foreign Ministry should take the Iraqi government’s assertions with a large grain of salt.
In sum, the entire picture looks somewhat like this:
- After the Iraq War in March 2003, the U.S. signed agreements with every single individual at Ashraf promising to provide them with protection until the determination of their final status. In return, the residents disarmed. Ashraf residents, legitimately feel that the deadly attack against their camp in July meant that Washington violated its end of the bargain. According to The Washington Post, “The embarrassment for Washington is that it made a show earlier in the decade of assuring Ashraf’s residents that they would be safe in exchange for the formal agreement to disarm and repudiate violence … The collapse of those assurances is a particular source of anger.” In an important editorial on August 22, the New York Times also wrote, “Residents say that Washington has now betrayed that commitment. They have a legitimate complaint.” As the party responsible for the protection of the protected persons of Ashraf, Washington was obligated to make all arrangements possible to ensure that Ashraf residents would be safe in the hands of the Iraqi government. Under international law, the transfer of control to the Iraqi government has not ended U.S. responsibilities. In fact, the U.S. still has a monitoring role, but it was revealed that during the attack U.S. soldiers did nothing to stop the massacre at Ashraf in July.
- The Iraqi government provided the U.S. with written assurances that it will treat Ashraf residents humanely and in accordance with international law. However, as the events in July demonstrate, Iraq is either unwilling or unable to respect its commitments. Therefore, it cannot be trusted. Regardless of Iraq’s intentions and solely focusing on the facts on the ground, under international law, Article 45 of the Fourth Convention provides that if the transferee state (here Iraq) fails to honour its obligations, the transferring party (here the U.S) must "take effective measures to correct the situation, or shall request the return of the protected persons." Therefore, Canada must pursue her ally, the U.S., to work to implement Article 45 and establish a UN presence in Ashraf.
- Subsequent to the hand over of protection from U.S. forces to the Iraqi government, and before the government made any claims about its desire to set up a police station, Iraqi officials like the National Security Advisor, Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie, and even the Iraqi Prime Minster, had publicly uttered statements such as, “Camp Ashraf will be history within two months.” In March 2009, Iraqi government officials continued to declare that they intend to close down the camp and displace its residents against their will if necessary. In June 2008, the Cabinet of Ministers made clear in an order that Ashraf residents “must be expelled.” Therefore, it was clear from the outset that the Iraqi government intended to expel (not just monitor or extend its sovereignty over) Ashraf residents. Having failed to do that at the beginning, it might have made the decision to advance its agenda more gradually by first establishing a police presence and then pursuing other objectives once the dust settles. On April 1, Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie told the al-Forrat TV in Iraq that, “Gradually, Iraqi security forces will enter the camp and set up control posts and carry out patrols, stop-and-searches, and attacks.”
- The PMOI/MEK does not appear on any terrorist lists of Iraq nor the UN. The reasons for the cabinet’s plans to expel Ashraf residents are far from clear, from the point of view of Iraqi interests. Being civilians not participating in hostilities, Camp Ashraf residents do not pose any threat to Iraqi national security or Iraqi public order. Therefore, there must be other motives behind such intentions.
- On February 28, 2009, the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, told the visiting Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, in Tehran that Iraq must expel the PMOI/MEK. He publicly revealed that Iran and Iraq have a “bilateral agreement” to expel the PMOI/MEK. According to Agence France Presse, Khamenei said, "We await the implementation of our agreement regarding the expulsion of the hypocrites," a derogatory term used by the regime to refer to the PMOI/MEK. Subsequent to these remarks, the head of the regime’s Expediency Council and former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, visited Iraq apparently to follow up on the implementation of the agreement as one of the items on his list of discussions. In March, the regime’s Parliamentary Speaker, Ali Larijani, also visited Baghdad to carry out similar discussions about the residents of Ashraf. Iran obviously wants the camp closed down.
- Even if, in order to justify its expulsion of Ashraf residents, the Iraqi government were to make claims such as the ones reiterated in your letter, that the PMOI/MEK had an alleged role in the 1991 suppression of the Iraqi Shi’ite and Kurdish populations, these claims provide absolutely no grounds for mistreating Ashraf residents in breach of international law. The residents of Ashraf must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and I cannot fathom on what grounds the government of Canada so confidently makes allegations of guilt. In March 2007, when an Iraqi prosecutor made similar accusations, international lawyers for Ashraf residents emphatically called on the Iraqi prosecutor to submit all the evidence at his disposal for their review. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political coalition which has the PMOI/MEK as a member organization, released a public statement officially inviting the Iraqi government to appear in an international court of law with all its evidence in hand. However, to date the Iraqi government has refused to do so. The Iraqi government cannot act as both the plaintiff and the judge, especially after the way it recently defied its own courts when they called for the release of 36 Ashraf hostages from prison.
- Camp Ashraf residents are protected by rules of International Humanitarian Law applicable to an armed conflict, be it international or non-international, as persons not participating in hostilities. Iraq cannot treat them according to its own wishes under whatever pretext.
- The Iraqi government has instituted a siege on the camp, preventing the flow of food and medical supplies to the residents. Over the last nine months, it has also prohibited lawyers and journalists from entering the camp. In July, it attacked camp residents murdering 11 and injuring more than 500. Its forces rolled over residents in Humvee vehicles, destroyed buildings and bungalows and used live rounds of ammunitions against unarmed civilians. If nothing else, such measures constitute arbitrary or unlawful interference with the residents’ privacy, family and home, and violate international laws and treaties pertaining to a civilian population. Canada has no other option but to use its foreign policy sway to take a firm stance in this regard, instead of relying on mere expressions of concern. In your letter, however, you indicate “The Government of Iraq has in the past cooperated with the international community to ensure that the humanitarian and security needs of camp residents are met.” In the face of Iraq’s visible and acknowledged mistreatment of Ashraf residents, how are we to make sense of this statement?
- In short, the current Iraqi administration has not only made declarations about the expulsion and mistreatment of Ashraf residents, but it has also done its utmost to implement those wishes in direct contravention of international law and international human rights laws. It has also trampled on its written assurances to the U.S., apparently in order to curry favour with Tehran. This sets a dangerous precedent and Canada must take a stance.
- On August 10, The Washington Times wrote about a new report by the U.S. government’s prestigious National Defense University. The Times said the report indicates, "The Iraqi army and police are becoming pawns of sectarian political parties -- a trend that it calls ‘a recipe for civil war’. … The 5th IA division in Diyala is heavily influenced by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq,’ a Shi’ite political party with some ties to Iran." This is the same division that was responsible for the protection of the residents of Ashraf. There have always been strong and well-grounded suspicions that the current Shi’ite-led government of Iraq wants to curry favour with Tehran. What fuelled these suspicions even more was the actual attack on the camp, which was enthusiastically praised by the Iranian regime.
In your letter, you note that “While Canada recognizes that Camp Ashraf is sovereign Iraqi territory and the Government of Iraq has the right and responsibility to exercise its sovereignty and maintain security, the Canadian government will continue to emphasize the importance of protecting the security and humanitarian needs of Camp Ashraf residents in accordance with Iraq's Constitution, laws, and international obligations.”
This is a step in a better direction. There is absolutely no dispute over Iraq’s sovereignty claims. Allow me to reiterate that I, too, recognize that Camp Ashraf is sovereign Iraqi territory and the government of Iraq has the right and responsibility to exercise its sovereignty. However, just as the government of Canada cannot exploit this right at the expense of other rights that its citizens are entitled to enjoy, the government of Iraq cannot use the sovereignty claim as a mere instrument to abuse the rights of protected persons on its soil. Protecting the residents of Ashraf does not run counter to Iraq’s sovereignty. In fact, in reference to the principle of R2P ("Responsibility to Protect"), the UN Secretary General has officially stated, “R2P is an ally of sovereignty, not an adversary. Strong states protect their people, while weak ones are either unwilling or unable to do so… R2P seeks to strengthen sovereignty, not weaken it.”
In your letter, you “call upon the Camp Ashraf leadership to end its refusal to cooperate with Iraqi authorities and permit the Government of Iraq to establish its authority over the Camp.” However, the residents of Ashraf have from the outset had no quarrels with the Iraqi government establishing its authority over the camp or setting up a police base at the camp. As recently as August 7, the NCRI officially declared that “Ashraf residents and their lawyers have been stating repeatedly that they respect Iraq’s sovereignty.”
Moreover, the residents claim that they have gone out of their way to cooperate with the Iraqi government despite the fact that officials in that government have publicly expressed hatred towards the residents and have called for their expulsion. I have no reason to not consider the residents’ claims in this regard, which seem to reflect reality. Ashraf residents say that they were involved in talks with Iraqi authorities for a full year (August 2008 to July 2009). In early 2009, when Iraqi forces took control over the camp, the residents provided the forces with a building at the entrance of the camp with dozens of rooms, which they had built with their own labour and money. Ashraf residents also emptied ten watch towers around the camp and handed them over to Iraqi forces so that they could monitor the camp without any interference. In April 2009, Ashraf residents agreed to be fingerprinted by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. They also agreed to private interviews with Iraqi officials for 19 days outside the camp in a free environment chosen by the Iraqi government. All Ashraf residents, except 11, declared to the Iraqi government that they wish to stay in Camp Ashraf as opposed to move to another location. Ashraf residents also allowed the Interior Ministry to conduct a full scale search of the camp using trained dogs, covering all of its buildings, gardens, and installations. The investigations took three full days and ended on April 20, 2009. According to the NCRI, in talks prior to the July attack, “the residents of Ashraf once again emphasized that they have no objection to the police force being stationed at the entrance and they were prepared to provide even further facilities to the police at that point if they needed and costs would be met by the residents.”
The government of Iraq has never refuted the NCRI’s assertions. In fact, by making these statements the NCRI is not relying on opinions or subjective analysis, but factual developments that are verifiable and open to investigation. In light of this and the fact that the Iraqi government has since the outset wanted something more than to just extend its sovereignty over Ashraf (that being, expulsion of the residents), I tend to side with the residents; they cooperated as best as they could to allow the Iraqis to set up a police station there. The attack in July was clearly unprovoked and unnecessary.
Therefore, the sovereignty claim strikes me as an obvious red herring. The issue is not sovereignty. If Iraq intended to establish a police presence in the camp, it seems that it had the residents’ full cooperation. But in light of its declarations, the violent attacks in July, the revelation in February about a “bilateral agreement” with the Iranian regime to force Ashraf residents out of Iraq, the Iranian regime’s pressure to expel the residents, and the close links between Iraqi government officials and Iranian authorities, there is strong evidence that the Iraqis have no intention of complying with international laws. Instead, it is abundantly clear that they wish to use all their might to expel the residents. Thus, in view of Canada’s human rights track record around the world, it appears that Canada has to at least press the U.S. to rectify the situation by taking temporary control of the camp. As a long term solution, Canada must use its sway and credibility in the UN to convince the organization to send a permanent monitoring team to Ashraf so that further tragedies against these civilians can be prevented. The human rights of protected persons in Ashraf is an entirely separate issue from our views on the PMOI/MEK.
Allegations about the PMOI/MEK
I will now turn to the specific allegations you highlighted with regards to the PMOI/MEK. First, you correctly noted that the organization has been listed as a terrorist entity in Canada. Many, including myself, believe that this is a wrong policy approach and is devoid of legal content. I am sure that you are aware of the scandalous nature of the terror listing of the PMOI/MEK in the US. Indeed, American officials and the media have, as openly as possible, pointed out that the listing was politically motivated to begin with.
In 1997, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the inclusion of the PMOI/MEK in the U.S. Foreign Terrorist List was meant as "a goodwill gesture to the newly-elect President Mohammed Khatami." Reuters added, “A U.S. decision branding Iran's main rebel group ‘terrorists’ is being seen in Tehran as the first positive sign of American goodwill towards the new government of moderate President Mohammad Khatami. Diplomats, analysts and Iranian newspapers said on Monday that the U.S. move was important because it satisfied one of Tehran's basic demands.”
In 2002, Martin Indyk, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, told Newsweek that the designation of the PMOI/MEK was due to “White House interest in opening up a dialogue with the Iranian government.” The Wall Street Journal has noted, “In 1997, the State Department added the MEK to a list of global terrorist organizations as "a signal" of the U.S.'s desire for rapprochement with Tehran's reformists, says Martin Indyk, who at the time was assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs. President Khatami's government "considered it a pretty big deal," Mr. Indyk says.” The Washington Times has reported, “For more than a decade, the MEK has been employed as a political football in the diplomatic games played between Washington and Tehran, say current and former U.S. officials. The Clinton administration placed the MEK on the State Department's terrorism list in 1997, as Washington sought to appeal to moderate leaders inside the theocratic government in Tehran. A blacklisting of the MEK was among the actions the Iranians sought in exchange for better relations, these officials say.” The PMOI/MEK has legally challenged the listing.
In August, The New York Times reported,
“In the Bush administration’s final days, the State Department’s top counterterrorism official, Dell L. Dailey, pushed to have the People’s Mujahedeen removed from the list, which would have allowed members of the group to leave Iraq and resettle elsewhere in the Middle East or Europe. Without lifting the terrorist designation, it was unlikely any other country would accept them. Some also argued that taking the group off the terrorism list would send a tough message to Iran as the Bush administration left office. Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state at the time, decided to keep the group on the list.”
I leave the analysis of this report to you and your colleagues at the ministry. But, for our present purposes, this listing is, at the very least, incredibly controversial and has very little to do with the PMOI/MEK’s activities.
The European Union blacklisted the organization in 2002, motivated, as it was, by similar political considerations as the U.S. However, after a long legal battle, the EU was forced to take the organization off its list, thus establishing the legal illegitimacy of the listing. The maintaining of the PMOI/MEK on the EU terror list was for political rather than legal reasons. In October 2004, Agence France Presse discovered that in order to convince Iran to put an end to its uranium enrichment activities, it would be given a package of incentives from the EU. The EU-3 was quoted as stating, “If Iran complies, we would continue to regard the MEK (Iranian resistance group) as a terrorist organization. In a 2006 interview with BBC Radio 4, former British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, admitted, “The very first meeting I ever had with an Iranian Foreign Minister Colonel [Kamal] Kharazi, now over four years ago, I expressed very serious concern about Iran's continued support for these terrorist organisations at the same time as they were demanding actually successfully of me when I was the Home Secretary that we should ban a terrorist organisation MEK that was working against Iran.”
You note in your letter that “In November 2008, the Government of Canada completed its two-year review of the entities listed under the Criminal Code and took the decision that the PMOI/MEK would remain on the terrorist list, as there are still reasonable grounds to believe that it has knowingly been involved in terrorist activity.”
However, your contention that there were “reasonable grounds” in 2008 for believing that the PMOI/MEK has knowingly been involved in terrorist activity, has been definitively rejected by British courts. Exactly a year before the government of Canada’s two-year review, a specialist court in London, the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission (“POAC”), was involved in reviewing the terror listing of the PMOI/MEK in the United Kingdom. After a thorough review of both open and classified documents amounting to over 15 lever arch files worth of evidence and 20 witness statements, POAC decided on November 30, 2007, that the British government’s decision to refuse to deproscribe the PMOI/MEK was “flawed,” cannot be sustained, and “must be set aside.”
The PMOI/MEK claims that it ended its military campaign in June 2001. POAC confirmed the accuracy of this claim in its judgment. It said, “With the possible exception of the single questioned incident in May 2002, the MEK has not engaged in terrorist acts in Iran or elsewhere since August 2001. Even if the MEK had a military command structure at some point within Iran, the material demonstrates that such structure had ceased to exist by (at the latest) the end of 2002.” On this basis, it concluded, “In other words, on the material before us, the MEK is not and, at September 2006, was not concerned in terrorism.” The court also pointed out, “It is also clear that most of the MEK membership in Iraq, including the leadership of the organization based in Iraq, signed declarations renouncing violence.”
POAC concluded, “In those circumstances, the only belief that a reasonable decision maker could have honestly entertained, whether as at September 2006 or thereafter, is that the MEK no longer satisfies any of the criteria necessary for the maintenance of their proscription. In other words, on the material before us, the MEK is not and, at September 2006, was not concerned in terrorism.”
The British government’s attempt to appeal against the POAC decision was struck down on May 7, 2008 by the UK Court of Appeal prompting a spokesman for the Home Office to concede that the Government’s legal case has reached “the end of the line.” The Court of Appeal stated in paragraph 53: “The reality is that neither in the open material nor in the closed material was there any reliable evidence that supported a conclusion that MEK retained an intention to resort to terrorist activities in the future.”
The Court of Appeal noted that even the closed material “reinforced” the “conclusion that the applicant could not reasonably have formed the view when the decision letter was written in 2006 that MEK intended in future to revert to terrorism.” It went on to criticize the government saying, “It is a matter for comment and for regret that the decision-making process in this case has signally fallen short of the standards which our public law sets and which those affected by public decisions have come to expect.”
On June 23, 2008, both houses of British Parliament unanimously approved a resolution to deproscribe the PMOI/MEK. On 24 June 2008, the Home Secretary removed the PMOI/MEK from the UK list of proscribed organisations.
A similar pattern of legal reasoning was evident in decisions by the Court of First Instance of the European Communities (“CFI”). In December 2008, the CFI annulled, for the third time, the EU decision to list the PMOI/MEK as a terrorist organization. Usually, the CFI issues its judgments several months after the hearing takes place. Even in the two previous cases, the court took ten months for the first and eight months for the second to issue its judgments. In December 2008, however, a decision was handed down only a day after the hearing, reinforcing the court’s dismay with EU refusal to delist the PMOI/MEK.
Moreover, that both the PMOI/MEK’s demands were granted by the court means that the ruling was completely and unquestionably in favour of the organization. The PMOI/MEK had demanded the annulment of the Council’s July 15th decision listing it as a terrorist organization and for the Council to pay all of its court costs.
Thus, several independent courts of law in the United Kingdom and European Union have found that, in the current circumstances, the PMOI/MEK cannot be said to be involved in terrorism. These are definitive rulings and conclusions that competent judicial authorities reached after years of intense scrutiny and review of both open and closed evidence. This begs the question: what grounds are Canada’s government basing its conclusion on?
The fact is that the PMOI/MEK’s circumstances have changed substantially since 2001. In June of that year, it took the unilateral decision to end its military activities inside Iran. Its operational units were dissolved inside Iran, and as the courts have confirmed, it has not carried out armed attacks against Iranian regime targets since 2001.
The PMOI/MEK played no part in the Iraq War, and, even in the face of the unprovoked bombings of its bases, which inflicted heavy casualties, it did not fire a single shot in retaliation. On May 10, 2003, it voluntarily agreed to “disarm and consolidate” in return for protection by the Coalition. In the first part of 2004, all PMOI/MEK personnel in Ashraf, including the entire Leadership Council, signed a statement rejecting terrorism and violence. In this statement, each member formally rejected “participation in, or support for terrorism,” whilst stating, “I reject violence and I will not unlawfully take up arms or engage in any hostile act. I will obey the laws of Iraq and relevant United Nations mandates while residing in this country.” This statement was published in a special edition of the PMOI/MEK’s weekly publication and in an NCRI press release, in July 2004.
In July 2004, following a 16-month investigation into the PMOI/MEK, all of its members, and their activities, the U.S. confirmed that the investigation "had not come up with any basis to bring charges against any members of the group…" and that no PMOI/MEK member "had violated American law."
The PMOI/MEK, on many occasions, provided valuable intelligence to Coalition Forces regarding the activities of the Iranian regime in attempting to destabilize Iraq. This information has contributed extensively to Coalition efforts to ensure the security of the borders and to protect Coalition forces and the Iraqi people. The PMOI/MEK was also instrumental in discovering and bringing to the attention of international community the clandestine development of nuclear weapons by the Tehran regime.
B) The Embassy Incident
In another part of the letter, you state, “In 1992, 40 MEK supporters wielding sticks, crowbars and mallets attacked the Iranian embassy in Ottawa, wounding several people. Near-simultaneous attacks were carried out on Iranian embassies in 13 other countries around the world.”
This statement is simply misinterpreting the facts. The actual circumstances are as follows. On April 5, 1992, thirteen Iranian fighter jets launched an air strike on a PMOI/MEK base along the Iran-Iraq border strip. The government subsequently announced that 1,500 PMOI/MEK members, including Mr. Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian resistance movement, had been killed in the attack. Apparently, the report shocked Iranian communities around the world, many of whom had friends and relatives volunteering at the base. In several cases, these escalated into clashes between embassy employees and irate protesters.
The PMOI/MEK claims that these incidents were not in any way organized by it and that they were completely spontaneous. Court verdicts seem to confirm this. Many of the individuals who took part in the protests were arrested by the police and later tried. In many countries, they were either acquitted or received light or suspended sentences.
Not a single court evaluated these acts of protest as a premeditated crime organized by the PMOI/MEK, including the court in New York. The judge in that case granted the accused utmost leniency after determining that there had been no premeditation. A court here in Canada examined the case of 21 Iranians who had staged a protest against the Iranian embassy in Ottawa. In his ruling, Judge Pierre Mercier wrote, “There was no evidence the 21 accused belong to the dissident Iranian group Mujahedeen Khalq or as the Crown has alleged any terrorist group.” He added, “The protesters had reason to be angry given the atrocities many endured under the regime of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini...” The court also criticized the government for prolonging the case for political reasons. Similar verdicts were issued by judges in cities like Paris, Stockholm, Oslo, Bonn, and Bern.
C) Alleged Suppression of Shi’ites and Kurds
In your letter, you also refer to “the role that these former combatants played during the Iran-Iraq War and in operations orchestrated by Saddam Hussein's regime against Iraqi Shi'a and Kurdish populations in 1991.”
The fact of the matter is that the PMOI/MEK’s very presence there at that time is in doubt. During the Persian Gulf War, the PMOI/MEK evacuated all of their bases in the Kurdish areas in the north and the regions in the south of Iraq, concentrating their forces in the central region of the Iran-Iraq border, seeking to refrain from getting embroiled in internal Iraqi affairs. When the internal turmoil in Iraq was at its peak, the Iranian government’s newspapers apparently fabricated reports about PMOI/MEK “massacres.” For example, they claimed, “An [PMOI/MEK] woman drove a tank over the bodies of the dead and wounded,” “…the people of Suleimaniya executed six [MEL] women,” and “In Kifri, Kelar, the [PMOI/MEK] fought face to face with ordinary people. Popular forces killed many and arrested a number of them, including several women.”
Even in 2005, Emmanuel Ludot, a French jurist and lawyer in the Counsel of the former Iraqi head of state, unveiled a proposal made to him by the then Iranian regime's ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, to attribute further lies to the PMOI/MEK. Ludot said, “The Iranian ambassador told me [to] say Iranians did not gas the Kurds … [that] this was the work of the MEK.”
In 1999, Mr. Hoshyar Zebari, then head of the Kurdish Democratic Party’s international relations and presently Foreign Minister of Iraq, wrote, “The KDP as a major Kurdish political party has led and participated in the Kurdish spring uprising of 1991 in Iraqi Kurdistan. The KDP can confirm that the Mojahedin were not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people neither during the uprising nor in its aftermath … The Mujahedin-e Khalq has its own political agenda in Iran and its members do not interfere in Iraqi internal affairs.”
In a November 2006 letter to the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr. Mohammad Mehdi Hachem, a senior official of the Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, expressed concern about the allegations and activities against the PMOI/MEK, and reiterated the amicable relationship that existed between the people of Iraq and the PMOI/MEK. He wrote that PMOI/MEK members have been law-abiding residents in Iraq for over 20 years. In a separate statement on December 2, 2006, Mr. Hachem emphasized that the "MEK has never acted against the Kurdish people in Iraq, and has not been involved in any suppressive action against them. The rumours spread by the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran are all false and a conspiracy."
In 1995, an official United Nations document strongly refuted charges of the PMOI/MEK’s involvement in the suppression of the Kurdish uprising. “From our independent investigation and discussion with parties involved, we find these allegations false,” wrote International Educational Development, a non-governmental organization with consultative status with the United Nations.
The same NGO registered another document with the United Nations in 2001, which corroborated its earlier findings that Iranian intelligence services were the source of these allegations against the PMOI/MEK.
As mentioned, with respect to the Shi’ites, the PMOI/MEK forces were not even stationed in southern Iraq during the 1991 Shi’ite uprisings. It would have been physically impossible and rationally incomprehensible for its forces to engage in military conflicts with Iraq’s Shi’ite community. Moreover, allegations contrary to this claim are utterly inconsistent with the conduct of the PMOI/MEK during its more than two decade stay in Iraq.
In a letter to Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, the Secretary General of the prominent Iraqi Shi’ite movement, Intifidiyah Movement of Sha'baniya, Sami Ghazi al-Assadi, wrote, "The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran had no participation in suppressing the Shi’ite movement against the previous government in 1991 and there is no evidence to that; rather it is the invidious claims and rumours by the Iranian regimes agents against them."
An exhaustive 16-month investigation of each and every PMOI/MEK member by seven different agencies of the U.S. government acknowledged in 2004 that "there was no basis to charge any member of the group [PMOI/MEK] with the violation of American law." Had there been any evidence of the PMOI/MEK’s collusion with the former Iraqi government on any issue, let alone suppressing the Kurdish or the Shi’ite uprisings, it would have surfaced during those investigations or later on.
Particularly during the past several years since the 2003 Iraq war, Iraqis from all ethnic and religious backgrounds have shown strong support for the PMOI/MEK. On a number of occasions, the Iranian regime has assassinated prominent Iraqi Shi’ite personalities and clerics who had lent support to the PMOI/MEK, and opposed Iran’s involvement in Iraqi affairs.
In 2006, in a joint declaration, more than 12,000 Iraqi jurists and lawyers expressed readiness to defend the PMOI/MEK in any court in light of its 20-year presence in Iraq. The Iraqi jurists testified, “The Mojahedin had no involvement in Iraqi internal affairs and therefore allegations of MEK involvement in suppression of Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ites are absolute lies and have been fabricated by the Iranian regime to tarnish the image of the Iranian Resistance.”
In November 2007, more than 300,000 Shi’ites, including hundreds of prominent Shi’ite sheikhs in southern provinces, signed a statement declaring their support for the PMOI/MEK. On June 17, 2006, a declaration signed by 5.2 million Iraqis was unveiled at a huge congress in Ashraf City, Iraq, where some PMOI/MEK members reside. The declaration lent support to the PMOI/MEK as a “bulwark against fundamentalism,” and condemned the Iranian regime’s meddling in their country. In June 2008, more than 3 million Shi’ites expressed support for the PMOI/MEK.
The regime’s aggravation at the PMOI/MEK’s expanding support base in Iraq takes the form of a two-prong approach, with violence and coercion directed at the organization’s members and those Iraqis who support them on the one hand, and pressure on the Iraqi government to expel or extradite the PMOI/MEK on the other. On February 8, 2008, the regime bombed a water pumping station, which deprived the protected persons of Ashraf and more than 20,000 villagers of their water supply. On February 14, 2008, in a joint statement, 13 members of Iraqi National Assembly condemned the bombing. The attack mirrored another, which occurred on July 21, 2006 when the regime’s agents had blown up water pipelines from the Tigris River to Ashraf for the second time in three days.
On June 17, 2007, Iraqi tribal leaders, politicians and parliamentarians from the province of Diyala condemned the Iranian meddling in Iraq and voiced their support for the presence of the PMOI/MEK, during a conference. Saleh Mutalk, head of the National Dialogue Front, and Dr. Abdullah al-Jabouri, former governor of Diyala, attended the conference held at Camp Ashraf. In November 2007, Iraqi Vice President Tariq Al-Hashemi stated that the PMOI/MEK members in Iraq are “considered refugees,” and that their stay is in accordance with international laws. Overall, the PMOI/MEK enjoys overwhelming support in Iraq and acts as a major bulwark against the regime’s attempts to export fundamentalism to the country.
It is my sincere hope that this reply sheds some light on the falsity of the allegations found in your letter. None of those allegations have been proven in a court of law. Moreover, the PMOI/MEK has always welcomed a judicial process. And, where such a process has been used, the PMOI/MEK has been vindicated of all allegations. The terrorist accusation is a clear case in point.
Moreover, I have tried to make a distinction between whatever views we may have on the PMOI/MEK and the grave threats facing 3,400 unarmed civilians in Camp Ashraf. I hope that you will use your influence to convince the Harper government that the Iraqi government must be pressed to treat Ashraf residents in accordance with international law. Our Canadian government must take a firm stance with regards to the Iraqi government’s violations thus far and pursue the Obama administration to play a more active role in this process. Moreover, Canada should back international calls for the UN to install a monitoring post at Camp Ashraf.
I am sure you would agree that abandoning the residents of Ashraf in the current circumstances would do a serious disservice to Canada’s role as an advocate of human rights and the rule of law in the world.
Hon. David Kilgour, J.D.
Co-chair, Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran and member, International Committee of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf.