Iraq: A Prison For Iranian Dissidents Called ‘Liberty’ – OpEd


By Shahriar Kia

About seven months ago, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Iraq, Martin Kobler, and the Iraqi government for the relocation of 3400 residents of a camp, situated north of Baghdad, known as camp Ashraf. Until this day, some 2000 members of an Iranian opposition group, the MeK, have been relocated from Ashraf to another camp near Baghdad international airport, called „camp Liberty“, with circumstances that are worse than a prison. The project to drive the Iranian dissidents from their home and confine them in camp Liberty – called a Temporary Transit Location (TTL) – as part of an effort to have UNHCR reaffirm the residents’ refugee status and, eventually, resettle them in third countries has been a failure. Five months into the UNHCR’s interviews, not a single person has been resettled. In recent years, the Maliki administration, fulfilling the Iranian regime’s wishes, has worked hard to close camp Ashraf and have its residents, members of the MeK, either expelled out of Iraq or extradited back to Iran with the aim of annihilating the Iranian dissidents.

Two deadly raids carried out by Iraqi security forces in July 2009 and April 2011 against camp Ashraf, resulted in the death of 49 residents including 8 women and 1000 residents were injured. These atrocities, perpetrated against persons protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention, drew global condemnation against the Maliki administration. Having endured a comprehensive medical and logistical siege, for three arduous years, as well as deadly incursions by Iraqi forces, ultimately, the residents agreed to forgo their immigration rights in Iraq and accept a plan proposed in May 11, 2011 by the European parliament for resettlement of all residents in third countries; hoping this would promote a peaceful solution.

The response to the residents’ goodwill gesture was a coordinated plan by the US government, UN Special Representative Martin Kobler, and the Iraqi government to close camp Ashraf and compel its residents to relocate to Liberty. Soon after the first group of residents arrived in Liberty, they realized that the prison was operated by their own murderers, including Colonel Sadegh Mohammed Kazim who played a leading role in the massacre of camp Ashraf residents and was subpoenaed by a Spanish court.

The UN Human Rights Council’s work group for arbitrary arrests issued a report, during its annual meeting from April 30 to May 4, 2012, in which it documented the findings of its investigation into measures to turn camp Liberty into a prison. In one section of this report it concludes:

  • “Residents of Camp Liberty have the status of “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention; they are asylum seekers and have neither been charged with or tried for any offence.
  • “The conditions in Camp Liberty are synonymous with those in a detention centre, as residents have no freedom of movement, nor interaction with the outside world, nor do they have freedom of movement and the semblance of a free life within the Camp. The situation of the residents of Camp Liberty is tantamount to that of detainees or prisoners.”
  • “The Working Group considers that there is no legal justification for holding the above-mentioned persons and other individuals in Camp Liberty, and that such detention is not in conformity with the standards and principles of international human rights law, and more specifically violates article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 9 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.

Liberty was planned to be a temporary transit camp for only a 6 months period of time. Five months after the first group of residents were relocated to Liberty, and now that some 2000 refugees are imprisoned in Liberty, UNAMI have changed its word and admit that there is no short-term prospect for resettlement of residents outside of Iraq. TTL is merely a title used by the Maliki administration to justify its violations of the most basic human rights of residents in Liberty. Iraq’s measures to turn the camp into a prison and its systemic breaches of its obligations towards the residents have brought this project toward a dead-end. The coordinated efforts by the US and the UN to bear down on the residents of Ashraf and have them leave their home, has aroused deep international concerns about the security, well-being and integrity of these dissidents – a 1000 of whom are women. One should ask that if the government of Iraq – in its effort to close Ashraf and relocate its residents to Liberty – bears true humanitarian intentions, why it is that it refuses to meet the most essential, humanitarian demands of the residents at Liberty, which are required by the residents for the remaining convoys to move from Ashraf?

The unjustifiable pressure for eviction of the remaining 1200 residents of Ashraf – before essential humanitarian needs are provided for residents of Liberty – leads many human rights activists to believe that the Iranian regime and its allies within the Maliki administration have ominous intentions at work. Al-Sharqiya TV aired a report on July 5 citing a recent trip by the Iranian Minister of Justice to Iraq and his meeting with Maliki, adding: “during his meetings, the Iranian minister focused on the issue of extradition of MeK members who are facing a lot of pressure in Iraq”.

Prior to this, the Iraqi prime minister, during a visit to Tehran, secretly met with General Qasim Soleimani, head of the notorious Qods force brigade, known as the “true man in charge” of Iraq. During this meeting Maliki discussed new measures for suppression of residents of camp Ashraf and Liberty and his efforts to expedite closure of Ashraf.

Iranian Resistance in a statement on February 21, 2012 declared that: “it has gained access to documents from inside Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) which shows that the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office, has given assurances to Quds Force and the Iranian regime’s Ambassador to Baghdad that after transfer of first group from Ashraf to Liberty, members of the PMOI will be paralyzed. This shocking document which leaves no doubt that the project of transferring the residents of Ashraf to Liberty has been to pursue the objectives and intentions of the mullahs’ regime and aims at destroying the democratic and legitimate opposition of this regime.”

Guarantees and assurances provided by the US government and the UN – prior to the start of this process and to encourage the residents to leave Ashraf – ensuring that the residents will be treated humanely and in accordance with international laws, refugee laws and International humanitarian laws, have been continuously violated by the Iraqi government. This government not only has no respect for these agreements but, to the contrary, it has spared no effort to turn camp Liberty into a prison and increase the pressure on its residents on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, the US as well as the UN Special Representative – the two parties who are essentially responsible for implementation of all agreements and assurances – have turned a blind eye to Iraq’s recurring violations of these agreements. Its appears as though the role of the US government and Mr. Martin Kobler’s mandate, is to impose the maximum degree of pressure on the residents, close down their camp – which is, incidentally, the Iranian regime’s main demand – and move the remaining residents to Liberty prison.

In Iraq’s scorching hot summer, with temperatures reaching 55 C and above, where generators and cooling systems in Liberty periodically fail to operate and the residents’ access to water is extremely limited, the government of Iraq is not even willing to connect the camp’s water and electricity supply to the national grid or allow the residents to install a water supply and purification unit, at their own cost, and supply water from a river flowing 150 m away from the camp.

In a conference held in Paris on March 24, Mr. Rudi Juliani, the former mayor of New York, said: “I believe that, I believe that Camp Liberty is an inhumane and indecent place. I don’t believe it’s a detention facility at all. I think it’s a prison or a concentration camp. The amount of space that’s being given to the people there is a couple of feet per person, well below the minimums for American prisons, significantly below what’s given to accused terrorists at Guantanamo”.

The residents of Liberty are residing in a prison where they have to pay millions of dollars monthly for electricity, water, fuel, food and even the most basic necessities of life.

In an investigative report presented by Dr. Alejo Vidal-Quadras, vice president of the European parliament, after the first session of the UN Security Council where the issue of camp Ashraf and Liberty was addressed, he writes: “In violation of the MOU, Camp Liberty lacks human rights standards and is considered a prison from every aspect. Residents have no freedom of movement and no access to lawyers.”

Unfortunately, while residents of Ashraf and Liberty are faced with such inhumane circumstances, in his July 19 remarks to the UN Security Council, Ambassador Kobler thanked the government of Iraq in a shameful manner for its “cooperation” and asked for “generosity” towards the residents – effectively issuing a green light for another assault against Ashraf. Mr. Kobler’s indirect threat and reference to the possibility of an attack and the fact that the “Iraqi government’s patience is running thin”, is a clear testimony to this fact and proves that admonitions about a third massacre, which have been taken lightly, are real.

While the government of Iraq violates the MoU and while clauses of a December 28 letter by Ambassador Kobler to the residents, concerning the MoU, are being forgotten one after another; the residents are threatened that if they don’t go to Liberty prison “voluntarily” – without obtaining their essential humanitarian needs – they will face certain death in Ashraf. Mr. Martin Kobler is now facilitating another massacre in Ashraf and the defenseless residents are reproached in advance by the Special Representative for such a massacre.

The theocratic dictatorship ruling Iran seems to be the only party which has benefited from the eviction and enchaining residents of Ashraf and Liberty. In time with Maliki’s visit to Tehran, Ala’e’din Brojerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, who is a member of Khamenei’s inner circle, announced: “the MeK’s eviction from camp Ashraf was an important step by the Iraqi government and its officials and in light of the close ties between our respective countries, Nori Maliki’s visit to Iran is a crucial part of our mutual cooperation”.

Must we stand by idly as another human tragedy unfolds in Ashraf or Liberty? The US State Department must prevent a human tragedy by pressing the Iraqi government to provide the residents’ minimum and legitimate humanitarian demands and by preventing efforts to turn camp Liberty into a prison.

Any outcome against the defenseless residents of Ashraf and Liberty will not end with a few simple lines in the book of time. The UN and civilized nations of the world, especially the US – which according to the 4th Geneva Convention, is the first party responsible for the security of camp Ashraf residents – cannot remain indifferent to the consequences of what transpires in Ashraf or Liberty.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst expert on Iran since 1982 and spokesman for Camp Ashraf, Iraq, where he resides now. Shahriar was educated in the United States and holds a degree in computer science from the University of Texas.

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