UN should hold Iraq representative accountable

  
Disclaimer: all opinions in this column reflect the views of their authors’, not of EurActiv.com PLC.

A consequence of the failure's of the UN Special Representative for Iraq is that his actions are making the international community lose credibility, argues British MP David Amess.

David Amess, a conservative member of the British Parliament, is a member of the parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.

"There are checks and balances everywhere. In major companies, a CEO is expected to deliver every quarter, and he will be checked with forecasts and expectations. Miss the target a few times and the CEO is out. 

The UN is not a corporation. It embodies the global values and principles that the international community determined through many crises, wars and catastrophes since the middle of the 20th century. But it should be accountable for its conduct and the conduct of its emissaries. Actually, the standards should be much higher than that of a corporation.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council was to examine the situation in Iraq and the work the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has done. It is fair to scrutinise the work of Ambassador Martin Kobler, the head of UNAMI and the UN secretary-general’s representative in Iraq.

Of particular interest is Kobler’s handling of the case of Iranian dissidents in Iraq, the former residents of Camp Ashraf, who are currently residing in Camp Liberty, a former US military base near Baghdad airport.

A little history could be helpful.

The Iranians at the heart of the crisis are members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK), a pro-democracy, pro-human rights organisation known for its staunch opposition to the ruling clerics in Tehran.

The dissidents have resided in Iraq for more than 25 years. During this period, they built a modern town called Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, developed from the ground up. Ashraf and its residents were major targets for the mullahs in Iran, and their ally, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. No surprise there.

After the US invasion of Iraq, the residents of Ashraf who disarmed voluntarily were designated by the US as protected persons under the 4th Geneva Convention. Upon the withdrawal of American troops, security of the camp was handed over to the Iraqi government that is totally beholden to the mullahs ruling Iran.

At the behest of Tehran, Maliki ordered his forces to engage in continued intimidation and harassment of camp residents. Two deadly raids in 2009 and 2011 resulted in the deaths of almost 50 defenceless residents in the camp and the wounding of another 1,000.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton condemned the attack in 2011 and called on the government of Iraq “to grant access to Camp Ashraf to independent international observers in order that they can provide a comprehensive picture of the situation”. 

A European Parliament resolution of 24 April 2009 on the humanitarian situation of Camp Ashraf residents also called on the government of Iraq to end its blockade of the camp, to respect the legal status of Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions. Unfortunately, the Iraqi government has repeatedly ignored the European calls.

In order to prevent another bloodbath as Tehran had envisioned, camp residents agreed to relocate to Camp Liberty. Ambassador Kobler gave the residents repeated assurances about their welfare and protection that the European Union and international community had demanded.

Despite all their misgivings and due to the insistence of Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian resistance leader, and EU support for the peaceful solution emphasising on the residents’ security concerns, the last group of Ashraf residents agreed to move the Camp Liberty in September. 

Yet, when it came time to deliver on his commitments, Kobler’s actions have been anything but impartial and on par with UN principles.

Kobler told the international community that Camp Liberty meets UN standards. In reality, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described Camp Liberty as a prison. Conditions at Camp Liberty are prison-like in every aspect, with residents still deprived of freedom of movement, access to lawyers, and visits by family inside the camp.

In addition, sale of residents’ movable and immovable assets, humanitarian and human rights standards at Camp Liberty, and involving the Iranian regime in the fate of its opponents in Camps Ashraf and Liberty by Kobler persists.

Amongst the principal issues where no progress has been made is that of Ashraf and Liberty residents' assets. In violation of international and Iraqi law, the government of Iraq has obstructed transfer of 95% of residents’ movable assets to Camp Liberty, has denied the residents ownership rights over their immovable property, and bars the sale of their property, preventing merchants from coming to Ashraf and implementing contracts.

This is while the sole source of income for residents to make Camp Liberty operational or to transfer and resettle residents in third countries is the assets compiled in 26 years at residents’ expense and toil.

One immediate consequence of Kobler’s failure is the fact that his actions are making the EU and its policy chief lose credibility amidst European commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq and the progress of human rights and democracy in that country after the Iraq War.

Ambassador Kobler’s record has been dismal; he unequivocally has been kow-towing to the policies of the government of Iraq and the Iranian regime, which are in stark contrast to his mandate as well as fundamental values of the United Nations.

The shortcomings are serious enough to warrant that the secretary-general assign an impartial representative on his behalf instead of Kobler for the Ashraf and Liberty dossier, and reject publicly any involvement of the Iranian regime in the fate of Ashraf and Liberty residents.

The rights of Ashraf residents to ownership of their movable and immovable property should be reiterated and guaranteed, and Camp Liberty should be declared a UN refugee camp, where it actually is.

It is also crucial that EU with an outspoken policy of becoming an international player play a leading role and secure a solution for the Ashraf Crisis in line with the resolution of the European Parliament in 2009.

Meanwhile, the EU must use its diplomatic or economic leverage on the government of Iraq to make sure that the residents’ human rights and their right to property are respected and that they are allowed to sell their belongings to improve the living conditions at Camp Liberty.

The EU should also call on the member states to open their doors and accept these Iranian refugees as to expedite a peaceful solution.

Too often, the UN has recognised its mistakes and failures after a tragedy has already taken place. Let us hope that the same mistakes will not be repeated in Camp Liberty.

After all, the standards of the UN should not be and cannot be lower than a corporation."

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