April 30, 2017

Urgent international action required at Camp Ashraf

While the world is rightly concerned about Iran’s nuclear and terrorist threats, it is imperative to also keep the focus on the plight of Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, argues David Amess MP.

In December, as a result of an intense international campaign, a humanitarian catastrophe was prevented regarding the 3,400 residents of Ashraf, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, Tehran’s arch nemesis.

Nouri-al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, acting at the behest of the clerical regime ruling Iran, had set an arbitrary deadline to close Camp Ashraf, the home of the dissidents for the past 25 years, by the end of 2011.

In the last days of 2011, subsequent to written assurances by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the United Nations, guaranteeing the safety and wellbeing of Ashraf residents, Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the Iranian Resistance, persuaded Ashraf residents to agree to move to Camp Liberty, a former US military camp near Baghdad, so the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could start reaffirming the refugee status of Ashraf residents as a prelude to relocation to third countries.

But less than a month after the agreement, the international community has been confronted with yet another series of dangerous provocations by the government of Iraq.

Meanwhile, it has become evident that Camp Liberty has been looted, vandalised and pilfered away to a point that it is not inhabitable. Actually Maliki has ridiculously reduced the size of Camp Liberty available to Ashraf residents and is trying to turn it into a concentration camp.

As such, despite the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the Government of Iraq and the UN, Al-Maliki just last week in an interview with Iranian state media, repeated the false accusations of the Iranian mullahs and said that he has arrest warrants for more than 126 of the residents. This means that he is willingly capitulating further to the demands of Iran’s theocratic regime. Twice in 2009 and 2011 he ordered armed attacks on Camp Ashraf, leaving 47 residents dead.

The international community must now draw its own conclusions. There has been so far too much equivocation from the international community, in particular by the United Nations. It would be foolhardy on the part of the UN to think that it could get positive results with Maliki to resolve the Ashraf crisis by seeking accommodation and being spineless.

As Rudy Giuliani, the former Mayor of New York, pointed out in an international conference on Ashraf in Paris on January 20: “The UN has not objected to any of Maliki’s misconduct. It’s disgraceful for the UN to submit to the demands of a regime like Maliki’s and ultimately to close its eyes to the fact that what they’re doing is submitting to the demands of the Iranian mullahs.”

General Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, while referring to the conditions of Camp Liberty and recent remarks made by Maliki, said: “Ambassador Kobler, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Iraq, must bring the violations of the Government of Iraq to the attention of the UN secretary general and to the Security Council. That is what an ambassador gets paid to do”.

According to Philippe Douste-Blazy, the former French foreign minister: “As long as the minimum requirements of the inhabitants, particularly in terms of bringing their goods and their vehicles, respecting their privacy or cancelling arrest warrants fabricated to harass them and turn them over to the Iranian regime, are not met, the transfer to the new camp will be a forcible displacement, unacceptable and contrary to all conventions. I urge the UN secretary general not to sign an agreement about that.”

Premonitions of another humanitarian crisis loom on the horizon. In order to prevent this from becoming a bitter reality, the international community must compel Iraq to stop breaching its commitments to the UN regarding Ashraf.

First and foremost, the UN must not keep silent as Iraq breaches its commitments.

Subsequently, the UNHCR should in no unequivocal terms tell Maliki that the UN can no longer tolerate deliberate delaying tactics improvised by the government of Iraq. Ashraf residents’ emergency circumstances and the government of Iraq’s obstructions make it imperative for the UNHCR to follow the collective determination process for the residents. This is an inevitable step to guarantee safety and security of Ashraf residents against various irrepressible threats.

By taking these measures, the UN would make it clear that its objective and mandate is to protect and to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of Ashraf resident and it is not beholden to seeking Maliki’s satisfaction.

This is what the world is waiting to hear from the UN.

David Amess has been a Conservative Member of Parliament since 1983.

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