UN Role Questioned in Camp Ashraf Massacre
UNITED NATIONS - Two weeks after an attack by Iraqi security forces against Camp Ashraf, a base for Iranian exiles, killed 34 people and left over 300 injured, international and humanitarian law experts have urged the U.N. to conduct an impartial investigation regarding the role of Prime Minister Nouri Al- Maliki, as well as Iran and the United States, in the massacre.
At a press conference on Apr. 21, Steven Schneebaum, a lawyer for some of the Camp Ashraf families in the U.S., joined former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and others, describing the incident as "choreographed and murderous".
"If the international community is serious about what it says in terms of defending unarmed people against violence and killing, and if the U.N. believes in the responsibility to protect, then of course it must take action against those who attack and kill innocent people, and they should be brought to justice," Ali Safavi, president of Near East Policy Research, a Virginia-based think tank, told IPS.
The People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which has been based at Camp Ashraf, 120 km from the Iranian border, since its exile by the Ali Khomeini regime in 1986, renounced the use of weapons following an agreement with U.S. forces in 2003. However, it remains classified as a terrorist group by the State Department.
As Mukasey noted in an article co-authored with former FBI director Louis Freeh and published in Time magazine on Apr. 18, "When our troops entered Iraq, the U.S. government promised MEK (Mujahedin-e-Khalq, the other name of the PMOI) adherents that if they gave up their weapons, we would protect them."
But the U.S. handed over this duty to Iraqi forces in 2009, as part of the withdrawal of American forces due by the end of this year. Since then, Camp Ashraf residents have reported several attacks, including one in July 2009 in which nine people died, hundreds were injured, and 36 detained as well as tortured, according to Amnesty International.
For their part, some members of the Iraqi government believe the group is involved in criminal and terrorist activities, and want them out of its territory by the end of 2011.
According to a Kurdish Member of the Iraqi Parliament, Rawaz Khoshnaw, while Iraq is looking to develop a cordial relationship with Iran, this is hindered by the presence on Iraqi soil of the PMOI – which represents one of the fiercest opposition parties to the Islamist regime in Tehran.
"We cannot sustain our demands for the Iranians to stop interfering (in Iraqi politics) while MEK keeps its activities inside Iran and stays in Iraq," Khoshnaw told IPS. "Iraq has asked European countries repeatedly to take the MEK to their lands and give them asylum. (Instead), they are occupying 25 km of Iraq land and using it as a camp. This is unacceptable anywhere," he added.
Some observers have criticised the U.N.'s delayed response to the latest incident. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay waited seven days to condemn the attack, finally stressing "there is no possible excuse for this number of casualties."
She urged "(Iraqi) authorities to take measures" and to prosecute any person found responsible for use of excessive force through a "full, independent and transparent inquiry".
The U.N. secretary-general has not made a public statement yet.
"Where is Ban Ki-moon? Why has he been silent so far?" Safavi asked IPS. "That is what the families of those in Ashraf are demanding."
Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for the secretary-general, told IPS that Ban fully supports the views of Pillay on the issue.
"It is important to have an impartial investigation," he said, adding that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is evaluating the Iraqi government's proposal to conduct its own probe, "to see whether (it) can do this impartially."
According to Safavi, the U.N. should send a monitoring team to Camp Ashraf to protect its residents "against such horrible abuse and repression".
He said there had been many signs over the years that such an incident was likely to happen. "They (the U.N. and the U.S.) knew this was coming, they did nothing to prevent it," he said. "Sadly the U.N. and the U.S. have blood on their hands; there is no doubt about that."