By Naghmeh Rajabi
The situation of Camp Ashraf, home to 3400 Iranian dissidents in Iraq, has been a major focus point for many around the world over the past year. The concern over this subject matter increased significantly, as the camp was attacked by Iraqi authorities, ordered by Tehran’s leaders, in April 2011. Although the camp was attacked previous to that date, this was undoubtedly the most brutal attack, as it left 36 innocent and defenceless men and women killed, and more than 300 wounded. There were also firm talks about the Iraqi government’s plans to re-locate the residents of the camp within Iraq and a deadline was set to close down the camp by the end of year 2011, leaving the residents of the camp extremely vulnerable to further attacks and risks of executions from the Iranian regime.
However, with the constant and tireless efforts of thousands of human rights activist and distinguished political and social figures around the world, as well as the members of the PMOI (People’s Mojahedin of Iran- Iran’s main opposition group), this unrealistic deadline has been postponed on the 21 December 2011 for another six months. In addition, before the new year, Ms. Maryam Rajavi the President elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran announced that as a gesture of goodwill 400 Ashraf residents are prepared to leave the camp and move to “Camp Liberty” at the first opportunity. This was following the receipt of assurances from the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her 25 December statement on the situation in Ashraf and for the security of the Camp’s residents, stating that they will be having regular and frequent visits from US embassy officials in Baghdad.
Sure, this may seem like a step towards the right direction. Nevertheless, it is far from comforting as various threats are still facing the residents of this Camp. Based on a number of reports and documents from inside Iran, there are clear indications of various attempts to sabotage and destroy the peaceful solution for Ashraf emphasized upon by Secretary Clinton and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
These reports and documents show that only 1.5% of Camp Liberty has been given to the Ashraf residents, leaving 98.5% of the camp occupied by Iraqi forces. This has occurred due to the pressures from the Iranian regime on the Iraqi government and it is against what was initially planned by the Special Representative of Secretary-General and the US forces to allocate all of the Camp Liberty to the Ashraf residents. In addition, in order to besiege the residents, the government of Iraq have been setting up T-walls and it is planning to station a permanent police force inside this area.
Meanwhile, the provocative, insulting and threatening acts of Iraqi forces against Ashraf residents has intensified and videos of the residents getting harassed have emerged from Camp Ashraf. The residents, who have moved to Camp Liberty, are prevented from transferring their assets and vehicles as though they are prisoners who have been captured!
In an international conference on the 6 January 2012, attended by the NCRI’s President Elect- Ms. Maryam Rajavi and many distinguished guest speakers, the former French Minister of State for European Affairs, Mr. Alain Vivien, stated that “…in addition to expected systematic harassments, the difficulty access to medical attention for the exiles, the inability for patients to seek treatment in a hospital, and all the mental torture inflicted upon them up until now, will add to their already lack of trust in their fate.” It is therefore clear to see that the Iraqi government has once again failed to provide a safe and secure place for the Ashraf residents to live in while the UNHCR carries out the process of re-settling them in third democratic countries. It is very ironic that they have built a concentration camp with prison-like characteristics and named it Camp “Liberty”!
The United States and the United Nations need to keep to their promises of safeguarding the residents of Ashraf. These unarmed Iranian civilians need to be re-settled in third democratic countries as soon as possible before another deadly attack by the Iraqi forces at the behest of the Iranian regime takes more innocent lives. The one major obstacle in the way of ensuring the safety of the Ashraf residents is the fact that the PMOI continues to remain in the FTO list, despite the lack of any evidence to prove that they are a terrorist organisation! They were only put in that list in 1997 to appease Iran. By keeping the PMOI in this list, the USA is simply assisting the Iranian and Iraqi governments to carry out their crimes and justify it by saying that they are only acting against a terrorist group. Additionally, this even holds back European states from accepting Ashraf residents as refugees.
It is irrational to stand back and rely on things to just “work out” or even worst, hope for another deadline extension. The lives of the residents of Camp Ashraf are at danger. Unfortunately, the residents are up against a brutal regime which is having dictated orders from another much more brutal and dangerous dictator regime. The Iraqi government has shown time and time again that it does not hold Ashraf residents’ best interest at heart and makes every effort to assist the Mullahs’ regime of Iran in trying to massacre the 3400 men and women at Ashraf. Ashraf is the light amidst the darkness. In a country (Iran) where there are thousands of political prisoners, whose voices are never heard, and men, women and children are sentenced to death without a fair or legal trial, the main opposition group to this barbaric regime are the PMOI whose members have sacrificed everything that constitutes of a normal life for having a free and democratic Iran.
It is the duty of every human who understands what the word “humanity” means, to stand in the fight against injustice and join the international pressure on the responsible bodies such as the United States and United Nations, to do the minimum and stand by their own promises that they have made to the residents of Ashraf. Ashraf’s situation is no longer just a matter of concern for the Iranian people, the efforts of the past months has enlightened many around the world to the situation at hand. The world is watching as history unfolds before their eyes. It is time to see whether the countries which claim to stand for freedom, democracy and human rights really practice what they preach, or are they simply and only good at using fancy words to make themselves look like the “good guys”!