Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Top U.N. official in Iraq ‘misled’ world on camp for Iranians

The top U.N. official in Iraq directed his staff to cover up the prisonlike conditions of a relocation camp for Iranian dissidents in reports to the world body, said a former U.N. official who has resigned in protest.
In his first interview since leaving his post, Tahar Boumedra told The Washington Times that Martin Kobler, U.N. special representative for Iraq, wanted the dissidents relocated quickly to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. Army base near Baghdad’s airport, and then moved out of Iraq.
Mr. Kobler “misled [the U.N.] headquarters in New York, Washington” and the dissidents about conditions at Camp Liberty in his rush to move them from Camp Ashraf, where they have lived since 1986, said Mr. Boumedra, the former human rights chief at the U.N. mission in Baghdad.
Mr. Boumedra said he “got the shock of my life” when he first visited Camp Liberty in December.
“I had visited a lot of prisons but that place was worse than a prison,” said Mr. Boumedra, an Algerian activist who has promoted human rights and penal reform in North Africa and the Middle East for many years.

Containers that had been used as soldiers’ living quarters were piled high with trash. Doors dangled from their hinges, and windows were smashed.Iraqis vandalized the camp after U.S. troops left, he said, and facilities were in utter disrepair.
Mr. Kobler “asked us to go back and take pictures of the camp and the facilities, and make sure that the most appealing pictures are to be put in a file and presented to the residents and the diplomatic community that, ‘Here is a camp of high standards, meeting all the refugees’ requirements,’” said Mr. Boumedra, who left Iraq in May.
“He asked me, and I underline this, that we make sure that ‘sellable pictures,’ be used,” he said. “I found myself fabricating reports and doctoring pictures in order to mislead my organization, the international community and the Ashrafis.”
About 2,000 of Camp Ashraf’s more than 3,000 residents have been transferred to Camp Liberty under a deal brokered by the United Nations. The first group arrived in February.
The Iranian dissidents and their supporters, including a bipartisan group of lawmakers and former U.S. officials, have complained since January about substandard living conditions at Camp Liberty.
Asked about Mr. Boumedra’s allegations, Mr. Kobler’s office directed questions to the U.N. headquarters in New York.
“It is regrettable that such a distorted picture is being presented of the efforts of the United Nations in Iraq to resolve peacefully the situation of Camp Ashraf,” said Jared Kotler, a New York-based spokesman for the U.N. Department of Political Affairs, which oversees the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq.
Mr. Kotler said the U.N. mission under Mr. Kobler’s leadership has worked “diligently and impartially to facilitate a peaceful solution that respects the rights and concerns of both the residents and the government of Iraq.”
“These efforts are one of the main reasons why this very tense situation has not already spilled over into further violence,” he added.
Dispute over living conditions
Known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MeK, the dissidents sought the overthrow of Iran’s theocratic regime in the early 1980s, and Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein gave them refuge at Camp Ashraf, a base near Baghdad. After Saddam’s overthrow in 2003, U.S. military forces disarmed the dissidents, who renounced violence in 2001.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an ally of Iran, has sought to shut down Camp Ashraf, which Iraqi forces have attacked several times with deadly results. The dissidents fear that Mr. al-Maliki will turn them over to Iran, where they expect they would be imprisoned, tortured or executed.
The U.N. brokered a deal with Iraqi leaders to move the dissidents to Camp Liberty.
Mr. Boumedra, the lead U.N. official in talks with the Iraqis to close Camp Ashraf, said he advised Mr. Kobler not to accept a memorandum of understanding that came out of those talks because the Iraqis were dismissive of international human rights standards.


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