The Camp Ashraf Massacres: A Failure to Protect

December 20, 2013 4:05 pm 6 comments

The entrance gate of Ashraf City. Photo: Wikipedia.

In a recent encounter I had in Paris with families of those murdered at Camp Ashraf on September 1 the cri de coeur related not only to the horror of the massacre, and the continuing plight of the survivors, but also to the silence of the international community in the wake of such atrocity.

In the early hours of September 1, 2013, approximately 120 heavily armed and uniformed attackers launched a brutal assault against the 101 residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, all of whom enjoy the status of “asylum-seekers” and “protected persons” under international law. In a coordinated military-style attack, 52 unarmed and defenseless Iranian refugees were killed execution-style with armor-piercing bullets, pistols, and explosives and 7 persons, including 6 women, have been disappeared – all 7 remain unaccounted for at this time.

Indeed, there is credible evidence indicating Iraqi culpability, carried out at the behest of high level Iranian officials. 1200 Iraqi soldiers and police officers had been permanently stationed both inside and around the fortified compound, while U.S. intelligence officials have recently concluded that a small number of IRGC commandos were involved in the planning and implementation of the massacre.

The international community has a clear legal obligation to ensure that the safety and security of the more than 3000 Iranian dissident refugees currently residing in Iraq is guaranteed going forward, that the 7 missing hostages are accounted for and their freedom secured, and that the perpetrators of this attack are identified and brought to justice.

Prior to the September 1 massacre, Camp Ashraf was home to 101 asylum-seekers belonging to the pro-democracy Iranian resistance organization Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). For more than two decades, approximately 3400 of these pro-democracy political dissidents – almost all of whom are Iranian nationals – lawfully resided in Iraq but would likely be exposed to persecution, torture, and execution if returned to Iran, where membership in the group is a death-penalty offense.

It should also be recalled that less than two weeks after the September 1 massacre of 52 of these Ashraf residents, the Iraqi Government transferred the 42 remaining survivors to Camp Liberty in Iraq to join their 3100 compatriots now residing there. But this facility is characterized by a paucity of potable water and electricity; unreliable access to medical treatment; inadequate protection from the extreme Iraqi heat; a dysfunctional sewage system; and a dearth of accommodations for the disabled. Moreover, the Residents remain vulnerable to repeated attacks while being undermined at every turn by the Iraqi Government in their efforts to obtain and maintain sufficient security infrastructure.

Let there be no mistake about it: the September 1 massacre was not only predictable – five separate attacks against these protected refugees have occurred since 2009 both at Camps Ashraf and Liberty – but it was also preventable.

For the mass murder of the Ashraf residents was only the most recent – and most lethal – of the five attacks that have together claimed 112 lives and injured more than four-hundred. Indeed, two of these prior attacks were acknowledged to have been directly carried out by Iraqi security forces.

Two years ago, I sought to sound the alarm on the ongoing harassment and intimidation being perpetrated by the Government of Iraq against the defenseless Ashraf refugees and warned about a prospective massacre or forced transfer back to Iran. It is regrettable that my warnings – and these warnings of others across the political spectrum – were not acted upon.

Indeed, this latest massacre was occasioned by the international community’s inaction and indifference in the face of prior attacks, which signalled to both the Iranian regime – and to Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki – that the international community will stand aside while crimes against humanity are committed against these defenseless dissidents.

Accordingly, the following initiatives are necessary to avert any further atrocities, while holding the perpetrators accountable:

First, Canada and the United States should demand the immediate and safe return of the 7 missing hostages to Camp Liberty. Indeed, the evidence indicates that the hostages are in the custody of Iraqi authorities who bear responsibility for ensuring that their rights as protected persons are respected and secured and that they are not returned to Iran.

Second, Canada and the United States should champion the case and cause of these Camp Liberty protected persons – and in particular that of the missing hostages – within the U.N. system. In this regard, the international community should work to achieve a permanent UN presence inside Camp Liberty to monitor the situation and to ensure the physical security of the camp residents.

Third, the United Nations must immediately mount an independent and impartial investigation – including a commission of inquiry – to further investigate the facts surrounding the September 1 massacre. Canada, the United States, and the international community must fully support such an investigation so that its findings will be effectively and quickly acted upon. Indeed, such an investigation is urgent, as 18 Iranian Qods Force and Ministry of Intelligence agents were dispatched to Ashraf this week to cover up evidence of the September massacre and the related hostage-taking, in coordination with Prime Minister Maliki and his National Security Advisor.

Fourth, it is crucial therefore that the United Nations take immediate investigative action so as to preserve the evidence of this mass atrocity crime, so that the Iraqi and Iranian governments can be held to account, thereby combatting the culture of impunity that continues to prevail.

Fifth, Canada and the United States should take a leadership role in response to the refugee crisis and should consider admitting some number of the Camp Liberty residents on an expedited basis. While the UNHCR has been working to process the residents’ asylum claims, it has been impeded in its efforts by the Iraqi Government.

Finally, Canada and the United States should urge the UNHCR, which has been processing the residents’ asylum claims, to expedite their resettlement by processing their asylum applications as a group.

The Ashraf massacre is but the latest manifestation of an ongoing legal, political, and humanitarian crisis that must be addressed and resolved. The continuing denial of humane living conditions and basic necessities to the Camp Liberty residents, their exposure to repeated mass attacks, their inability to leave, and the absence of a safe haven violate their rights as asylum-seekers and protected persons under international law. The international community must send a clear message that it will protect these long-suffering pro-democracy dissidents – hostages to human rights violating regimes – and ensure that no massacres will ensue and that there safety and well-being is secured.

Irwin Cotler is a Member of the Canadian Parliament, Emeritus Professor of Law (McGill University), and the former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada. He is co-Chair with Senator Mark Kirk of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and a Member of the Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.

6 Comments

  • Excellently written and tragic. Ironic that the U.N.’s mania of focusing on Israel’s inhuman treatment of Arabs is really their own!! And is costing human (in this case Arab) lives. And it takes a Jew to arouse their conscience. That is why people hate us! The ONLY solution is Moshiach NOW

  • Iraq is the country where American soldiers died in order to eliminate the atrocities of Saddam Hussein.

    Iran is the country developing nuclear bombs and that the major countries in the world are now engaging with to Iran’s satisfaction to halt such potentially devastating development.

    Israel is the country that has been threatened with annihilation by Iran and most of the Moslem world, and whose past history has convinced it that Moslem assurances are worthless. It insists on a total halt to Iran’s nuclear development.

  • It is a disgrace, Where is the UN. Hiding their faces. United for the Nations, What a joke. We should be ashamed for putting up with their gutless ways. Come quickly LORD JESUS.

  • United Nations impartial investigation. Isn’t that a blatant oxymoron?

  • Muslims have been killing other Muslims for 1,400 years.That’s a fact.
    How will you stop the Muslim sectarian violence against Sunni vs Shia and Shia vs Sunni, if Muhammad supposedly and Allah approve of Muslims killing hypocrites and disbelievers within Islam ?
    Sunnis believe that Shia aren’t true Muslims and Shia believe that Sunni aren’t true Muslims?
    Notice the inherent islamic pathology?

  • Hamid Taherzadeh

    Dear Prof. Cotler,
    Words fail me to express my utmost heartfelt gratitude to you for this great article. As you have rightly mentioned the disgraceful silence on the part of International Community has emboldened the Iraqi and the Mullahs’ regime to resort to such incredible atrocities. President Obama and his State Dept are full responsible in the wake of such killings. Where are UN Council of Human Rights and other humanitarian organisations to deal with this catastrophic inhumane situation of prison like Liberty Camp!?
    Thanks for your efforts to throw some light on the conscious of the people

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    Retreat Gives Young Artists New Platform to Engage With Jewish Ideas

    JNS.org – Many young Jewish artists struggle to define who they are personally, artistically, and religiously. Against the backdrop of that struggle, the recent Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat provided a space for some 70 young Jewish artists to explore Jewish ideas, to build community and a culture of reciprocity, and to learn skills to assist their career development. “We are trying to encourage and excite people to engage in Jewish themes,” says Rebecca Guber, director of Asylum Arts. [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    Darren Aronofsky Adds Psychological Depth, Little Else to ‘Noah’

    JNS.org – Has the era of large-scale biblical epics returned? Not since “The Ten Commandments” has there been so much torrential water on the big screen (not counting weather-related disaster films such as “The Impossible”) than in “Noah,” the latest blockbuster from writer and director Darren Aronofsky. “Noah” takes the traditional tale and splices it in an eco-friendly and psychologically driven plot. After Adam and Eve got booted out of the Garden of Eden and after Cain killed Abel, mankind [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.