Thursday, 12 January 2012

UN Relenting to Bullying by Iraq on Camp Ashraf

HUPP POST - By: Firouz Mahvi January 10, 2012

For many who during last year followed the developments of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, home to 3400 Iranian dissidents, the 31 December 2011 was deemed a horrific date.

On that day, Iraq had imposed an "irreversible" deadline to close the Camp, situated 60 miles north east of Baghdad, and force the residents out. A worldwide campaign turned Ashraf into a top priority with international dimensions. Both EU and US assigned special envoys to deal with the specific issue of Ashraf. It was twice brought before the UN Security Council and finally Iraq had to give in to the pressure. On December 21, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki announced a six-month extension of the deadline to close down Ashraf.

So the much feared year's end attack on Camp Ashraf, planned by the mullahs in Tehran long in advance, was foiled.

There were two reasons for that: 1) The international campaign in Europe and USA which made policy makers aware of the dire situation in Ashraf. b) The skilful handling of Iranian Resistance's leader Maryam Rajavi, whom while persisting on Ashraf's obvious rights, convinced the residents to show ultimate flexibility and forego their rights in favour of a peaceful solution.

Despite this great achievement, the situation of Ashraf residents remains uncertain as many issues remain unresolved and they must be dealt with quickly to avoid another tragedy.

On December 25 UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Iraq. The MoU suffered from essential shortcomings. The security of the residents was "exclusively" abandoned to the very same Iraqi forces that in July 2009 and April 2011 had attacked and killed 47 of them and wounded more than a thousand.

In his meetings in Ashraf and in Europe with the residents' representatives, Ambassador Kobler had promised that he will not sign anything without their approval. Indeed the UN Secretary General had previously specifically stressed the need for a mutually acceptable solution. In his report to the Security Council on 7 July 2011, Ban Ki Moon urged Member States "to support and facilitate the implementation of any arrangement that is acceptable to the Government of Iraq and the camp residents."

So Ashraf residents were quite shocked being informed via the press that the MoU was signed without their knowledge or agreement. That was a serious blow to Ashraf residents' confidence and trust in the UN.

To help advance the international peaceful plan, Mrs Rajavi on December 28 issued a statement that 400 Ashraf residents were ready to relocate with their vehicles and moveable belongings to a former US camp near Baghdad, "Camp Liberty", to be interviewed by the UNHCR on their refugee status in order to be able to resettle in third countries.

It has now become clear that the area allocated to Ashraf residents is less than one square km of the 40 sq km area of Camp Liberty that the US left to the Iraqis. Some 150 Iraqi policemen would be permanently present inside the camp. The area is comprised of a collection of dilapidated trailers. Following the departure of the U.S. forces most of the equipment, facilities and amenities have been looted. Electricity, water and sewage systems are dysfunctional and the Camp's only dining hall is a long distance away from the trailers. Those who are sick, physically impaired, and the elderly cannot use it. Newly installed concrete walls, three to four meters tall, will encircle the area.

Iraqi government has opposed the residents taking their vehicles and moveable belongings from Ashraf to Liberty. The officials also reject the idea of sending a group of 5-10 engineers from Ashraf in advance to visit Camp Liberty to appraise the facilities and accommodations.

Taking vehicles and assets with you to your new home and visiting it in advance could hardly endanger a country's sovereignty. Far from it, the sovereignty right here has degenerated into an excuse to further the evil intention of the religious regime in power in Iran.

What is happening right now is forced relocation and a flagrant violation of the rights of the residents.

Although UNHCR has recognized the residents of Ashraf as "asylum-seekers" under international law who must be able to "benefit from basic protection of their security and well-being", the process of verification and interviews with the residents of Ashraf and the reconfirmation of their refugee status has not yet begun. The Iraqi Government incomprehensible bullying, to which UNAMI relented, deferred the UNHCR process to the relocation of the residents to another site. As a result, the refugee determination process is in limbo.

The role played so far by the USA and the EU has been quite disappointing. The EU in general has so far not even accepted people in Ashraf who used to be EU residents - around 900 people who do not need to go through the full process of UNHCR - or those who are critically ill. Baroness Ashton just issues statements in support of the UN representative in Iraq (not a clever way to put pressure on Ashraf residents) without using her influence on Iraq to stop imposing restrictions and exerting pressure on the residents. The EU has been so lean with Baghdad that its envoy for Ashraf was not granted visa to visit Iraq last month!

USA could have exerted pressure on Iraq to stop it from hurdling the resettlement plan. The USA could have removed the PMOI/MEK from its blacklist as competent courts have seen no evidence to support that designation. Such a move would have had enormous positive political implications and would have opened the way for the resettlement of Ashraf residents in third countries.

The USA, EU and UN are de facto endorsing Iraq's unlawful conditions by exerting pressure on the people in Ashraf to accept the terms dictated by Maliki. The real concern of the residents is neither their cars, nor other facilities at that camp; the real concern is that all indications point to turning Camp Liberty into a prison.

"Ambassador Kobler is acting more Catholic than the Pope as he seems keener than the Government (Iraq) to evacuate Ashraf," an Iraqi friend told me last week.

Firouz Mahvi Iranian Human Rights Activist .


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