The last days of 2011 ended with a good humanitarian news; in theory at least. The case in point was the fate of 3300 defenseless Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
The dissidents are members of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), the principal Iranian opposition movement. They remained neutral during the US-led invasion of Iraq, and subsequently voluntarily disarmed to the U.S. forces. In return, the US in a written agreement with every resident in 2004, guaranteed their protection until their final disposition.
The Iranian regime in great fear of Arab Spring and growing international isolation, is intent on obliterating its arch opponents through its proxy Iraqi government. In two deadly attacks in 2009 and April 2011, the Iraqi armed forces killed 47 of the defenseless residents and wounded more than 1000. The Iraqi government had vowed to close down the Camp by the end of 2011, rising alarms about another possible humanitarian catastrophe.
Ashraf, as it is called by its residents, is actually a vibrant city with parks, sport complexes, museums, libraries, clinics, and concert halls built from barren piece of land by the Iranian dissidents in the past 25 years.
In the final days of December, in what was described by Alan Dershowitz, the renowned human rights advocate and international lawyer, "the success of an exemplary case of preventive human rights advocacy" a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the UN and the Government of Iraq on Ashraf.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the UN gave their assurances to the residents, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the charismatic leader of the Ashraf residents agreed in principle to their transfer to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military Camp near Baghdad airport. There the UN refugee agency could interview the residents and reaffirm their refugee status so they could relocate in third countries.
Mrs. Rajavi announced that 400 of the residents are ready to go with their moveable belongings and vehicles to Camp Liberty as a test of Iraq's good will. Yet Iraq once again has begun creating obstructions and the whole thing has been stalled.
As Governor Ed Rendell, the former Chairman of the U.S. Democratic Party said in a major intentional conference on Ashraf in Paris on January 6, "there is no doubt, not one scintilla, not one iota of doubt, that the United States has a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that the residents of Camp Ashraf are protected in every way until each and every one of them is relocated on foreign soil."
So as Tehran is trying to derail the negotiated settlement and turn Camp Liberty into a Prison for Ashraf residents through its Iraqi proxies, it is time for the U.S. and the U.N. to use the two words they have not used in dealing with the government of Iraq in reaching this agreement: "WHY", and "NO." If the U.S. and UN had shown spine and used the two key words, things would have been much better.
The first question that should have been asked was why relocating out of Camp Ashraf at all? Why? What harm was being done to the Iraqi government by having these 3,400 people live peacefully, controlling their own destiny, paying for their own expenses, living peacefully, endangering and threatening no one in this camp?
Another reasonable question is why couldn't the UNHCR have done its work in Camp Ashraf? For what possible reason was relocation necessary? If the Iraqis are honest that they want Ashraf residents out of Iraq and there is no hidden agenda, why couldn't it have been done in Camp Ashraf?
But it seems Iraq had a different objective; a hidden one dictated by Tehran tyrants to turn Camp Liberty into a make-shift prison. While Camp Liberty was promised to Ashraf residents, Iraq has been reducing the area for the residents from a 40-kilometer base to a less than one kilometer base, surrounded by pre-fabricated 3-4 meters high concert walls. Iraq is even prohibiting the residents to take their vehicles and moveable properties to Liberty.
And getting no good answer, why didn't the U.S. and UN just have a little backbone and say, "No, they're staying in Camp Ashraf until the relocation process is done." It is time for the UN and the U.S. to show an encore and use the words "Why?" and "NO." And if Iraq does not provide good answers, they should use the word "no" to relocation.
As Governor Rendell put it on 6 January, "We have to stand behind the residents when they say, "No, we're not going to a place that doesn't have adequate facilities. We're not going to a place that is a de facto prison camp. We're not going to a place where it means we're losing our personal assets and millions of dollars of personal property."
After all, as Ambassador John Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN said in the same conference, it should be clear to the UN that their "principal responsibility is not making the government of Iraq happy, it's protecting the residents of Camp Ashraf."
By doing so, the good humanitarian news of 2011, would turn from words into deeds.
Baroness Turner of Camden was Deputy Speaker of the British House of Lords until 2008 and she is currently a ranking member of British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.