Approximately 3500 Iranian refugees at Ashraf (including about 1,100
women) are increasingly at serious risk of life-threatening violence
from the government of Iraq against their community just an hour's drive
Ashraf residents are members and supporters
of a major Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization
of Iran (PMOI), which was formed in the 1960s in opposition to the Shah's
dictatorship and is now working to replace the clerical regime in Tehran
with a democratic government. The PMOI was doing decades ago what so
many others are courageously doing across the Middle East and North
Since 2001, the PMOI has advocated non-violence, the rule
of law, free and fair elections, multiparty democracy, separation of
church and state, no-nuclear weapons for Iran, and legal equality for
The PMOI was the largest democratic
political movement in Iran following the 1979 revolution. It quickly
found itself in opposition to Ayatollah Khomeini's religious tyranny;
after mid-1981, its members were persecuted mercilessly by his regime
and many thousands of PMOI supporters were murdered.
In 1986, the French government, as part of an agreement with Khomeini
to secure the release of French hostages in Lebanon, forced the PMOI,
which since 1981 had many supporters living in France as refugees, to
leave the country. Reluctantly, they relocated to the arid desert of
Iraq when no European government would accept them. Before the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq in 2003, the PMOI officially declared its neutrality
in the conflict, but Ashraf was bombed anyway by coalition aircraft.
Despite what Tehran wants the world to believe, the PMOI, opposed to
tyrants of any stripe, maintained an arm`s length relationship with
Later in 2003, the PMOI agreed to consolidate
all of its supporters inside Iraq at Ashraf. Following a 16-month investigation
by seven U.S. government agencies, every resident of Ashraf was cleared
of any violation of American laws and all were recognized as "protected
persons" by the US government under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Ashraf was protected by a detachment of American soldiers from 2003
until Jan. 2009, when protection under the convention was transferred
to the government of Iraq.
The cross-border assaults on Ashraf by Iran's regime have included the
bombing of its water supply station (Feb. 2008) and two missile attacks
(May and July 2008), which fortunately caused no deaths. In mid-November
2007, some 300,000 Iraqi Shiites (including 25,000 women) in southern
Iraq signed a petition condemning the meddling by the Iranian regime
in Iraq and declaring support for the PMOI and Ashraf. The support from
Shiites rose to a reported three million signatures by June 2008 and
underscored the positive role played by the PMOI at Ashraf, seen as
welcomed guests assisting with the rebuilding and providing of support
for surrounding Iraqi communities.
Here is where matters stand for Ashraf
- Since the transfer of protection,
the government in Baghdad has refused to issue visas for families, lawyers
or parliamentarians from outside Iraq to visit Ashraf or to allow any
visits to Ashraf,
- In late July 2009, Iraqi
forces attacked Ashraf, killing 11 unarmed men and injuring numerous
- The earlier government of
Nouri al-Maliki in July 2004 illegally refused to recognize ‘protected
person’ status for Ashraf residents under the Convention,
- Maliki’s 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 Ashraf residents will be forcibly
displaced within Iraq.
Iraqi forces have on several occasions entered the camp, beaten and
injured residents. Since February 8, 2010, Tehran agents outside the
gates, with the cooperation of Iraqi forces, have been shouting through
many 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.
Amnesty International notes, “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...” At the Nov. 18, 2010 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 cruel actions against Ashraf residents.
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.
A legal opinion by Eric David, president
of the Centre on International Law at the Free University of Brussels,
concludes that under both The Hague and the Fourth Geneva Conventions
the U.S. government must ensure the protection of the refugees at Ashraf.
No other authority in Iraq, he adds, is capable of this protection except
American forces. A legal opinion of the law firm of Greenberg Traurig
in Washington concluded, “The United States may not hand over the
people of Ashraf to the Iraqi Government without becoming legally responsible
for the humanitarian catastrophe that is virtually certain to result.”
The International Committee of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf, representing
numerous concerned lawyers in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, wrote to
the outgoing Commanding General of the Multi-national Force-Iraq, stressing
that "the transfer of the protection of Ashraf by the US forces
to Iraq would pose major risks to the safety and security of the residents
there…we are gravely concerned about a wholesale slaughter of the
residents of Ashraf."
U.N. responses have unfortunately weakened
as the plight of Ashraf residents deteriorates. 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 there on July, 2, 2010. It was obvious
that the danger to residents would increase with the departure of Grizzly.
Both UNAMI and the U.S. should re-establish their posts at Ashraf immediately.
The PMOI does not control Ashraf. American
soldiers did; Iraqi forces now do. The PMOI has no exit controls over
the camp; only Iraqi forces do.
European Parliament Vice President
Alejo Vidal-Quadras in a letter to UNAMI last summer wrote: "Various
US agencies have interviewed each and every one of the residents privately
and without the presence of a third party in 2003 and 2004… Moreover,
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
the UNAMI reports coincides with the transfer of control over Ashraf
from the Americans and the Multinational Force to the Iraqis. The timing
leaves the UN/UNAMI open to the charge of imposing double standards,
expecting less now that the 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 calls 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.
In 1997, the Clinton administration
added the PMOI to its list of terrorist organizations. In 2002, the
European Union included it on its list. In 2005, the Martin government
did so in Canada for reasons never made clear. Fortunately, the European
Court of Justice ruled in 2006 that the PMOI was wrongly listed. In
2007, the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission (POAC), a branch
of the UK High Court, ruled that the listing of the PMOI in the UK was
“perverse”, unlawful, null and void. All 27 EU governments have
now removed the PMOI from their lists of terrorist organizations; Canada
and the U.S. to date have stubbornly refused to follow our allies in
The risks to Ashraf residents cannot
be ignored. The threats of mass murder Iranian operatives now shout
regularly outside Ashraf with the acquiescence of the Government of
Iraq need to be taken very seriously.
To this end:
- The U.S. and the 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 Ashraf 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 in Ashraf to oversee and end the continuing psychological
torture of Ashraf residents by agents of Tehran;
- The U.S. and Canada should
remove the designation of PMOI/MEK as a terrorist organization. It serves
as another excuse for the Iranian regime and their Iraqi counterparts
to pressure residents of Ashraf, their families and other Iranians in
- The next UNAMI report on
Iraq which deals with Ashraf should reflect the realities of the situation
- either drop all reference
to allegations of psychological pressure, intimidation and abuse by
Ashraf residents upon former residents or include the Ashraf response
to those allegations;
- call for an end to obstacles
to delivering humanitarian and medical supplies to residents;
- stop denial of access of
relatives and counsel to places of detention and Ashraf; and
- call for the Iraqi government
to cease permitting Iranian government agents at the perimeter of Ashraf
to harass and threaten the residents through loudspeakers and other
noise making devices.
There are terrible examples in recent years of what can happen when
the international community and the United Nations fail to protect vulnerable
communities, including Rwanda, Bosnia (Srebrenica), Kosovo and Darfur.
The residents of Ashraf must not be added to this `list of shame`.