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Iraq: Ashraf City

Volume 708: debated on Monday 2 March 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of the United States about the safety of Iranian residents at Camp Ashraf in Iraq to prevent them being forcibly removed.

My Lords, responsibility for Camp Ashraf passed to the Iraqi authorities on 1 January. We remain concerned that the rights of the residents are fully respected. The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights visits the camp on a regular basis and has delivered verbal assurances to a representative body of residents about continued observance of their rights. We have also discussed our concerns with the US, which is satisfied that the Iraqi authorities are aware of their responsibilities.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that response. However, is he aware that the Iranian national security adviser has recently stated:

“Over 3,000 inhabitants of Camp Ashraf have to leave Iraq and the camp will be part of history within two months”,

even though all the residents in Camp Ashraf are considered under the Fourth Geneva Convention as protected persons? Who will oversee their safety?

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Baroness meant the Iranian national security adviser or the Iraqi one.

My Lords, the Iraqi one certainly made a statement to the effect that Camp Ashraf would not stay open indefinitely and that third-country settlement or voluntary repatriation might become necessary. In a sense, it is the Iraqis who have authority over this group, not the Iranians, and therefore it is their position that we should continue to monitor. At the moment, we believe that they understand their responsibilities. They are allowing the ICRC access and it is reassured that, at the moment, the treatment is appropriate.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of demands by the Iraqi Prime Minister and the Iraqi President, alongside the Iraqi national security adviser’s threat, that PMOI members should be removed from the base at Ashraf, which would be a direct breach of their human rights? Will he confirm—I think that he did in his Answer to the noble Baroness—that we still have a residual responsibility in this matter?

My Lords, let me be clear that this was a US responsibility handed over the Iraqi authorities on the basis of assurances sought and received from the Iraqis that the rights of this group would be fully respected. We have certainly gone out of our way to get confirmation from the US and indeed from the Iraqis that this is the case.

My Lords, surely the noble Lord will agree that Ashraf City has throughout been the responsibility of every party to the coalition and it simply cannot be right to say that it was an American responsibility alone to see that the rights of the citizens of Ashraf under international law were respected. Surely the British Government have a joint responsibility for everything that has happened since 2003 and a duty to see that the rights of the people in Ashraf under international law are respected. Finally, is he aware that the Iranian Government have boasted recently of an agreement with the Iraqi Government to expel the people of Ashraf from Iraq? Can I have an assurance that Britain will not simply wash its hands of the whole of this matter and will try to prevent this happening?

My Lords, we have rehearsed in this Chamber the reasons why we consider this principally a US responsibility. We have equally accepted that of course it is of concern to us, and we shall press the Iraqi authorities, the US and the ICRC to continue to ensure that the rights of this group are respected and any closure of the camp would take place in a way that respected those rights.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that Iraq was invaded by a multinational force of which the United Kingdom contingent formed an integral part and that therefore the United Kingdom assumed the responsibility of an occupying power to protect people who were within that area? Is it suggested that the UK could divest itself of that responsibility simply by announcing that it passed that responsibility to someone else?

My Lords, the point to my noble and learned friend is rather simple. The area where these individuals were located was under US control. As part of the coalition we accept a concern and a responsibility but it was always clear that the primary responsibility was held by the US, which provided security for this group and satisfied itself that it could hand over those responsibilities to the Iraqi authorities.

My Lords, the Minister did not mention the role the United Nations could play in this matter and, more importantly, the concern that has been expressed by PMOI, which has now been removed from the proscribed list of organisations. Would he not consider it wise to invite Mrs Rajavi to meet the Foreign Office and brief it about issues and also to note its concern about what the British Government can do?

My Lords, as I have frequently assured this House, we are fully respectful of the decision of the courts and we are delighted that at the end of January this group was de-listed. That does not mean necessarily that Her Majesty’s Government accept that this group is committed to democratic means of seeking power or that necessarily individuals would be able to win the right to visas and be able to visit the country.