Ashraf was established in the mid-1980s in a desert north of Baghdad. It is now home to about 3,400 Iranian refugees, who are members and supporters of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMoI/MEK). The PMoI has long opposed the regime in Tehran and today espouses non-violence, the rule of law, free and fair elections, multiparty democracy, equality for women and no-nuclear weapons for Iran.
International law experts say that the U.S. government must resume protection for all Ashraf residents as ‘protected persons’ under the Fourth Geneva Convention since the Iraqi government as successor guarantor clearly has no intention of discharging its legal obligations to them. The Iranian regime has already killed tens of thousands of PMoI supporters. For some in Tehran, murdering another 3,400 civilians if returned by force would give no give serious pause.
Iran has the highest number of executions per capita in the world; more than 2000 death sentences have been issued this year alone. Today, 160 children are on death row. More than 3000 Afghan refugees are awaiting execution; more than 32 persons are waiting to be stoned to death.
Amnesty International says, “In the past five months the already appalling medical conditions at (Ashraf) have deteriorated even further. Many residents are reportedly suffering from … diseases that without prompt and adequate treatment can result in irreversible health damage...” Last week, one of the denied cancer patients at the Ashraf clinic, Mehdi Fathi, died.
At the Nov. 18 meeting of the outgoing U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, members called for the American government to take immediate measures to end the ongoing physical and psychological cruelty to Ashraf residents.
Here is where matters stand today for Ashraf residents:
- Since January 2009, when the protection of residents under the Geneva Convention was transferred from the U.S. to Iraq, Baghdad has refused to issue visas for families, lawyers and parliamentarians from outside Iraq to visit Ashraf.
- In late July 2009, Iraqi forces attacked Ashraf, killing 11 unarmed men and injuring numerous others.
- The earlier government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki illegally recognized no ‘protected person’ status for Ashraf residents under the Convention.
- His former national security advisor, Moaffaq al-Rubaii, stated that the goal of his government was to enter Ashraf and make life for residents there "intolerable". other officials have declared that residents will be forcibly displaced within Iraq.
- Iraqi forces have on several occasions entered the camp and beaten and injured residents. Since February 8, 2010, Tehran agents outside the gates, with the cooperation of Iraqi forces, have been shouting through 140 loud speakers, threatening residents with mass murder, burning down Ashraf and a repeat of the July 2009 attack.
- In Iran, hundreds of family members of Ashraf residents have been arrested. Seven have been sentenced to death as 'mohareb' (enemies of God) for either contacting loved ones in the camp or visiting Ashraf.
Weakened U.N. Responses
U.N. responses have softened as the plight of Ashraf residents grows worse. Following the July 2009 attack, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) established an observation post in Ashraf, but closed it shortly before American forces abandoned Base Grizzly located there on July, 2, 2010. It was obvious that the danger to residents would increase with the departure of observers from Grizzly. Both UNAMI and the U.S. should re-establish their posts at Ashraf.
The PMoI does not control Ashraf. American forces did; Iraqi forces now do. The PMoI has no exit controls; only Iraqi forces do. The PMoI cannot keep anyone at Ashraf against their will.
The European Parliament Vice President Alejo Vidal-Quadras in a letter to UNAMI of 15 July 2010 wrote: "Various US agencies have interviewed with each and every one of the residents privately and without the presence of a third party in 2003 and 2004…representatives of the Iraqi government held private and individual interviews with every single resident outside the camp's premises from February to April 2009. only a few of the residents decided to leave the camp in the end..."
The recent decline in the quality of UNAMI reports coincides with the transfer of control over Ashraf from the Americans and the Multi-national Force to Iraqis. The timing leaves the UN/UNAMI open to the charge of imposing double standards, expecting less now that Iraqis are in charge, and to the charge of reporting what those in the Government of Iraq under heavy influence from Tehran want to hear.
In Brussels on December 1, 2010, the European Parliament adopted a declaration on Camp Ashraf stating that since U.S. and U.N. observers have withdrawn from Ashraf, rendering residents more vulnerable to attack, it therefore called on the E.U. to: a) urge the U.S. government to follow the example of the E.U. by removing the PMoI from its blacklist and b) urge the U.N. to provide urgent protection for Ashraf.
The risks to Ashraf residents can no longer be ignored by the obama administration. The daily threats of mass murder which Iranian operatives now shout outside Ashraf with the acquiescence of the Government of Iraq need to be taken most seriously. We have already witnessed in Rwanda and Srebenica the mass killing of innocent civilians while the international community stood by.
To this end:
- The U.S. and U.N. should intervene to end the siege and restrictions on Ashraf residents;
- Based on Article 45 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and the bilateral agreement between American forces and residents, the U.S. should resume the protection of Ashraf as it did between 2003 and 2008;
- UNAMI should set up a permanent monitoring team at Ashraf to end the 10-month-long psychological torture of residents by agents of Tehran;
- The U.S. and Canada should follow all E.U. member states and remove the PMoI/MEK as a listed terrorist organization. The designation serves as another excuse for the Iranian regime and their Iraqi counterparts to pressure residents of Ashraf, their families and other Iranians in exile.
- The next UNAMI report on Iraq should reflect realities of Ashraf and
- either drop all reference to allegations of psychological pressure and intimidation by Ashraf residents upon former residents or include the their response;
- call for an end to obstacles to delivering humanitarian and medical supplies to residents;
- stop the denial of access to relatives and counsel to detention facilities and into Ashraf; and
- call for the Iraqi government to stop permitting Iranian agents at the perimeter of Ashraf to harass and threaten the residents with loudspeakers and other noise making devices.