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Time to save Iranian exiles in Iraq before more lives are wasted

By ALEX CARLILE, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   March 14, 2013 at 12:06 AM   |   Comments

LONDON, March 14 (UPI) -- The tragedy of the modern world isn't the lack of support for human rights but the reluctance of the international community to act before a catastrophe has occurred.

A catastrophe is looming for 3,100 Iranian refugees housed in "Camp Liberty," near the Baghdad airport, as they face uninhabitable living conditions and mortal danger from terrorist attacks. Will the international community stand by idly and allow this tragedy to reach catastrophic proportions before it acts?

The residents of Camp Liberty are members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, the principal Iranian opposition movement, who had been previously residing in Camp Ashraf in Iraq since the 1980s. The PMOI are staunch opponents of Tehran, and received protected persons' status by the U.S. forces following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In the early morning on Feb. 9, Camp Liberty was the target of a terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of seven residents and injuries to more than 100 members of the camp.

The attack came in the early hours with as many as 40 rockets (107mm) being fired into the camp. The attack was undertaken at the behest of Iran by the Iraqi Hezbollah, operating with an open hand under the Maliki government in Iraq. The head Iraqi Hezbollah promised that they would attack the camp and claimed that killing camp residents was a "religious duty."

The attacks were met with worldwide condemnation, including a number of high-ranking U.S. lawmakers who said in a statement: "It was unethical for the United States to have endorsed the relocation of the people whom we promised to protect to Camp Liberty, where we knew they would not have proper protection, just because it wants to please Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the ruling mullahs of Iran."

Of particular concern is how the residents of Camp Liberty were forcibly transferred into this death trap and how they came to be placed into such a vulnerable position.

In February 2012 the PMOI commenced relocation from Ashraf to Camp Liberty, upon the assurances by the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. secretary of State that their safety would be guaranteed and the residents would go through an expedited transfer to third countries.

Now, one year later, it has become clear that the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq has failed to meet its mandate in ensuring humanitarian standards in Camp Liberty.

Martin Kobler, the head of UNAMI, has been accused of undermining the trust of Ashraf residents with dubious statements praising the Iraqi government and suspicious trip to Iran and continuous exchanges with Iranian regime's officials in which the topic of Ashraf and its residents was reportedly discussed.

Tahar Boumedra, who was the former chief of the UNAMI Human Rights Office and was in charge of Ashraf dossier for 3 1/2 years, made shocking revelations on UNAMI after his resignation in protest at Kobler's performance of his mandate and in currying favor for the government of Iraq with the price of lives of defenseless Iranian refugees.

The inadequacy of Camp Liberty was also confirmed in a report published by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, referring to the situation of residents in Liberty as violation of international laws, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Iranian resistance in general and Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the Iranian Resistance, in particular, had warned of an impending attack at Camp Liberty but, unfortunately, the relevant authorities, in particular the United Nations, paid no heed.

On March 1 the U.N. High Commission for Refugees put out a statement regarding the residents of Liberty, stating: "UNHCR renews its deep concern about the safety and security of the residents of Camp Liberty in Iraq in light of threats, made this week, by the group claiming responsibility for the 9 February mortar attack that killed seven people and wounded dozens. UNHCR reaffirms that this population is entitled to international protection according to international law."

The situation in Camp Liberty is no longer tenable and a proper solution must be implemented sooner rather than later. The residents of Liberty have demanded that they be allowed to return to Camp Ashraf, their home for the more than 25 years, until they are able to be transferred to a third country.

Camp Ashraf is 80 times larger than Camp Liberty and provides adequate infrastructure for the protection of the camp residents from further attacks. The containment of 3,100 individuals in half a square kilometer at Camp Liberty leaves the residents both vulnerable and unprotected in Liberty. This is a recipe for disaster and will lay the foundation for a humanitarian catastrophe.

The safety and security of the residents of Camp Liberty should be of paramount importance. Because of their open hostility toward them from the Iranian regime and their cronies in Iraqi government, they must receive special protections and considerations, just as the UNHCR has stated.

The international community should act now to prevent a catastrophe and ensure that the story of the residents of Liberty does not go down in history as a tragedy. Return to Ashraf is the safest and quickest way. Faster please.

--

(Alex Carlile of Berriew CBE QC, is a Liberal Democrat member of the U.K. House of Lords and a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom. He was the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation in the United Kingdom (2001-11).

--

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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