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Iraq: Camp Ashraf

Volume 712: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have recently made representations to the governments of the United States and Iraq concerning the current threats to the inhabitants of Camp Ashraf in Northern Iraq.

My Lords, the UK ambasssador to Baghdad called on the Iraqi Human Rights Minister, Widjan Salim, on 13 April this year to raise the issue of Camp Ashraf, and to remind her of the early assurances made by the Iraqi Government about the humane treatment of its residents. Officials at the British embassy in Baghdad continue to discuss Camp Ashraf with staff at the US embassy; the most recent discussion took place on 10 June 2009.

My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. I recognise that the Government have no wish to intervene in matters that are the concern of other countries, but given that the Government apparently now subscribe to the culture of “responsibility to protect”, should we not be doing all that we can to avert a potential humanitarian catastrophe? What precisely were the assurances given by the Iraqi Government? Will it be made clear to Mr Maliki that international opinion will hold him accountable for the safety of the citizens of Ashraf?

My Lords, the UK Government remain concerned that the fundamental human rights of all the residents of Camp Ashraf are fully observed. We particularly sought assurances from the Iraqi Government, who have given them—I now give the assurance that the noble Lord seeks—that no Ashraf residents will be forcibly transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution or where substantial grounds exist to believe that they would be tortured. We continue, as the noble Lord rightly says, to have no direct interest or control in this camp, but we continue to liaise with our colleagues in the United States, who are monitoring events with the Iraqi Government.

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the citizens of Ashraf have been accorded protected person status under the fourth Geneva Convention, that the initial protecting power was the United States and that it cannot divest itself of its obligations simply by announcing that it has transferred them to the Iraqi Government? Given that the United Kingdom participated in the original invasion, have we expressed some of these concerns to our American allies?

My Lords, the United Kingdom view is that the residents of Ashraf are not protected persons under the status provided by the fourth Geneva Convention. That ceased to apply in Iraq after 24 June 2004, the date of the end of hostilities and occupation. The United States Government have continued to grant protected persons status as a good-will gesture, but this is not granted through any legal obligation under international law, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has previously determined that Camp Ashraf residents do not qualify as refugees. However, the United Kingdom continues to take an interest to ensure that human rights are protected, as does the United States.

My Lords, would the noble Lord accept the recent statement made by Mrs Rajavi in Paris calling for free and fair elections supervised by the United Nations? More importantly, is he aware of the intimidation of the inhabitants of Ashraf City? Would it not be right at this time to ensure that the European Union, Britain and America warn Iran that any harm, intimidation or persecution of those inhabitants will result in a reference to the International Criminal Court?

My Lords, I have no knowledge of intimidation in the manner that the noble Lord suggests. If he has such evidence, I would be pleased to receive it and pass it to authorities which can take the matter further. It is a clear indication of the Government of Iraq’s position that they have given assurances that no Ashraf residents will be forcibly transferred. That suggests that they are honouring their obligations. Our consular staff in Baghdad have talked to people in the camp and assure us that food and medicines are getting through, so there does not seem to be any lack of supply. However, I will happily take on board any evidence that the noble Lord has.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree at least that Britain, being a party to the decision to hand over responsibility for Ashraf City to Iraq, now has some responsibility for recent developments and for the residents’ safety? How on earth can it be right for the Iraqi authorities to blockade Ashraf City, refusing people the right to take in food, and demanding police access to the city while asserting that those living there have no rights whatever as citizens? Surely it is time that the British Government talked again to the Iraqi Government and reminded them of their responsibilities under international law.

My Lords, I can but repeat the invitation I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. If the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has evidence of that nature to put forward, I will happily take it on board and ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can inquire into it.

My Lords, I am surprised that the Minister is unaware of the fact that Camp Ashraf is in essence being besieged by the Iraq authorities. As someone who had grave reservations about the sacrifice that our soldiers made to achieve democracy in Iraq, I ask how we can allow those in Camp Ashraf, who have the same objective for Iran, to be harassed in the way they are. The Minister asks for evidence; he is in a better position to know the evidence of which the rest of us speak.

My Lords, the answer is already in the noble Lord’s question. Iraq is a democratic and independent sovereign state. The United Kingdom, and even the United States, which handed over control of the camp from 1 January, have to recognise that fact. However, that does not prevent us making representations, hence my invitation for any evidence.