A missile attack on Camp Liberty on 9th February resulted in the tragic deaths of seven residents. Seven more families have been plunged into grief and dismay over losing their loved ones. Their grief compounded by the fact that, whatever their wishes, they will have had no contact with this loved one for several years. And compounded by the fact there appears to be no acceptable explanation why they had to die at all but especially in such a tragically avoidable way.
The problem with the MEK in Iraq is not so much where they are, but that they are still there at all. Even the MEK’s own supporters understand this logic. Speaking to an MEK rally in the US, long time MEK advocate Rudi Giuliani said, "These people can all be removed within hours… Planes can be sent immediately. They can be here within a day. We have done far more difficult things than that. It’s only about 3,000 people".
Moves to relocate the MEK and send them to third countries started two years ago. Officials from the United Nations and the government of Iraq collaborated to undertake the calm and unhurried negotiation needed to achieve their peaceful relocation first out of Camp Ashraf to a temporary transit camp – Camp Liberty – and then on to third countries where they can rebuild their lives in safety and security. Their every effort has been met by obstruction and obfuscation by the MEK leadership. Two years on and the residents are still no closer to gaining their actual freedom. Even worse, many have died and will continue to die as long as they are unable to walk freely out of the camp and get the help that is available to them. (The Iraqi authorities have kept alternative accommodation available for two years for the individual residents.)
Describing the attack as “vicious and senseless”, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “We call on [the Government of Iraq] to earnestly and fully carry out that investigation and to take all appropriate measures to enhance the security of the camp consistent with its commitment and obligation to the safety and security of the camp’s residents. The terrorists responsible for this attack must be brought to justice.”
It is essential that a thorough investigation be made into this latest attack and the perpetrators brought to justice. More than anything this is necessary for the families of the victims. They need the facts and they need justice. But above all else they need answers. Any family suffering the sudden and violent loss of a loved one will ask ‘Why?’ Why did they die in this way?
The only person preventing the residents in Camp Liberty from leaving and taking refuge in a safe place is the leader of the MEK, Massoud Rajavi. He is therefore the only person who can answer this question. Only he can explain to all the suffering families why their loved ones are still in the path of danger. Why, after ten years, they are still unable to walk freely from the camp and continue their lives in freedom and safety. Why is he still holding them hostage and what did these seven individuals die for?
While we wait for a reasoned, satisfactory answer – which will never be forthcoming – the focus must return to the living. While the Government of Iraq pursues its thorough, painstaking investigation into the deaths of these seven victims, international human rights investigators must likewise undertake a rigorous investigation into the never ending allegations of unbearable daily systematic abuses against all the residents of the camp, including the leadership cadre.
While the MEK persists in denying access to the relevant external agencies to freely enter Camp Liberty and talk to the residents without hindrance, this investigation can start with the recently escaped members. Many of them are now resident in Europe as well as in Iraq and Iran and are willing to give testimony to their experience of human rights abuse inside the MEK camps.
Human Rights Watch conducted a scrupulous and methodological investigation into allegations of human rights abuse resulting in the report ‘No Exit’ in 2005. Testimony from former members in Europe formed the basis of the report. HRW rigorously checked them, their background and their information. A similarly professional approach toward the more recent escapees will yield further evidence of abuse. One of the more controversial but easily verifiable allegations is that the MEK leader instigated a programme of spurious hysterectomy operations to ‘neutralise the gender’ of women members. Already the names of a hundred women victims have been compiled (out of around 800). Medical records and examination will verify the conditions surrounding these operations. Around thirty women who now live in Europe have declared themselves willing to participate in such an investigation. They want justice, for themselves and for the other women still trapped in Camp Liberty.
These women, the families and the former members challenge international human rights organisations to be fearless and determined. Every aspect of this sad debacle must be examined from every angle; the MEK itself and its critics. Such an investigation is long overdue and can only help to end the existing stalemate at Camp Liberty.
Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton), Middle East Strategy Consultants