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Outside View: World needs to act on Camp Ashraf

By
DAVID ALTON, UPI Outside View Commentator

LONDON, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Camp Ashraf is a Srebrenica in the making and the world has a duty to act.

Iranian dissidents stranded in Camp Ashraf are faced with forcible displacement in Iraq.

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What choice but resisting is the world offering them? Sitting back and watching is not an option.

What you are about to read might sound farfetched or unbelievable but it is totally factual: A community of 3,400 defenseless men and women is facing annihilation by brute force in about four weeks, with all the residents being slaughtered.

RELATED Outside View: U.N. should reject plan to relocate Iranian dissidents in Iraq

And as the clock ticks toward the ominous deadline of Dec. 31, the whole international community is simply watching.

The place is Camp Ashraf, for 25 years the home in Iraq of members of the main Iranian opposition movement.

The belligerent party is the government of Iraq (yes, the very same government that the United States and the United Kingdom helped to create at a huge human and material cost) that is functioning at the behest of the Iranian regime.

RELATED Outside View: British MPs demand U.N. protection at Camp Ashraf

The 3,400 men and women residents in Camp Ashraf were there when the U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003. They stayed completely neutral. After the downfall of the Saddam Hussein government, they were protected by U.S. forces in return for voluntarily accepting complete disarmament.

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The United States designated them as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions. Every one of the residents received written assurance by a U.S. official that they would be protected until their final disposition. The United States gave them its word.

But in 2009, the United States handed over security of the camp to Iraqis as part of the Status of Forces Agreement. Given the influence of the Iranian government on the Shiite government of Iraq, this was like asking the fox to protect the henhouse.

Subsequently, the camp was attacked by Iraqi forces in 2009 and 2011, resulting in dozens of deaths and more than 1,000 wounded.

The camp has been under siege for the past 30 months and residents don't have access to medicine, fuel and supplies.

What has exacerbated the predicament of Ashraf residents is that the Iraqi government vowed to close Ashraf by the end of the year. This raises the question: Where are the residents supposed to move to?

In September, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees stepped in and declared the residents as asylum seekers; it wanted to start the process of interviewing the residents and transferring them to other countries. It urged the government of Iraq to extend the deadline so it could do its work. The internationally acclaimed human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, reiterated this request in early November.

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But the Iraqi government has a different agenda. It was reported Nov. 22 that Iraq is refusing to allow the United Nations to reaffirm the refugee status of the residents in Camp Ashraf, a prerequisite to their transfer to other countries.

Iraq's refusal to allow UNHCR refugee status determination of the residents leaves no doubt that it has no intention of resolving this crisis peacefully and is planning to carry out the mullahs' demand that Ashraf be demolished and its residents annihilated -- because Tehran knows full well that they represent its democratic and viable opposition.

Ashraf residents have shown all kinds of flexibility; they have agreed to the European Parliament's plan to be transferred to third countries, despite their obvious right to remain in Ashraf, where they have lived for a quarter century.

But they cannot allow themselves to be dispersed and forcibly displaced inside Iraq -- and they surely cannot volunteer to be slaughtered. If their displacement is ordered, they will have no option but to resist. Who would agree to be forced from his home to be killed in a quite dark alley?

Time is running out for the United States, United Nations and European Union to take a stand.

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They must reject the displacement ploy conjured up by Tehran's mullahs and pushed by their facilitators in the government of Iraq. They should pressure the government of Iraq to stop obstructing the UNHCR's endeavor and allow the interviews of Ashraf residents to begin immediately.

Slaughtering a community is not a matter that can be kept within the borders of a sovereign state. It is a serious concern for the international community, as it was evident in Libya and is currently evident in Syria.

Silence is more than tacit approval. It is being accomplice to the slaughter of thousands of decent people, whose only crime is to stand up to Tehran tyrants.

The terrifying truth is out. Now, our elected officials and international players cannot pretend that they do not know. The world should be haunted by the memory of Srebrenica. Camp Ashraf is a Srebrenica in the making and the world has a duty to act.

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(Lord David Alton of Liverpool, a cross-bench member of the U.K. House of Lords, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.)

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(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.)

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