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 Whistleblowers Need Protection



By Hon. David Kilgour, J.D.

About 3500 refugees in Camp Ashraf, in Iraq close to an hour's drive from both Baghdad and the Iranian border, are at serious risk. They are members and supporters of the main Iranian opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), formed in the 1960s in opposition to the Shah's absolute monarchy and currently seeking to replace the Iranian regime with a secular and democratic government. The PMOI became the largest democratic political movement in the country following the 1979 revolution. Soon, however, it found itself in opposition to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's religious tyranny. After June, 1981, its members were persecuted mercilessly by the new regime and its Revolutionary Guards. An estimated 120,000 PMOI supporters, including children, have been murdered by the regime both inside and outside Iran in the following years

In 1986, the French government, as part of a quid pro quo with Tehran to secure the release of the French hostages in Lebanon, put pressure on the PMOI, which had offices and supporters in France since 1981, to leave. The PMOI, therefore, relocated to Iraq. Camp Ashraf was built on a piece of arid land in the northeast of Iraq. Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the PMOI officially declared its neutrality in the conflict. Unfortunately, dozens of residents of Ashraf were killed during unprovoked air strikes on Ashraf.

Later that year, the PMOI agreed to consolidate all of its supporters within Iraq at Ashraf. Following a 16-month investigation by seven US 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 has since 2003 been protected by a detachment of American soldiers.

Recent assaults on Ashraf by Iran's regime have included the bombing of its water supply station (February 2008) and two missile attacks (May and July 2008), which luckily caused no deaths. In mid-June of this year, more than three million Iraqi Shiites signed a petition condemning the meddling by the Iranian regime in Iraq and declared support for the PMOI and Ashraf. Such support 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.

Matters have not gone as well diplomatically. In 1997, the Clinton administration added the PMOI to its list of terrorist organizations. In 2002, at the request of the UK government, the European Union included it on its list. In 2005, the Martin government did so in Canada. Fortunately the Court of First Instance of the European Court of Justice ruled in December 2006 that the PMOI was wrongly listed. Then the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission (POAC), a branch of the UK High Court, ruled in late 2007 that the listing of the PMOI in the UK was "perverse", unlawful, null and void.

The UK Court of Appeal later agreed with POAC, noting that neither the classified nor unclassified evidence provided a basis for terrorist activity or intent for such activity by the PMOI since 2001. Both houses of the UK Parliament accordingly de-proscribed the PMOI in June 2008. In mid-July, however, the EU Council of Ministers, claiming unspecified "new evidence", left the PMOI on its terrorist list.

The Tehran regime relies on the continuing terrorist labeling of the PMOI in the EU, US, Iraq and Canada to insist that its supporters in Ashraf and elsewhere around the world be harassed by governments. This includes pressuring the outgoing Bush administration to turn the protection of Ashraf over to the government of Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad, whose ministers' comments have created no confidence in their willingness to provide continuing adequate protection to Ashraf residents..

On June 17th this year, for example, the Iraqi council of ministers issued a statement saying that the PMOI "will come under the full control of the Iraqi government until it is expelled from Iraq." The Interior Minister declared recently that the present joint patrols by American and Iraqi forces indicate that "Iraqi forces have taken control of Ashraf and that its residents have a six-month deadline to leave the country." During a visit to Iran in August, the Iraqi Justice Minister added: "If it were not for the presence of coalition forces at Ashraf, you would have seen that the people of Iraq attacking and destroying Ashraf."

A legal opinion by Eric David, professor and president of the Centre on International Law at the Free University of Brussels, concluded that under both The Hague and the Fourth Geneva Conventions the US must ensure the protection of the refugees at Ashraf. He added that there is no other authority in Iraq capable of protection them except the American forces.

The International Committee of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf, representing many concerned lawyers in Europe, the US and Canada, wrote earlier this month 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."

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'.

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