A major victory for human dignity and the rule of law occurred this week when 36 Camp Ashraf residents, abducted following a seizure of the camp on July 28th by Iraqi police, were returned to Ashraf. Dramatic scenes of the homecoming can be accessed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSjqF8IqC2E
Yesterday, a United Nations official welcomed the Iraqi government’s decision. Spokesman Rupert Colville told journalists in Geneva that the world body was grateful that the government had responded to the request from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to release the detainees.
Eight exhausted Iranian Canadians have been on hunger strike here near the American Embassy since July 29th. Thankfully, they have all begun eating again without anyone's health having reached an irretrievable level. One of them lost about 45 pounds; five were admitted to hospital and later released.
On July 28-29, Iraqi police attacked unarmed Iranian refugees at Ashraf, using guns, axes, clubs and armoured vehicles. They left eleven defenceless men dead and almost 500 women and men injured; 36 were taken into custody and remained so until a few days ago without being charged with any offence and despite three court orders by Judge G. J. Mohammad to release them. We must all congratulate those in the government of Iraq who this week finally upheld the rule of law and prevailed upon the interior minister. As a former prosecutor myself, I also congratulate Iraq's chief prosecutor, who issued a blanket order to release them.
Ashraf, located northeast of Baghdad, is home to 3,400 members of the largest Iranian opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), and includes about 1,000 women and approximately 50 persons who have Canadian connections.
All residents surrendered their weapons to U.S. forces in 2003 after signing an agreement, stipulating in part that the Americans accepted the responsibility to protect them until the determination of their final status. This has not occurred, but the American forces abandoned this responsibility and transferred it to the government of Iraq earlier this year.
PMOI/MEK Legal Status
In early 2009, following seven unanimous court decisions across Europe, the 27 nations of the European Union delisted the PMOI/MEK as a terrorist organization, leaving only Canada, the U.S. and Iraq in the disturbing company of Tehran's totalitarians. The governments of all three countries should follow the EU example and delist the PMOI/MEK now.
The attack on Ashraf residents, who are all "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, was clearly carried out at the request of the Iran's current thoroughly discredited leadership. The ten-month siege of Ashraf by Iraqi forces must now end and families, lawyers and friends of Ashraf residents must be allowed to visit the Camp.
To avoid further human disaster, Iraq should withdraw its police from Ashraf and American protection of Ashraf residents should be reinstated until a UN monitoring team can be stationed there. International human rights organizations, journalists and others must be given access to the camp.
A representative of the UN Security Council or Secretary General should go to Ashraf immediately to bear witness to any further attacks. It is vital that the U.S. and the United Nations ensure the protection of Ashraf residents and make it clear that not only their repatriation to Iran, but their forcible displacement within Iraq violates International Humanitarian Law. Those who ordered or perpetrated the brutal attacks and massacre at Ashraf should be investigated by an international tribunal.
On behalf of the International Committee of Jurists in Defense of Ashraf and the Interreligious Committee in Support of Protected Persons in Ashraf, permit me to thank all those in Canada who joined this campaign. Constant international vigilance for Ashraf residents remains essential.