Middle East

Human Rights Violations in Iran and Iraq

Members of the Iranian opposition group People's Mujahedeen, which fought with Saddam Hussein's regime against Iran in the 1980-88 war, protest on Dec. 15 against a decision to move them from Camp Ashraf. (Photo: Sabah Arar/ AFP-Getty Images)

A group of Arab human rights organizations, in a public statement, called on Iranian authorities to cease all attacks and security operations against the February 11th demonstrators, and to release all individuals arrested and detained for allegedly conspiring to bring about a "velvet revolution" following the disputed June 12 elections.

"We are shocked and outraged at the vicious attacks by Iranian security forces," said Moataz el Fegiery of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights studies. "We want Tehran to know, in no uncertain terms, that Arab civil society firmly stands, and will continue to stand, behind its Iranian brothers and sisters who have braved indiscriminate attacks, arbitrary arrests, prolonged detentions and unfair trials to simply exercise their fundamental rights under Iran's own Constitution."

Reports filed in the immediate aftermath of the February 11th demonstrations indicate that numerous people have been arrested, injured or killed throughout the country as a result of government-planned and -sponsored attacks against peaceful protesters by anti-riot and Basij forces. It is believed that tens, if not hundreds, of others have been hauled off to prisons and unknown detention facilities, reminiscent of similar government crackdowns in the days and months immediately following the disputed June 12 presidential election. Those newly arrested join hundreds of their compatriots who have been languishing in detention facilities and prisons throughout the country.

Tehran's most recent crackdown came just days before its human rights record was reviewed in front of the U.N. Human Rights Council as part of its Universal Periodic Review. "We urge members of the Council to press Iran to accept all the of the recommendations made to the Iranian government during the February 15 session, even though Tehran has already indicated that it will turn a blind eye to all of them," said Kamal Jendoubi of The Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia, adding, "In the absence of any serious follow-through by Iran, and in light of the Iranian government's increasingly oppressive measures against the Iranian people, we think it is time for all members of the international community to call for a Human Rights Council Special Session to deal with the post-election crisis in Iran."

In July, a group of 42 Arab human rights organizations called for the immediate release of all detainees arrested since the disputed election and requested that the Iranian government allow independent investigations of those killed or sentenced to death. In late 2009, 108 NGOs (several of which were Arab) issued a joint letter to the United Nations demanding that General Assembly members support a resolution condemning the serious human rights violations taking place in Iran.

A group of human rights organizations have also recently spoken out against abuses in Iraq, condemning repressive measures taken by the Iraqi authorities against the residents of Camp Ashraf. Located about 60 km north of Baghdad, the camp is home to some 3,500 Iranian refugees, largely members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq and their families.

The Iraqi authorities have been increasing pressure on camp residents for more than a year, ultimately aimed at expelling them from Iraq by making their continued presence in the country "intolerable," according to one prominent Iraqi security official. These official statements were put into practice in July 2009, when Iraqi security forces raided the camp, leaving 11 people dead and nearly 500 injured. In addition, 36 members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq were arrested, and many reports have stated they were likely tortured before being released in October.

The Iraqi authorities have stated their official intention to shut down the camp completely in preparation for the transfer of Ashraf residents to other camps in the desert area of southern Iraq. Over the last three months, the camp has been placed under an increasingly tight siege, with fuel supplies being denied entry. According to some reports, entry for doctors, medicine, food and other necessities has also been obstructed.

It is feared that these measures are a prelude to the expulsion of camp residents to Iran, where they are liable to be tortured or executed like hundreds of other Mujahedin-e Khalq members. These measures also make camp residents an easy target for retaliatory attacks inside Iraq; the Mujahedin-e Khalq were hosted by Saddam Hussein's regime during the Iraq-Iran war, and some Iraqi political currents accuse them of collaborating with that regime to repress the popular uprising of 1991.

Regardless of the political matters that have made Camp Ashraf residents unwelcome in Iraq, the Iraq authorities are urged to respect human rights and international humanitarian law as they deal with the issue. They are required to protect the camp's residents under the Fourth Geneva Convention, particularly since the Mujahedin-e Khalq declared that it had renounced violence after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its members have disarmed since that time. In particular, the Iraqi authorities are required to abstain from measures that would lead to the expulsion or forced repatriation of camp residents to Iran. They are also obligated to allow human rights observers to enter Camp Ashraf and assess the humanitarian situation.

In view of American promises to respect the legal status of Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, even after the camp was turned over to the Iraqi authorities in 2009, human rights organizations urge the U.S. administration to intervene with the Iraqi authorities to ensure that these promises are kept. They also call on the United Nations and the international community to intervene with the Iraqi authorities and offer all possible help in lifting the siege on the camp and respecting the choice of its residents to either remain in the camp or resettle in a third country where they will be protected from deportation to Iran or retaliatory attacks in Iraq.

This article was released as two separate press releases by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.