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Tahar Boumedra: Liberty Serious Threat to Ashraf Residents

Tahar BoumedraGeneva, February 28, 2013 - Thank you Mr President. Thank you Madam President.  It was really a painful experience for me, three years and a half I spent in Iraq, a very injuring experience. My sister next to me (Ms. Zanjani) was one of the victims that I was there personally, in Ashraf, to persuade her to leave and to go look after herself in Canada. And she firmly refused my offer to help sending her for treatment in Canada. But my job in Iraq as chief of human rights was to promote and protect human rights. My job in Iraq, as advisor to the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) is to advise him on the right path for finding a dignified way for the Ashrafis to get out of that situation and I must admit that I think I failed in both missions, because I did not protect and I did not really change much on the ground in Ashraf. But the reality is that I witnessed a lot and I could tell you that the experience I went through, it is extremely difficult to summarize it in a few minutes but I'll make sure that I won't be too long


First I would like to shed some light on UNAMI's actions vis-a-vis the Ashrafis. We operated always on the presumption of guilt of these people. Everything we did at UNAMI, we presumed that they are terrorists and we dealt with them accordingly. I did advise UNAMI that the fundamental principle in the United Nations is to presume innocence, but unfortunately that was not the case. We worked exactly opposite and in defiance of the fundamental principle of justice, which is the presumption of innocence.


On that ground, we drafted a so-called Memorandum of Understanding for the relocation of the Ashrafis from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty. This Memorandum of Understanding is absolutely the content of a letter, addressed by the Ambassador of Iraq in Brussels to the Member States of the EU, telling them what's the plan and the program for the government of Iraq to relocate these people. In this letter, he categorically tells them: “These are a group of dangerous terrorists and the government will take all necessary measures to get them out of Iraq, to expel them out of Iraq.” Now again, this letter is drafted on the presumption of guilt and the due process of law was put aside. Because the government of Iraq, the current government of Iraq, when you talk about the process of law it is something completely different. Now, the draft MoU was that it's a shared responsibility between UNAMI and the government of Iraq to close Camp Ashraf. Then, we sent this draft MoU to New York to the department of legal affairs (OLA) to ask for advice. We were told: This is dangerous, you are assuming, UNAMI is taking responsibility. No, we don't want you to take any responsibility. We want you to simply be a facilitator. So, we changed the MoU accordingly. If you look at the MoU, the actually signed MoU. Seven clauses in the MoU, they all give the responsibility to the government of Iraq. The seventh clause of the MoU is related to the work of the UNHCR. It just sort of strips the government of Iraq of its responsibility vis-a-vis the mandate of the UNHCR. It says that, even though the government agrees that the UNHCR will take the refugee status determination process, the RSD, it is not bound by it; it will not recognise the outcome of this process. Meaning, let the UN do whatever they want to do, but we have our own way of handling the situation.

That said, we started preparing, after the signature of this document we started preparing the transfer process. And we had to first make two assessments. And unfortunately, most of you heard about one assessment, the humanitarian assessment in Camp Liberty, but no one ever mentioned the security assessment of Camp Liberty. So, we first made the security assessment of Camp Liberty and we found that the camp is so vulnerable. And then we started talking about how to attenuate the vulnerability of the camp. It was by making sure that we had more Fijians, more soldiers, Fijians are the ones protecting UNAMI, to protect not the Ashrafis but to protect the UN staff. So we were reinforced to the attenuate security situation. But we did not do anything to protect the Ashrafis.

So now we move to the second assessment of Camp Liberty. Camp Liberty was assessed by a specialist brought from the UNHCR in Addis Ababa, at very high cost. And he was brought to certify whether Camp Liberty meets the international standards or not. He arrives, we met him and he was instructed to certify. Mr. Kobler told him: “You are not here to do anything but to certify.” And the man was put in a very difficult position. I was with him, I was the first to visit with him Camp Liberty and we all agreed that this is an unacceptable situation. Particularly, knowing very well Ashraf and knowing that it is not a situation of refugees who are running for their lives, to save their lives in an emergency situation. This is what the shelter expert was looking for. We have people, like now in Syria or elsewhere in Africa when people are actually running away to seek refuge to save their lives from imminent danger. That was not the case in Ashraf. The case of Ashraf was people settled peacefully for twenty-five years in Camp Ashraf and all of a sudden, for political reasons, the government decides to evict them from their homes. So we should not make a confusion between relocation and eviction. The case of Ashraf it was an eviction. And UNAMI was very well aware of the conditions according to the UN standards of an eviction. An eviction has to be done in accordance with the due process of law by a judicial process. All this did not happen and we were aware that we were violating the fundamental principles of the United Nations. But yet we had to be positive, according to the instructions of the SRSG. Positive, it means close your eyes. Don't try to, sort of, expose the situation because we are here to save lives. So he claims. To save lives. And we know that Camp Liberty is not a place to save lives and I hear that in this forum. I tell you frankly, through my connections with the Iraqis, they never hide anything concerning the Ashrafis. They always told me: “We will get them.” It was not a secret and it is not also a secret that documentation is there. The Council of Ministers decision that says we will use all means, all means, which means including the use of force, to evict them. So we followed this process and we signed at UNAMI the document in order to give some kind of legitimacy to an otherwise illegal operation. So this is why, when you look closely at the MoU, what is the role of the United Nations? There is no role for the United Nations whatsoever except to give some legitimacy to what the government of Iraq, the Prime Minister's office, wants to do. So it was done.

Now, when the ninth of February attack took place I felt that I was vindicated in a sense, that I did warn not only UNAMI, I warned UNHCR and at particularly UNHCR I warned them even after I resigned from the UN. Last summer, I went to the UNHCR and I told them there will be an attack, there will be blood. And you will be accountable for it. And all I got from them was just some smile to say: “Oh, don't worry.” So now, here we are. We have covered up all kind of illegal measures, we covered them up and we made lies, blatant lies. We doctored documents, yes we did, and I was the head of the team that doctored the pictures. Now, there is also some cover-up in the human rights report and I'll just give you a very simple example of the kind of cover-up, subtle cover-up. The events of April 2011, I was on the ground and I did a fact finding. I reported that there was extrajudicial killings. When we talk about extrajudicial killings it is different from what you have read in the human rights report where it said there was excessive use of force. Excessive use of force! I mean the police have the right to use force but if they use excessive force that is something that should be called to order. But extrajudicial killing is a crime and in the particular circumstances of Ashraf it was a crime against humanity. So that is the difference. But this report was Baghdad, amended here in Geneva and in New York to come back to us in Baghdad to be presented, before it was made public, to the government of Iraq to agree to it and then we make it public. So this is the kind of procedure for covering up the serious violations of human rights in Iraq.

Mr. President, I beg you to give me some time, just to move now from UNAMI to UNHCR. Yes? Two minutes. The story with the UNHCR: From 2009 I was trying to convince them to get  involved in this process and the [yet motiva] of the UNHCR is that: “No, these people are terrorists. We do not deal with them, we don't visit them.” And the UNHCR never visited Camp Ashraf until I took them there. Why didn't they want to visit Ashraf? They said they would only deal with defectors. But I said, hold on, defectors are charged with a political kind of meanings, but this is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. People, whether refugees or not, they have a right to political opinion, they have a right to association and a right to express themselves. So why does the UNHCR only want to deal with defectors? And to be honest to you, what they call defectors... Usually when there are some people that want to leave Ashraf they are taken out of the camp, the Iraqi Army will put them in isolation for up to three months and do the brainwashing and then they bring them to me to interview them to sort of put them stamp of the UN that these people have made declarations, serious, very serious declarations. What are these serious declarations? I testify here in front of you that all the people I interviewed, none of them told me anything that has been reported in different reports in Iraq and Iran or elsewhere, particularly what was reported in the RAND report and also the Human Rights Watch report of 2005. All that was fake and I testify to that. So UNHCR set this as criteria for dealing with the Ashrafis that they have defect, they have to run away and submit themselves to the Iraqi Army. And then the Iraqi Army will take them to the UNHCR. But INHCR always told us that they want to deal with them with total impartiality, neutrality. But still they put them in Hotel [Assohor] and Hotel [Enmuhajad], two hotels, and there the Iranian security people will visit them. It's a long story so let me just stop here on this point.

Now, when I convinced the UNHCR to visit Camp Ashraf, they said: “Yes, we are here to take applications from you. We are ready to address your applications and do the interviews here in Ashraf, inside the camp.” A few weeks later they changed their mind because the Iraqis were not happy with that. I said: OK, we will do the interviews outside Ashraf but after the interview people will go back to Ashraf. And that with the agreement with the Ashrafis. The Ashrafis designated a building were the interviews could take place. Then, at the pressure of the government of Iraq, this plan was removed. And then, with the help of Kobler it's decided to do the interviews outside Camp Liberty.

Camp Liberty was known to be a serious threat to the Ashrafis. The UN was aware of that and we did it. Now people have witnessed the attack. We know that it is vulnerable. People died. Whoever is behind this process must be held accountable. I repeat my call that there must be an inquiry, and independent inquiry into the killing, into the attack on Camp Liberty and the killing of seven people and the maiming of over one hundred people. The UN has played a fundamental role in this operation. It must send an independent commission of inquiry.

Let me say one thing, Mr. President, the very final one. It's about why the Ashrafis should be sent back to Ashraf. It's just a questions of, and I use the military words used in UNAMI, and which we have in UNAMI, a safe haven. A safe haven is a military preparation where if an attack takes place we just go underground and be protected. In Camp Liberty there is not such a thing, but in Ashraf there are safe havens. And if we want to take the responsibility to protect these people the most fundamental concern is the safety and security of these people. Save them before any other process. Let's forget about refugee status determination process. Let's forget about the relocation process. Imminent danger is there, protect these people! I tell you, I've said this and I repeat this, there is an imminent danger and you will hear, in the few coming weeks that another attack took place, all the people died and people will come to condemn and that will be it. I really would like everybody to believe that the danger is imminent and we need to take actions to protect!

I thank you very much Mr. President

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Iraqi forces attack Camp Ashraf