Recently, a small group of Iranian Mujahideen demonstrated outside the European Council’s building in Brussels. They are calling for the EU to grant them practical help to resolve the plight of more than 3000 of Mujahideen members and their families who are under siege in ‘Camp Ashraf’ in eastern Iraq.
Several thousand Mujahideen fighters left Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 to side with President Saddam Hussein in his bid to topple the Islamic government of Iran. They were fully armed, had the support of Saddam’s army and successfully attacked a number of cities and villages in the western part of Iran before they were pushed back by the Revolutionary Guards. Their role in fighting the Iranian regime effectively ended with the allies attack against Iraq in 2003 and the collapse of Saddam’s regime. Now the new Iraqi government wants them out of Iraq by the end of December, and to show that they are serious, the Iraqi security forces attacked ‘Camp Ashraf in April 2011, killing a number of Mujahideen members.
The sticking points
Abloqasem Rezaii, a representative of the political wing of the Mujahideen, the National Resistance Council, told me that their main demand from the EU is to speed up the process of evacuating the Mujahideen out of Iraq:
“We have gathered here today to ask the EU to intervene in the ongoing situation at Camp Ashraf and secure the safety of its residents. During his visit to Iraq, Mr. Stevenson (a Scottish MEP) came up with a plan that has since been accepted by the residents of the Camp, and Mrs. Rajavi (the leader of the Mujahideen)”.
According to Stevenson’s plan the residents of the Camp should be granted refugee status in a third country (other than Iran) by the end of December this year. The National Council of Resistance, however, has said that any such process is subjected to the normalisation of life in the camp.
NCR’s representative denies that there is a deadline for the Mujahideen to leave Iraq.
“There is no such deadline. Mr. Stevenson’s plan is for the situation in the Camp to become normal again. The EU should oversee this. Then, European countries or the US or Australia must accept the residents of the Camp on their soil. There is no deadline for it and it all depends on the relevant process.”
The responsibility for the safety of the residents of such camps is the host country’s. However in this particular case, international law gives Iraq the right to ask foreign nationals who do not hold refugee status to leave its soil.
Stevenson’s plan does not include finding another camp for the Mujahideen in Iraq or changing their status to ‘refugee’. In a conversation with euronews, Struan Stevenson, MEP, said that he had been in intense negotiations with the NCR’s leadership in Paris to try to find a solution that would be acceptable to the organization:
“I had a five-hour meeting with the NCR in Paris. I told them that they had to wash their hands of Camp Ashraf. It is true that most of the residents have lived there for 30-odd years, but the Iraqi government will evacuate them from the camp by the end of the year and it would be too late by then to try to rescue 3,400 individuals from the camp. They (the NCR) eventually and reluctantly accepted that we enter into negotiations with the government of Iraq in the hope of finding a solution to Ashraf.”
In the meantime, the EU has stepped in to try to find a solution to the Mujahideen issue. In May Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security, said that she had told the Iraqi foreign minister that while Iraq has sovereignty over all its territory, it also has a duty to observe human rights in Camp Ashraf . Ashton added that all necessary measures to solve the problem would be taken through the European parliament.
But what if the Iraqi government finds the EU suggestions unacceptable?
Struan Stevenson says:
“We in the EU are in a position to expect certain things from Iraq. We have given this government more than 1.2 billion euros and if the Iraqis want us to help them resolve this crisis, they have to respect human rights in their country. If Iraq wants our help in finding places for these people in EU countries, US, Canada, Norway and Switzerland, it should help us achieve it.”
It is said that one of the reasons Western countries drag their feet over accepting the Ashraf residents on their soil is that the Mujahideen want to be transferred to another place together as one large group. But Abolqasem Rezaii denies this claim as totally baseless.
The other reason is that since the Mujahideen are still on the list of terrorist organisations in the US; they are looked upon with suspicion and thought of as a liability.
The fighters are scared of further mistreatment at the hands of the Iraqi government in case they are unable to leave the country by the deadline of the end of December, 2011.
euronews raised their concern with Abdolkarim Lahiji, Deputy Head of the International Federations of Human Rights in France. He told us:
“When the Mujahideen left Iran for Iraq some 35 years ago, they did not settle there as ‘refugees’. At that time, Iraq was not even a member of the Geneva Convention. They went to Iraq as part of a political settlement. The only obligation the Iraqi government has with regard to its decision to deport the Mujahideen is its commitment to the International Declaration of Human Rights which prohibits the forced extradition of the Mujahideen to Iran.
“On the other hand all signatories of the Geneva Convention, which covers almost all democratic countries of the world including the EU member states, the US, Canada and Australia, have the obligation to accept the Mujahideen on their soil. It should be noted, however, that seeking refugee status is an ‘individual’ right not a ‘group’ right. Every resident of Camp Ashraf must apply for refugee status through the UN Refugee Commissariat or the Red Cross offices in Iraq, and in return, the signatories of the Geneva Convention are obliged to consider their application”.
The fact remains, however, that the Iranian Mujahideen Organisation is still on the list of terrorist entities in the US and as such the United States cannot possibly accept its members on its soil.
Abdolkarim Lahiji explains that “This is one of the problems they are facing. One of the clauses of the Geneva Convention stipulates that the refugee must accept the law of the country they settle in and refrain from acting in such a way that would threaten peace and security of the host country”.
At the same time, Abdolkarim Lahiji believes that with the settlement of the Mujahideen in different countries of the world, their administration would find itself in a situation where it has to look again at its political and logistic options.
“With the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Mujahideen organisation entered a new political phase. We have witnessed that over the past few years, its influence and with it, its political and military importance have increasingly diminished. Once the residents of Camp Ashraf disperse in twenty or fifty countries in the world, the central administration [of the Mujahideen] should see if it has the political and military possibilities to reorganize itself.
“What is clear is that the Mujahideen administration is not the same establishment of the pre-US attack against Iraq,” says Lahiji. “Its dignity and credibility have declined. In order to be accepted by members of the Geneva Convention, it was forced not only to change its policies but leave its members free to apply for refugee status to various countries in the world. Here, one should see if these members would want to remain active as before within the framework of the Mujahideen.
“The other question is whether the future Mujahideen administration would have the possibilities to reorganise itself and act as a political entity and an opposition to the present Iranian regime.”
More than two decades have passed since the Mujahideen established themselves in Iraq. Their original aim, toppling the Islamic Republic, was never achieved, and now their demands have been reduced to seeking refugee status in a safe country. Even reaching this is not easy in the light of political considerations by other countries and perhaps the Mujahideen’s past policies that were based on the use of violence.
By Fariba Davaddat