|Geoffrey Robertson QC|
|Tuesday, 28 February 2012 21:04|
Thank you very much mr chairman. It is a privilege to be here and I echo the sentiments in relation to lord Corbett, who was indeed the doughty fighter for civil liberties in this country and abroad.
Let me begin if I may speaking as a judge and human rights lawyer to explain why the members of camp Ashraf deserve protection. There is a long history to this. It goes back to the mujahideen e khalq. Those courageous law and engineering students, they were, back in the 60s who decided that the torture of the shahs police, the wicked SAVAK, had to be resisted and resisted they did at the cost of their own lives. Dozens of them were secretly tried and executed. However, the mujahideen grew among the universities in Iran. They fought for the overthrow of the shah and then found themselves defeated by the ayatollah Khomenei and his desires for an Islamo-facist theocratic state. They fled eventually. They were cut down by the revolutionary guards as they tried to have peaceful protests against the regime. They formed in Paris. Many of them were arrested in Iran and sentenced to long prison terms or they were executed on the spot, but they formed basically around mr Rajavi in Paris and it was until 1986 that the French under the pressure of Iran wrongly in my view and in the view of international law expelled them. The French wanted to curry favour with Iran and they were taken in to Iraq and they built camp Ashraf and of course in 1988 when the Iraq Iran war ended with the ayatollah drinking his cup of poison as he said to sign the truce he had a a vicious idea in mind. He issued a secret fatwa that the mujahideen prisoners would all be executed.
And executed all they were. Death committees of judges, Islamic judges went into the prisons of Iran they asked only one question of these political prisoners: “are you still a mujahideen supporter?” Those who answered yes were taken outside and were hanged they were hanged by cranes, 6 at a time, they were hanged in prison auditoriums, 10 at a time. This was the most barbaric episode since the second world war because the treatment of prisoners, the most vulnerable people in your country, is the acid test of any nations human rights record.
The worst case had been the death marches in Sandekan by the Japanese at the end of the second world war: 1,500 prisoners marched to death. The other awful event was Srebrenica: 7,000 prisoners Muslim men and boys killed by Mladic and *Caridic* (01:01:09). But, they were prisoners for a day they weren’t in prison there wasn’t the situation in Iran where I think over 7,000, certainly 4,000, mujahideen were suddenly taken out and strung up. This was I think the worst crime of the last century the killing of some 7,000 in the Iranian prisons. And it was hushed up. The United Nations turned a blind eye to it. They had a hopeless rapporteur who was meant to look at the matter and didn’t and so that terrible crime against the mujahideen against those struggling against the Khomenei regime was hidden. And sadly I have to say not only was the present supreme leader one of the implementers of the fatwa not only was Rafsanjani his sidekick in charge of the revolutionary guards one of the implementors. I’m sad to say in my report on this matter, I interview dozens of observers eyewitnesses to this event, I am sad to say mr Moussavi was then the prime minister and then was part, although I don’t suggest he was involved in the implementation, but he was part of the apparatus of cover up.
And so, we have that as the background as it were the progenitors the precursors of those who were left in camp Ashraf and since 2000 they have forsworn all armed struggle they signed a decommissioning agreement, gave up there weapons. There has been in no sense other than the wildest imaginations of someone in the US State department are they terrorists. They have built up camp Ashraf millions of pounds of worth of structures this land that was given to them legitimately. They have got libraries, they have got buildings all worth a good deal of money and of course what the present proposal is doing is expropriating them.
So, with that as background lets look at what has happened to the camp Ashraf people over the last few years. They were protected under the Geneva conventions when in 2003 this country, I'll come back to it, but this country along with the United States launched an invasion of Iraq. They were protected because they are refugees. They couldn’t be sent back to Iran because Iran would kill them. This is the hatred that was manifested in 1988 when the mujahideen were strung up. They would be killed as traitors, they would be killed as mohareb, enemies of god, which is the passing of the death sentence in Iran. They were recognised by the united states formerly in 2003 as protected persons under the Geneva conventions and that was when every Ashraf resident signed a written agreement denouncing terrorism and renouncing violence. In return the United States, David Petraeus, promised to protect them until they were finally sorted out. They built their roads, their residential structures, their educational, social and sports facilities in the camp and on the 7 October 2005 the deputy commander of the US coalition forces, thats us thats Britain as well as the United States, complemented the residents on I quote “working together in the spirit of common humanitarianism” and he confirmed the coalition, thats us as well as America, right to be protected from violence and their right as refugees not to be, what we lawyers call re-fouled, that is to be sent to a country that would persecute them, be sent back to Iran.
So, their safety seemed assured and it seemed particularly assured after the PMOI revealed to the world, enormous service to the international community, revealed the secret plans of the ayatollahs to build in Natanz, where they were building their nuclear structure, their secret nuclear structure. That was revealed by the PMOI and of course they deepened the hatred of the PMOI by the Iranian regime. Now, it all seemed fine until the Americans got scared and decided to pull out their troops from Iraq and that began in 2008 and that was the first time the Iraqi government the lightbulb shone. They realised, no doubt encouraged by Iran, that they would get camp Ashraf because they told the Americans the PMOI was a terrorist organisation. That was when general Petraeus said no they are protected persons and well defend them, but al Maliki and I quote “I am determined to put an end to the PMOI”. And as soon as the US combat forces had left he ordered the wicked attack on the camp in 2009. In July 2009, the American army watched, because by then their combat forces were out they were mearly observers, as the Iraqis under the prime ministers order attacked the camp. It killed 11 residents: 6 were shot, 5 beaten to death. Hundreds were wounded and this was I suspect an attempt to terrorise the residents into leaving voluntarily, but of course it steeled their purpose to remain.
And so, of course al Maliki ever since has continued a siege at camp Ashraf denying food and medicine. In 2011 the Iranians stepped up their demands to get rid of the camp and the people when the last US observation post at camp Grizzly was left al Maliki ordered another murderous assault and in April of last year 35 were left dead and hundreds injured by gunshot and shrapnel wounds. And, what did Iran do it congratulated Iraq on this positive stance that strengthens mutual relations. A stance that was positive because it included killing so many innocent people.
Of course, there was an international outcry the commissioner for human rights deplored the killings, demanded that al Maliki set up an inquiry, which of course he promised to do but of course he’s a liar and never did.
So, the White House said oh we are deeply troubled by these casualties, but not troubled enough to do anything positive and now the deadline. At least the support of people like yourselves and the international community has forced the Iraqis to move back until April their deadline for destroying the camp without compensation and I must say the first point I make as a lawyer that this is unlawful you cannot deny people you can expropriate people property. Iraq lets face it, and I think some of the opinions have gone around are not quite right, in international law a sovereign state as Iraq is can expropriate property but it has got to pay reasonable compensation and no one has taken up the point that you cannot close down camp Ashraf lawfully without paying that compensation but money is not the immediate issue. It is the treatment, the continuing vulnerability of the people of camp Ashraf as they get transferred to this un-sewered broken down concentration camp called Liberty.
That is one of the serious situations that we face today. The conduct of various elements of this matrix of so called protection is not very satisfactory the United Nations itself has adopted what is called the responsibility to protect, R2P, principle that it will step in and stop a government that is committing crimes against humanity against people within its sovereign area. Well, crimes against humanity involve widespread and systematic acts of killing, persecution and other inhumane acts and [that is] what has been going on to the residents of camp Ashraf at the responsibility of the Iraqi government ever since the American combat forces left since the killings began in 2009, but an ongoing crime against humanity. There were killings in 2009, killings in 2011, constant inhumane acts which have now dwindled, but nonetheless are still clearly persecutory. You can only read the experiences of going into camp Liberty and understand that what is happening to the residents is a constant persecution, humiliation. They are met at camp liberty by the very Iraqi general who ordered the shootings in 2009 and 2011. They are subject to a barrage of insults, many of them incidentally being Iranian style insults. They are being called hypocrites. That peculiar word that ayatollah Khomenei back in 1981 invented for them. Syncretic mix of Marxism and Islam, they are hypocrites so this word that tightened the noose around the necks of the those courageous young mujahideen e khalq in 1988 is being thrown at the residents camp Ashraf as they enter concentration camp Liberty.
This is unsatisfactory. The United Nations has a duty. It is a duty that is not being carried out either by the UN force there or ambassador Kobler who seems to have caved in to Iraqi demands far more readily than he should and seems particularly open to criticism for his failure to consult the representatives of camp Ashraf. I think that is a serious failure and I think there must be an answer to the issued question who inspected camp Liberty? It was obviously unfit for purpose. It was obviously an inhumane place to coop people up and there must be, if he was responsible for that and then telling the people of camp ashraf you are going to this place that has the UN stamp of approval its been certified then there must be, an inquiry.
So, I think the UN refugee agency, I hate criticising them because they have such a difficult job to do, but I think in this case they have made, and professor Goodwin Gill thinks so as well and he is the world expert on refugee law, I think they have got the law wrong. These people are obviously refugees. 3,400 of them, because if they go back to Iran they will be executed and persecuted. We all know that, everyone knows that. So, why aren't they being certified in that way? Well, the UN refugees agency says “well ah but they’ve engaged in armed opposition before so we cant certify them as it were a job lot, as a group, we cant even go to camp Ashraf to interview them there. We’ve got to take them away to some independent place like camp Liberty and interview them there.” And this is not done with other groups. This is a special harsh decision. I mean these people should have all been interview in camp Ashraf over the last few months and given refugee status. It seems that the UN refugee agency has given them special treatment and especially prejudice treatment and so I think there is criticism there. The refugee agency has deliberately stalled on and put at risk their lives by refusing to give them their refugee status interview in camp Ashraf.
But, I come back to this: it's the Obama administration that has given a free kick to the enemies of camp Ashraf by the failure to lift the designation of terrorist on its people. Now this designation was subject to court challenge in Britain and the high court described it as perverse. That was the language of the English court. It is perverse to say that camp Ashraf people are terrorists. In Europe, again, the designation was lifted, but in America under section 219 of the immigration and nationality act this designation some years ago was imposed. Now, 18 month ago a US court ordered the state department, ordered Hilary Clinton to reconsider because the designation had been made without, what the Americans call, due process. It's the failure even today they have had 18 months to review the designation and they haven’t and it gives a free kick to the Iranians who say “they are terrorists get them out camp Ashraf is 18 miles from the border we don’t want terrorists on our doorstep.” It gives a free kick to al Maliki who says “of course we can put these people in a prison they are terrorists” and it is all the fault of the US State department, which for some extraordinary reason that no-one can understand has not lifted that designation. It is a bogus excuse to deny the people of Ashraf their rights.
Finally let me say this. 4,000 American soldiers and hundreds of British soldiers died in the course right or wrong of liberating Iraq from Saddam’s oppression .It is galling to see that his successor is behaving with comparable brutality. Iraq is now thanks to us a sovereign state and it is entitled to expropriate after paying compensation, but it has a duty in international law to protect these refugees and offer them safe passage out of Iraq voiding Iran to places that will take them. Who should take them? Obviously the French have got a very serious duty they expelled them in the first place back in ‘86 wrongfully under Iranian pressure. Let the French take some. What about us? What about Britain? We produced this situation.
We produced this situation we went into an unlawful law with America that led to mr al Maliki. We are partly responsible and so we too we should take them as should America, only 3400. Until that is arranged then the camp Ashraf residents require international protection. The regime that killed so many of them in 1988 is still in place with the exception of, of course, the ayatollah. and I have to say that the greatest objection to Iran the nuclear power is the fact that its already granted itself impunity for mass murder and it may mass murder again. The residents of camp Ashraf deserve protection.
Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites