The 4000 residents of Camp Ashraf, some of whom have been refugees from the terror of the clerical regime in Tehran since 1981, will become victims of a humanitarian disaster in the making unless the American government continues to deploy American soldiers for the protection of the camp.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Malaki in Iraq agreed only a few days ago to a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the Bush administration and the Iraqi parliament is set to vote on its terms next week. All of the contents are not yet in the public domain, but we do know that it authorizes American forces to remain in Iraq until 2011. Continued protection of Ashraf does not appear to be mentioned in the SOFA.
Why American Protection is Needed
Here are some reasons why U.S. military personnel must continue to protect Camp Ashraf with Iraqi soldiers for as long as coalition forces are in Iraq:
1-Informed sources indicate that, as long as at least some American personnel are involved in the daily patrols around Ashraf, agents of the Iranian regime are less likely to attack residents of the camp or the camp itself. Two missiles were launched at the camp during 2008--fortunately causing no injury or deaths-- and the camp water supply was blown up, but the best opinion available is that violence of various kinds would increase greatly if Iraqi soldiers were doing the patrols alone.
2-The Iranian regime’s proxies in the Iraqi government have said publicly that they want Ashraf closed and its mostly long term residents expelled from Iraq, presumably back to Iran. In Tehran, they would face torture and execution.
3-If anyone doubts this, consider Article 186 of Iran’s "Islamic Punishment Act" of 1997, which makes membership in the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) a capital offence, "(A)ll members and supporters" of the (PMOI), who in one way or the other are effectively involved in advancing its aims…" are "Mohareb", which is to say "guilty of waging war on God". Article 190 of the act prescribes as punishment for this upon conviction "killing", "hanging", "amputation of the right hand and the left leg" or internal exile. A "religious judge" determines which punishment will be applied.
4-Here is a specific illustration of the danger to Ashrafis. Abdolreza Rajabi, a PMOI member, died under torture after seven years in prison last month in Gohardasht prison in Iran. Three of his family members live at Ashraf. What does any realistic observer judge would be the fate of these three persons if the Iraqi government expelled them to Iran?
5-The United Nations Secretary-General raised his own concerns about Ashraf refugees in part of his report to the Security Council on November 6th. His report referred to the intention of the Government of Iraq to take full control of Ashraf in the "near future." I quote from what is then said by the Secretary General: "In a letter dated 15 October, 2008, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Government of Iraq to protect Ashraf residents from forcible deportation, expulsion, or repatriation in violation of the non-refoulement principle, and to refrain from any action that would endanger their life or security. It is also important that the humanitarian needs of the camp's residents, including access to food and medical care, be met by those protecting the camp."
6-A number of persons, including David Matas and myself from Canada, have met with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, urging him to declare all residents of Camp Ashraf members of a protected community. The critical circumstances at hand necessitate such an initiative by the UNHCR rather than treating each of the 4000 residents as a separate refugee application.
7- Part of the Ashraf residents' problem lies in the fact that a number of governments in Europe and North America, including the US and Canada, continue to list the PMOI as a foreign terrorist organization. The evidence seems clear that this was done, in most capitals at least, as an act of outright appeasement towards the Iranian regime. This was grossly unfair to the PMOI because it renounced violence in 2001. Fortunately, the United Kingdom Court of Appeal and more recently the European Court of First Instance have both struck down the listing in some jurisdictions after hearing classified and unclassified evidence about the PMOI.
Both houses of the British Parliament accordingly removed the ban earlier this year. It is now up to the other governments to respect the rule-of-law and to do likewise. Many of us look to President-elect Obama, as a former teacher of constitutional law, to show leadership on this important issue.
8-President-elect Obama already appears to understand the peace and reconciliation roles of Ashraf residents in Iraq, where the awakening councils are reducing violence between the Shiite and Sunni communities in Iraq. On October 1, presidential candidate Obama said: "The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally. It could not have occurred unless there were some contacts and intermediaries causing to peel off those who are tribal leaders, regional leaders, Sunni nationalists, from a more radical messianic brand of insurgency…"
9- Despite the declarations to the contrary by some ministers in Iraq, the good neighbour practices of Ashraf residents have resulted in growing support for its presence in Iraq. In June 2006, I understand that more than 5 million Iraqis, including 14,000 lawyers, presented a petition in favor of Asfraf's continued presence in Iraq. On June 17, 2008, more than three million Iraqis Shiites presented a petition, which I am told favors both Ashraf’s continued presence and the PMOI/MEK Both of these petitions are today available for inspection at Camp Ashraf.
In conclusion, American and world leaders in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in the making for Ashraf residents must continue to maintain American personnel to protect Camp Ashraf.