Former hunger strikers, ladies and gentlemen,
What happened to approximately 3200 unarmed women and men at Camp Ashraf in Iraq a year ago today was outrageous. It happened, moreover, in plain view of American soldiers; indeed, we now know that the same soldiers filmed the entire attack. Instead of protecting the residents as ‘protected persons’ as they were required under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the soldiers only took videos.
The event is a serious reflection on:
the American government which reneged on its obligations under the Fourth Convention. It had requested this protection for all the residents and had provided it for several years. Knowing full well that the coalition government of Iraq last summer had no intention of accepting its responsibilities under the convention, the guarantor in effect went AWOL.
- the al-Maliki government which, instead of stepping into the shoes of the U.S. soldiers to protect Ashraf residents, used armed police to attack the unarmed residents, killing eleven, wounding hundreds and taking 36 into custody-an inhuman form of custody.
I’ll not list today the cruel ways the al-Maliki government, before and since July 2009, has abused and harassed the Ashraf residents.
We international advocates/lawyers for the Ashraf have provided numerous briefs on the facts and international law relating to the attack we are mourning today. In short, the jurisprudence is clear that when a government to whom protection is delegated fails to discharge the responsibilities they return to the first government. This might be inconvenient, but refugee lives are at stake.
Canada and America should follow Europe's lead and take the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), Iran's leading opposition group, off of their terrorist lists.
Much has been written about the totalitarian nature of the religious dictatorship in Tehran. Over the past year alone, large, widely based uprisings exposed the explosive nature of Iranian society as women and youths took on leadership roles in advancing the struggle for democratic governance and freedom across the country.
For many democratic opposition supporters in the Diaspora, what has occurred over the past year feels like déjà vu. In the years immediately after the Islamic revolution in 1979, opposition groups, led by the PMOI , sought to persuade the then ruling clerics and Ayatollah Khomeini to uphold their commitment to freedom of speech and assembly.
The pleas were ignored and Khomeini ordered a bloody crackdown on the PMOI and other opposition groups in the ensuing years. On June 20, 1981 the Revolutionary Guard opened fire on 500,000 peaceful protesters in Tehran, killing scores of civilians. Thousands more were arrested. Many were executed summarily without trial or due process. In Iran another reign of terror had begun.
The details of events over the past 30 years in Iran, including the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, the massacre of political prisoners in 1988, the ongoing thrust to acquire nuclear weapons, and the continuous human rights abuses, are beyond the scope of this article. One might not agree with all of the PMOI's views or methods, but ignoring the realities of the situation surrounding it and Iran’s totalitarian regime is at best naive and at worst acquiescent to the crimes committed by the Iranian mullahs.
The PMOI appears to be the best-organized and most effective Iranian opposition group. The Iran Policy Committee, a U.S.-based think tank on Iranian issues, researched the subject exhaustively and found that the PMOI was the group most feared by the Iranian officials, thus indicating its influence and popularity. It is also clear that designating the PMOI as a terrorist organization has always been a top demand of the Iranian regime in its dealings with other governments.
When this designation was legally challenged, fully seven courts in the U.K. and European Union concluded that keeping the PMOI on the terrorism list was unlawful and violated due process. Some European governments argued that classified information supported the designation, but that claim was categorically rejected by British judges who had access to both public and classified information about the PMOI. Those rulings led to de-proscription of the PMOI in the U.K. and all EU member nations in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
A large number of members of the U.S. Congress from both sides of the aisle have called for the removal of the PMOI from the U.S. terrorist list. Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), chair of a terrorism panel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in June 2010, "I have difficulty understanding what has the MEK [PMOI] done, anything remotely, in recent times, that causes the MEK to be on that list."
The U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia, in an important judgment issued on July 16, 2010, described the decision by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to refuse to remove the PMOI from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations as lacking sufficient evidence, violating due process, and unlawful.
The Court remanded the case to Secretary of State Clinton and instructed her to review her decision according to the procedures specified by the Court. A Washington Post journalist 9 that the court ruling strongly suggested the designation should be revoked.
Delisting the PMOI makes sense for many reasons. Leaving it on the terrorist list as political leverage to persuade Iran's mullahs to come to the negotiation table on issues such as nuclear development has already proven futile. The European troika of the U.K., Germany and France offered such an incentive to Iran in 2004 to no avail. If outsiders cannot effect a change in Iran, let's leave it to Iranians. At the very least, we should not be an impediment to change. Let’s de-proscribe the PMOI without further delay.