Time to take the necessary steps to secure the safety of the population of Camp Ashraf/Liberty

SRSG Kobler made it his priority to assist the Government of Iraq to close down Camp Ashraf where about 3400 Iranian exiles lived for the last 27 years and transfer them to a former U.S. Army base (Camp Liberty) at Baghdad Airport where they would be awaiting departure from Iraq. To do so, SRSG Kobler signed on December 25, 2011 a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Iraq setting conditions for their relocation and for the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees to undertake their refugee status determination process as a first step for settling them outside Iraq.

The SRSG promised the population of Camp Ashraf that their relocation to Camp Liberty is to ensure their safety and security. The UNHCR made it a condition that the RSD process takes place in a neutral and safe location outside Camp Ashraf.  While the MOU had other undeclared cynical objectives, the residents of Ashraf were lured into Camp Liberty with the false promise that the latter Camp provides safety and security and meets international standards. UNHCR promised a period of six months to deliver and start resettling the resident in third countries. I had repeatedly warned that Camp Liberty is neither safe nor secure nor meeting the applicable international humanitarian standards including the UN guidelines on the process applicable to forcible eviction. I also warned that the resettlement process will last for decades and the Government of Iraq publicly warned that they will not allow a de facto settlement in Iraq and that they will remove them by “all means.”

My warnings went unheeded. Camp Liberty quickly proved its humanitarian and security limits. It turned into a detention center, some called it a “killing field”, with a population facing deprivations and daily harassment and a ban on all visits of actors that would bring the matter to the attention of the international community in an independent manner. NGOs, independent media, parliamentarians, including Iraqi parliamentarians, diplomats and representatives of other UN agencies separately from UNAMI are prevented from reaching the camp. The residents of Liberty are deprived of the most fundamental rights, such as access to justice and freedom of movement. Even burying the dead has proved to be a serious challenge to the Liberty residents contrary to the Islamic teaching. The daily harassments of the residents soon turned into armed attacks against them. They were showered with war missiles on February 9th,  April 28th and June 15th of this year, from a nearby location known to have a heavy presence of the Iraqi army. Eleven people were killed and scores of them were injured. UNAMI hardly condemned the attack. Instead, the SRSG called on the residents’ representatives to allow the residents more freedom to communicate. Could one enjoy freedom of communication if deprived of his/her freedom of movement, freedom to meet lawyers, NGOs, parliamentarians? What does freedom of communication mean to a population forcibly placed in a detention center without the due process of law?

As the situation stands today, Camp Liberty residents are locked up in a detention center lacking minimum security requirements and the minimum humanitarian conditions. They stand exposed to serious and imminent danger. If nothing is done to rescue them from this situation, no doubt there will be more rocket attacks against them, there will be more loss of life and lot of pain to the residents and their families.

Camp Liberty today is a real case where the responsibility to protect is most needed and most appropriate. It does not need any complex and costly operation. All it needs is to declare the Camp a prima facie refugee Camp and request the Government of Iraq to effectively ensure their safety, security and dignity while the UNHCR continues its effort in view of resettling them outside Iraq. The contribution of the international community to resettle this small population will go into history as an opportunity where UN member states lived up to their commitments and upheld the core values of the UN Charter. Any further attacks against this defenseless population will seriously undermine the integrity and credibility of the United Nations and its member states who took the responsibility of placing them at Camp Liberty.

Boumedra was chief of the Human Rights Office of United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Camp Ashraf affairs from 2009 until 2012.