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Gunter Verheugen: Liberty, Not a Camp but a Prison

Gunter VerheugenGeneva, February 28, 2013 - Good afternoon my dear friends. I am happy to be with you again this afternoon and despite the sadness and the sorrow I feel for the victims of that murderous rocket attack, I’m nevertheless encouraged by the fact that you, the representative of the democratic opposition in Iran, and in my view, the true representatives of the people of Iran, are more committed than ever to continue the struggle for justice and freedom and for democratic change in Iran.

And this strong commitment and strong inspirit is the result of the leadership of President Rajavi that I appreciate highly and highly admire. My friends, last time when we met us in Paris, I was more optimistic than today. The decision that our American friends would remove MEK from their blacklist was imminent, we knew it was coming; it was something like a visible silver lining, and we believed that perhaps a solution could be found for the safety and protection of the Ashrafis.


Today I must confess I am in a different mood. I am angry, really, really angry. Perhaps you wonder why people like me and those here are lending their names and reputation for your cause, why are we doing this? We are doing this because we believe that we can increase the visibility of your case. That we can create awareness and worldwide public opinion and, in this way, build an invisible wall of protection around those who are now in Camp Liberty.

This obviously does not work. The attack shows that we could not guarantee freedom; we could not guarantee the security of the people there. And we have to ask some very serious questions. After some initial doubts, I supported the decision to recommend the Ashrafis to go to Camp Liberty because I trusted the promises and the guarantees that we got from the representative of the international institutions. Today, I can only say I feel cheated, I feel betrayed. And I have serious doubts whether these promises and guarantees were ever, ever serious. The question for me is, whether there was ever the intention to find safe haven for the Ashrafis or if the purpose was simply to make them exposed, to bring them into an exposed position and to make them easier targets for attacks.

Therefore in my view the request not to stay there in this camp—not a camp but a prison—and to go back to a place where more safety can be provided by themselves; certainly not by the Iraqi forces but by themselves, this request is more than understandable and now the international community must react.

My friends, the Untied Nation system is sometimes very sluggish, very slow, very inefficient and very bureaucratic. But I am coming from an institution where I served more than 10 years which has a similar reputation, very slow and bureaucratic. And I can say you can make a difference, it is not a rule, you can make a difference, this is a question of leadership, a question of personal courage. We must ask the Secretary General of the United Nations, what does he want to do? We know he has a lot of very complicated and important issues on his plate, and very often these issues are questions of life or death, we know that. But here this one, the Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf problem is a problem that he can solve. The instruments are there. It is not a case without hope. and he, the Secretary General, is not obliged to follow the political considerations and geo-political interests of some Security Council members. His obligation is to do, as Jean Ziegler rightly pointed out, what the charter of the United Nations and the convention of human rights require him to do. He can keep it on the agenda and he can ask the international community to take action again, and again, until something happens. And I would also like to ask a question whether the Secretary General feels that it would be appropriate to re-evaluate the offices of Martin Kobler.

I am afraid that while we might judge these officers and his team there, the trust that is lost cannot be established again, and therefore the Secretary General must consider the possibility to replace him. By the way it does not really help that Mr. Kobler’s wife, the German ambassador to Baghdad, issued a statement which is not acceptable. And so I also have to mention here the government of Germany, my own government. I expect the German Chancellor and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to make it very clear that statement of the German Ambassador to Baghdad is not the position of the German Government. This statement shows a sheer ignorance and political incompetence. The German Ambassador is supposed to represent the German people in the host country, I can only say, she does not represent me, she does not represent hundreds of thousands supporters for peace in my country. And I would like to mention here that I am proud for living in a country that has a constitution in which the right to political asylum is guaranteed as a directly applicable personal right. That is enshrined in our German constitution. Not very often in the world. Sometimes I have the feeling this is a cry of a feeling from far, far away but still it is in our constitution. It has something to do with our history. We know what it means if people need protection, from suppression and persecution. So I would expect especially the German government to show more responsibility and more solidarity with those in Camp Liberty.

I would like to mention also the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I should explain that Antonio Guteres is a good friend of mine, close friend of mine for more than 20 years. I have always seen him as a person with strong sense of humanity and solidarity and strong leadership quality. He is not a coward, and he is not a bureaucrat. So I ask him, Antonio get rid of those who try to delay and obstruct everything that could help to solve the problem. Make it your personal priority, your personal priority and your personal agenda to take every effort. I would say Antonio, do not let those governments go away with the attitude: we do not know, we do not see, we do nothing. Do not let them to do this. Treat them in a way that they cannot avoid to do what the international law and the feeling for what is just and fair requires them to do.

In the statement that I have already mentioned of the German ambassador to Baghdad, I found the old language of international intelligence circles dealing with MEK is a terrorist organization and has a terrorist past. Now I have mentioned it already several times, I have my experience with organizations which are described as terrorist. I remember that the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela in my country were still listed as a terrorist organization when Nelson Mandela was already negotiating with the then government in South Africa the abolition of apartheid and the apartheid system. So this is not an argument.

But the much stronger thing is if you look at the 10 points which President Rajavi has presented for the future of Iran, I really ask a question what more can you possibly ask for? What else can you do to demonstrate that you are the democratic alternative for this country, that you have a program in place that is credible and deserves the support of the people?

I am really afraid that now there might be already a race against time. What comes first? Democratic change in Iran or Iran with the nuclear Bomb, creating instability and threats everywhere in the world?

We cannot get a democratic Iran without the democratic opposition. And the democratic opposition of Iran is assembled this afternoon here, and that’s the reason why the struggle must continue. Thank you.

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Iraqi forces attack Camp Ashraf