Protection for Camp Ashraf

UK lawyers representing the 36 residents of Camp Ashraf detained after the violent 28 July occupation of the site by Iraqi forces, are pressing the United Nations to ensure their immediate and safe release.

The detainees’ representatives urge both the UN and US forces in Iraq to defend their right and the rights of the rest of the camp’s residents as “protected persons” under the Geneva Convention.

They call for international protection for Camp Ashraf, home to 3,500 Iranian members, including 1,000 women and some children. And as a first step, they call for a monitoring team to be sent to Ashraf and based in the camp’s central Khalis police station.

To date, none of the 36 detainees have been granted due process, nor been allowed to see lawyers, the Red Cross officials or others. Eyewitness reports say they were beaten as they were removed from the camp.

Index on Censorship, along with other groups, is urging that the UN, in its own investigations, support the right of the Iraqi and international media to enter and report from the camp. Access is presently denied by the Iraqi authorities.

“It is clear the Iraqi authorities are ensuring that no reports or images emerge from Camp Ashraf but, in so doing, they are showing they have something to hide,” media rights group Reporters sans Frontierès has said. “This situation is unacceptable. The army must allow journalists to do their job in the camp, so that the world can know what is happening there.”

All the detainees are connected to the People’s Mojahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition organization whose members have been resident in Iraq for many years.

The detainees’ representatives fear that pro-Iranian factions in the government or their paramilitary supporters will hand them over to Iran, where torture and death most likely await.

Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi government to investigate the apparent excessive use of force by Iraqi security forces, to reveal the whereabouts of the detained and ensure they are protected from torture or other ill-treatment, as well as from forcible return to Iran.

The Iranian government has demanded the camp’s closure and for all its residents to be extradited to Tehran. Pro-Iranian armed forces have attacked Ashraf’s water pumping station and have fired rockets into the camp.

Given their status as protected persons under the fourth Geneva Convention and given the fact that they have been legally resident in Iraq, the UN should on humanitarian grounds and on the basis of international law, step up and provide international protection for the detainees and camp residents.

On 28-29 July, 2,000 Iraqi troops, under the orders of the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, forced their way into Camp Ashraf. Twelve people were reported killed and some 500 were injured – 12 remain in a critical condition.

According to eye witness reports the 36 detainees were beaten as they were removed from the camp.

Up until recently, US forces provided protection for the camp and its residents, who were recognised as “protected persons” after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The US reportedly agreed to give up responsibility for the camp while negotiating the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments, although the SOFA makes no reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents.

It is argued that the US is still responsible, under Article 45 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to protect residents of Ashraf given the failure of the Iraqi authorities to do so. US forces observed the original attack and provided some medical aid but have not tried to have the detainees returned to the camp. Iraq is not a signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention.

A number of Ashraf’s residents have already been recognised as refugees in European countries, including the UK, though PMOI members in Iraq did not individually seek political asylum in Iraq. They argued that they had been collectively recognised as refugees by the previous Iraqi government and that status still stands.

Until recently, the PMOI was listed as a “terrorist” organisation by the European Union and other governments. In most cases the designation was lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran.