As the disturbing events of 8 April, 2011 in Iraq’s Camp Ashraf unfold, more than ever the effectiveness of international conventions established after World War II to ensure the troubling events of that era do not repeat, go under a huge test. Should anyone under any circumstances, ever again trust such safeguards? The fate of the Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf will determine the answer once and for all.
While dialogues were ongoing on April 8 to reach a new security treaty between Iraq and the United States, Iraqi military forces stationed at Camp Ashraf in 2009 to protect the refugees initiated a deadly assault. The attack cost the lives of 35 innocent civilian residents. Most victims were directly shot in their heads or chests or were run over by heavy armored vehicles. More than 350 were wounded; some remain in critical condition.
Camp Ashraf is comprised of more than 3,400 Iranian dissidents, many of whom have taken refuge in that city for nearly three decades, fleeing the atrocities of the Ayatollahs. Ashraf has always been a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime.
Disarmed after the Iraq war, Ashraf residents went under the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention as “Protected Persons” because they were not a party to the war. Under this protection, which was guaranteed by the United States and United Nations, any aggression against camp residents would be considered a “War Crime.”
Ashraf residents received the status due to the conditions they fell under as the result of Iraq war. Those conditions were never resolved, and no resolution was ever provided to the residents. Therefore, no party can unilaterally declare their status to be null. As far as camp residents and any international law is concerned, they continue to be “Protected Persons.”
After declaration of status for each and every one of Ashraf residents, the camp went under protection of the United States. That was until 2009 when Americans following the State of Forces Agreement (SOFA), began to relinquish military responsibilities to the Iraqi army.
When Ashraf responsibility was being handed over to Iraqi army, residents were wary of the consequences since they knew how close Nuri al-Maliki was to the Iranian Ayatollahs. Nevertheless, following written assurances that the rights of Ashraf residents would be respected, the responsibility for their safety fell into the hands of the Iraqi army. That commitment has been systematically violated over and over by the Iraqi forces, strengthening the views of those who warned the U.S. that Nouri al-Maliki’s government should not be trusted.
Back in July 2009, the Iraqi “protecting” forces at Camp Ashraf attacked the unarmed residents, killing 11 and wounding over 500. They also took 36 residents hostage. Winning the hostages’ freedom and transferring them back to the camp took an international campaign and hunger strikes in many cities across Europe and the United States by Iranian dissidents and refugees.
The recent attack on Camp Ashraf, which was correctly termed by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, to be a “massacre,” calls for the United Nations to step in and take the responsibility of Ashraf, foremost to protect the credibility of international norms and safeguards. Promises of protection to those who trust the international community and put their lives and safety in its hands should never be broken.
Regarding Camp Ashraf, the possibility of another attack still looms. Lack of action by United States, the European Union, and the United Nations will not be forgiven. Enough advance warning has been issued. Another disaster could be in the making. The Iraqi forces are still present inside the camp, and there is nothing stopping them from committing another massacre.