The phone kept ringing non-stop in the early hours of April 8 last year. On the other end of the line was an Iranian friend I have known for years. It was very unusual for him to call that early in the morning. In a broken voice and as he was sobbing, he informed me Camp Ashraf had been attacked by the Iraqi armed forces. I knew right away this would be a human rights disaster.
As a human rights activist who has monitored situations across the world, I have closel followed the ordeal regarding the residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, home to thousands of members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the principal Iranian opposition movement.
In November 2008, I was among the last group of international observers who could visit Camp Ashraf. In January 2009, the U.S. handed over the protection of Ashraf to the government of Iraq.
On April 8, 2011, as the Iraqi government started to shoot Ashraf residents at the behest of Tehran, my worst fears became reality, as 36 defenseless residents, including 8 women, were shot to death at close
range or were crushed to death by the Iraqi armed forces. Hundreds were severely wounded.
Later, the Iraqi government set the arbitrary deadline of 2011 to close Camp Ashraf, but as a result of a massive international campaign, the deadline was postponed.
Subsequent to signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.N. and the Iraqi government on December 25, and after Secretary Hillary Clinton and the U.N. committed to guarantee the safety and welfare of Ashraf residents, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the National Council of the Iranian Resistance, agreed for the residents to move to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base in Baghdad where they would be interviewed by the UNHCR as a prerequisite of their transfer to third countries.
So far, 1,200 of the residents have moved to Camp Liberty, while the government of Iraq at the behest of Tehran is trying to turn the camp into a prison. Ashraf residents have forsaken a lot of their rights and shown great sacrifice by accepting to go to Camp Liberty, despite all the shortcomings and profound deficiencies. They showed their commitment to their part of the agreement, even though they were fully aware that they would be deprived of their most rudimentary rights.
Next week, when the U.N. Security Council will receive a report on the state of affairs from the Secretary General's Special Representative in Iraq, Ambassador Martin Kobler. It is high time the plight of Iranian dissidents be put in the spotlight.
The UN should ensure that the conditions at Camp Liberty meet minimum humanitarian standards, which it currently lacks.
The U.S. should continue with its commitments to them, and the UN Security Council should demand that the Iraqi government respect the rights of the residents in practice. The U.N. refugee agency should expedite the process of interviewing them and relocating them to third countries.
A year after the massacre in Ashraf, the world should be more vigilant towards Iranian dissidents and their cry for freedom, which are a reflection of the call from millions in Iran.