By Hamid Yazdan Panah
Major concerns remain for Iran asylum seekers trapped in Iraq. As many as 3,000 Iranian asylum seekers residing in Camp Liberty are facing inhumane conditions and abusive treatment at the hands of the Iraqi government, while the United Nations and the international community turns a blind eye. This past week Professor Jean Ziegler, member of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, went on record to state that the United Nations has “a moral and legal obligation” to protect members of the main Iranian opposition group facing persecution in Iraq.
The residents in Camp Liberty, are members of Iran’s principal opposition group known as the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI or MEK). The dissidents have resided in Iraq for 25 years, in a modern town known as Camp Ashraf to the north of Baghdad. The United States had protected the camp from 2003 until 2009 when it surrendered control of the Camp to Iraqi forces following the Status of Forces Agreement. Every resident in the Camp was screened by several US agencies and cleared of any crimes or connection to terrorism before receiving status as protected persons under the 4th Geneva Convention.
In his comments Ziegler noted, “Camp Ashraf is a refugee camp protected by international law where men and women of the Iranian Resistance resided under protection of international law. The people of Ashraf accepted voluntarily to move to Camp Liberty under the control of the United Nations. When they came to Camp Liberty where they are today, there were no conditions for dignified, peaceful, protected people living. There were two murderous attacks against Camp Liberty. There is still a permanent danger against the inhabitants of Camp Liberty who are freedom fighters, who are not terrorists, who are just people who give an example of democratic and peaceful resistance to a terrorist regime in Tehran.”
Ziegler’s comments about the conditions of Camp Liberty are backed by damning report published by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, describing the living condition in Liberty as falling below the standards and principles of international human rights law; specifically violating article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ziegler urged the UN to take action on the matter, and reiterated the obligation they had to protect the residents in Camp Liberty. “We think – and I am speaking now as a member of the Advisory Board of the Human Rights Council for myself and colleagues who signed the appeal of the National Council of Resistance of Iran – we from the human rights mechanism here in Geneva have the obligation to protect Camp Liberty.”
The words of Mr. Ziegler should be matched by decisive action by the United Nations and the international community in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe from taking place in Camp Liberty. The United Nations has an obligation to these residents under international law, particularly in light of their role in transferring the residents to this location. The UN must now act to ensure the safety and security of the residents of Camp Liberty.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney, writer and human rights activist from the San Francisco Bay Area.