US and UN fail to uphold International obligations towards Iran refugeesPublished by International Liberty on February 23, 2016
By Hamid Yazdan Panah – The Hill
A deadly rocket attack targeted Iranian dissidents housed in a facility known as Camp Liberty, outside of the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. According to reports, as many as 80 missiles were fired into Camp Liberty Thursday evening, leaving as many as 23 camp residents, dead and dozens injured.
The camp is home to more than 2,200 members of the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). The dissidents were resettled in Camp Liberty under an agreement between the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq and the Iraqi government, guaranteeing their protection.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres condemned the attack and stated: “Every effort must continue to be made for the injured and to identify and bring to account those responsible.”
This is the fourth attack against camp members since 2013, despite repeated and ongoing calls for their protection and resettlement. Previous attacks against the PMOI in Iraq since 2009 have left more than 116 dead, despite the fact that residents had turned over their means of self- defense to the United States in exchange for protection under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The PMOI has maintained a presence in Iraq for more than two decades, with its primary base of operations located in Camp Ashraf in the Diyala province. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States, the camp and its residents fell under American control. The United States undertook security of the camp and its residents, assuring them ‘protected persons’ status under the Fourth Geneva Convention in exchange for their disarmament.
However the United States has seemingly failed to uphold their duty under international law, as evidenced by the deaths of more than 100 PMOI members at the hands of the Iraqi army and pro-Iranian militias.
The United States transferred the protection of Camp Ashraf to Iraqi forces in 2009, and claimed that the Protected Person status ended in 2009. However the U.S. maintained a presence in Iraq and the Camp during two deadly raids by the Iraqi army in 2009 and 2011, raising questions as to its duties in the country.
Article 45 of the 4th Geneva Convention explicitly states that if transferred individuals are mistreated, “ …the Power by which the protected persons were transferred shall, upon being so notified by the Protecting Power, take effective measures to correct the situation or shall request the return of the protected persons. Such request must be complied with.”
This article provides clear authority for the United States to reassert protection over the residents of Camp Ashraf, particularly after several deadly raids were carried out by the Iraqi army.
Article 45 also notes that, “In no circumstances shall a protected person be transferred to a country where he or she may have reason to fear persecution for his or her political opinions or religious beliefs.” The fact that Ashraf residents have been targeted for their political beliefs has been demonstrated beyond doubt.
This transfer may also have been a violation of the Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture, which prohibits the transfer of individuals to a situation: “where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture,”as well as the as well as the principle of non-refoulement.
There is ample evidence demonstrating that the U.S. knew just how volatile the situation could become. A WikiLeaks cable identified by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism at City University in London shows the US was aware that the Iraqi government planned to crack down on Ashraf, with potentially grave humanitarian consequences.
While the Secretary of State was quick to “strongly condemn the brutal and senseless terrorist attack,” action is needed instead of words. Not even one person has been held to account in the six previous attacks, which were launched either by Iraqi security forces or with the complicity of the Iraqi government. What is strikingly clear is the failure of the
United States and the United Nations to uphold international law and their duty to protect these refugees.
Panah is an Iranian-American human rights activist and attorney focused on immigration and asylum in the San Francisco Bay area.