Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The real conditions at Camp Liberty?

Ashish Kumar Sen (Washington Times) reports  on the assertions by the former human rights chief for UNAMI that conditions at Camp Liberty are as bad as the residents have been saying.

Camp Liberty is a former US military base (often referred to in the press as Camp Hurriyah).  Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister and thug of Iraq, and the US want Iranian dissidents from Camp Ashraf relocated there.

Approximately 3,400 people were at Camp Ashraf when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.  They were Iranian dissidents who were given asylum by Saddam Hussein decades ago.  The US government authorized the US military to negotiate with the residents.  The US military was able to get the residents to agree to disarm and they became protected persons under Geneva and under international law.

Despite that legal status and the the legal obligation on the part of the US government to protect the residents, since Barack Obama has been sworn in as US president, Nouri has ordered not one but two attacks on Camp Ashraf resulting in multiple deaths.  Let's recap.  July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observes that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."

Because of the current administration's contempt for the residents (and the law), US reporters feel they can write whatever they want and don't have to be held to the standards of journalism.  (Among those who made that assumption is a New York Times writer who was publicly rebuked for his 'reporting' on Ashraf by the paper's public editor.)  Reading the press, you're supposed to grasp that the Ashraf residents are 'gross' and have 'cooties' so no one's supposed to treat them like human beings or be concerned when they are targeted, persecuted or attacked.

For months, the claims of Camp Liberty not being fit to be a refugee center have been dismissed in the press.  Bomedra is stating that he resigned from his post after he grasped that UNAMI's purpose was to provide cover for Camp Liberty.  He states that Nouri had no respect for international human rights standards and that raising that reality to the UN Secretary-General's Special Enovy in Iraq Martin Kobler resulted in ridicule.  He also states Kobler "misled [the U.N.] headquarters in New York" regarding Camp Liberty.

Kobler most recently provided public testimony to the United Nations Security Council on July 19th.  This is what he said on the topic of Camp Ashraf:

UN Special Envoy Martin Kobler:  Finally, Mr. President, I still remain very concerned by the lack of progress in resolving the issue of Camp Ashraf. 2,000 residents of Camp Ashraf have relocated to Camp Hurriyah [Liberty] in the last months.  Approximately 1,200 remain in Camp Ashraf.  The several deadlines set by the government of Iraq have been extended. I thank the government of Iraq for their flexibility in this regard and I appeal to the Iraqi authorities to continue the process to resolve the relocation peacefully. Our committment is strictly humanitarian, to facilitate a voluntary, temporary relocation of residents to Camp Hurriyah as the first step of resettlement to countries outside of Iraq; however, the success of a facilitator depends at least on good will. Their can be no facilitation without constructive and practical dialogue.  We are faced with three main challenges.  First, recent weeks have witnessed difficulties in maintaining dialogue between UNAMI and the residents and between the residents and the government of Iraq reinforcing a perception that the residents lack genuine will to participate in the process faciliated by UNAMI.  Second, responsiblity also falls on the many international supporters.  It is of great importance that they contribute to positively influence the residents' position.  And third, to  date almost no memeber-state has stepped forward to offer resettlement to eligible, former Ashraf residents.  There must be a way out of Hurriyah in the foreseeable future.  Without prospect for resettlement, the ongoing process runs the risk of collapsing.  The tempoary transit location at Camp Hurriyah has the capacity to accomodate the remaining 1,200 residents and meets acceptable humanitarian standards.  Both UNAMI and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] have devoted substantial energy and resources to resolving this issue.  More than 100 staff are dedicated to the project in the meantime.  I appeal to the government of Iraq to be generous -- particularly in terms of humanitarian needs like water and electricity and to avoid violence under any circumstances.  I also appeal to camp residents to abide by Iraqi laws and avoid provocation and violence.  Time is running out to find a sustainable solution.  The government's patience is wearing thin. I would therefore like to echo the Secretary-General and urge Camp Ashraf residents to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities and to relocate from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriyah.  It is also imperative that third countries step forward to accept eligible residents for resettlement as soon as possible without which there can be no durable solution. 

It will be interesting to see how much play the Washington Times story gets.  Some will dismiss it based on the outlet, some will dismiss it based on the official resigning from the UN. 

It's a shame that the residents of Camp Ashraf have been left stranded by the US press which has never felt that the residents had a right to basic human rights or to a fair deal.  That's how the administration was able to get away with ignoring a court order for two years.  Somewhere along the way, the limpid press got the impression that you only had to be fair to those who (a) were just like you or (b) that you liked or wanted to impress.

The following community sites -- plus, Susan's On The Edge, the National Lawyers Guild, OutFM, and The Pacifica Evening News  --  updated last night and this morning:


Despite that fact, Ms. blog and Women's Media Center refuses to cover the women.  While whining -- and, yes, it is whining when you pout that others won't do something you're too lazy to do yourself -- that others aren't fair to women, Ms. and WMC refuse to be fair themselves.  They need to be covering these women.  And that's not one tiny story the way they did on Cynthia McKinney (WMC did) after we shamed and guilted them for weeks in 2008.  I'm not in the mood for it.  If you're also tired of the crap? This petition is calling for the two outlets to cover the two runs. Rebecca started it.  We'll be noting it more in the snapshot today.

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