OpinionIran in the World PressRights Watchdog Accused of Playing Politics

Rights Watchdog Accused of Playing Politics


Intellectual Conservative: A recent report by Human Rights Watch has stirred controversy among experts on both sides of the Atlantic. The 28-page report of the New York-based watchdog titled “No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the MKO Camps,” is devoted to portray alleged mistreatment of dissident members by the People’s Mujaheedin Organsation of Iran, also known as Mujaheedin Khalq (MEK or MKO) in their camp in Iraq. By Nooredin Abedian

Intellectual Conservative

A recent report by Human Rights Watch accuses the MEK of abusing its own, dissident members.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch has stirred controversy among experts on both sides of the Atlantic. The 28-page report of the New York-based watchdog titled “No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the MKO Camps,” is devoted to portray alleged mistreatment of dissident members by the People’s Mujaheedin Organsation of Iran, also known as Mujaheedin Khalq (MEK or MKO) in their camp in Iraq. The MEK stands accused of having kept dissident members in solitary confinement and preventing them from leaving the camp, once they decided to leave the movement.

Critics of the report point to a hasty preparation with political considerations vis a vis the current developments in Iran.

A group of European Parliament members specializing on Iranian politics accused Human Rights Watch of “violating the right of defense, the most basic humanitarian right.” They said the watchdog had to inform the MEK of the allegations prior to publishing its report. “It is an established procedure that all the UN rapporteurs as well as investigators of respectable human rights organizations find themselves obliged to raise the issue with relevant parties and provide them an opportunity to rebuttal.”

Worse than that, the parliamentarians discredit the report as being “distorted and devoid of any legitimacy.” They point to the fact that the report is based solely on telephone interviews with witnesses in Europe, with some interviews dating to less than two weeks before the report was published, confirming the fact that the investigation has not gone through a due process of check and corroboration. The members of the parliamentary group further say that “the Iranian regime and its secret services are the main source of these allegations.”

A similar letter by Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, chairman of a specialized parliamentary committee in the British House of Lords, is even more straightforward. In his letter titled “Iran’s mullahs make a fool of Human Rights Watch,” the committee reminds the watchdog that “judging by the enthusiastic reception of the report by Iran’s state-run media, the endorsement of Iran’s old-time allegations against their principal opponents can only have a negative impact on the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.”

As if providing proof, the opposition group organized a press conference in Paris a few days after the report was published, to display a film smuggled out of the country documenting terrible execution scenes in public, with human rights experts present in the conference expressing surprise at HRW’s change of target in finger pointing the victims, rather than the real rights violators in the country. A number of ex-members of the group provided testimony to the contrary of that stated in the watchdog’s report.

Some fifteen members of both houses of the British Parliament took part in a similar conference held in the House of Commons in London on the same day as the Paris gathering. Two days later, at a press briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, attorneys for the MEK members based in Iraq, their relatives in the United States, and former residents of the MEK camp rejected the HRW report on the MEK, calling it “procedurally flawed and substantively incorrect.”

The HRW report began making political echoes when Newsweek wrote a lengthy article, a day prior to the report’s release, with the lead reading: “A controversial exile movement cited by President George W. Bush as a source of information on Iran’s nuclear ambitions is condemned for psychologically and physically abusing its own members in a new report by the Human Rights Watch.”

Joe Stork, Washington director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa division, added fuel to the fire, commenting in a statement accompanying the report: “The Iranian government has a dreadful record on human rights. But it would be a huge mistake to promote an opposition group that is responsible for serious human rights abuses.”

This clear announcement of choice by an assumed impartial organ did not go unnoticed. Raymond Tanter of Georgetown University, a former White House aide and chairman of the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), a Washington based think-tank, retorted in a position paper on the report: “It is a humongous mistake for a human rights organization to promote the agenda of a rogue regime by taking at face value the claims of its intelligence agents.” According to Professor Tanter, “all of the individuals cited in the HRW’s report are agents of the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Tehran sent most of those interviewed by HRW from Iran to Europe for the purpose of demonizing its main opposition, the MEK.”

Bruce McColm, former executive director of Freedom House, and co-founder of IPC, said: “HRW appears to have fallen for Tehran’s disinformation campaign. Over the past several months, Iran has been aggressively peddling these sources to many groups in Europe, hoping someone would bite.”

The reality that the watchdog did not investigate the facts on the ground is another reason for critics. The MEK points to the fact that its only camp in Iraq has been under US protection for two years. Some 3,800 combatants of the movement are currently staying in the camp as protected persons under the fourth Geneva Convention, which obliges the US to protect them, but does not allow moving them against their will. A Knight Ridder reporter who visited the camp in Mars wrote: “The U.S. military has investigated claims that the Mujahedeen were keeping people in Ashraf against their will, but found no solid evidence.”

A source familiar with the subject said that a good number of letters on the subject keep flowing to the Watchdog’s offices around Europe, with pressure building on the New York’s headquarters. With such protest in just a week by angered experts and witness conferences on the subject popping up in every capital, Human Rights Watch is apparently in troubled waters as far as credibility is concerned.

Nooredin Abedian is an Iranian engineer based in Germany, and a former lecturer at Tehran University. He writes from time to time on Iranian issues and politics.

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