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Iraq: Camp Ashraf

Volume 717: debated on Tuesday 9 February 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to defend the human rights of Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf; and with what other countries or agencies they are involved in those efforts.

My Lords, officials at our embassy in Baghdad and at the Foreign Office follow developments at Camp Ashraf closely. We have raised Camp Ashraf with the Iraqi Prime Minister, the Human Rights Minister, the Minister of Internal Affairs and, recently, my ministerial colleague Ivan Lewis with the Foreign Minister, to remind them of the need to deal with the residents in a way which meets international humanitarian standards. We are in contact with international partners and UN agencies. Camp Ashraf is part of a sovereign and democratic Iraq and is primarily an issue for the Iraqi authorities to address.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. As it was the Government who invaded Iraq on flimsy evidence, and who sacrificed our troops and placed a new Iraqi regime in power, how do they justify walking away from the responsibility for what has been left behind in respect of the oppression, murder and torture of those Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf who share our loathing of Ahmadinejad’s murderous regime in Iran? Do they care that currently Camp Ashraf—

Do they care that currently Camp Ashraf residents are being denied food, medicine and winter fuel, and live under a real threat of being moved by Nouri al-Maliki’s troops—

My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that their questions should be brief, as should the Minister’s responses.

I can confirm that we consistently remind the Iraqi Government of all their international obligations on this matter. The Iraqi Ministers confirm that the Government are in discussions with the camp leadership and that they will treat the people in the camp in line with international humanitarian law. There is absolutely no evidence of the kind of intimidation and harassment which the noble Lord has described. Indeed, the access to food and medicines, to clean water and medical supplies, clearly exists. There have been some disruptions to supplies entering the camp, but I understand that all those have been resolved.

My Lords, this works only if noble Lords are prepared to give way. Shall we hear from my noble and learned friend first and then from the Conservative Benches?

Does my noble friend accept that to deliver the refugees into the hands of the Iranian regime would, for some of them at least, be the equivalent of a death sentence? Does she further accept that the attack on Camp Ashraf by Iraqi forces in July, leaving 11 dead, establishes that it cannot safely be left in Iraqi hands? Is this not a matter that we should discuss with our American allies?

I can assure my noble and learned friend that these matters are regularly raised by our ambassador and others with the United Nations and with the authorities in Iraq. It is the long-stated wish of the Iraqi authorities to close the camp and transfer the residents, but they have given us clear assurances, most recently at a meeting on 27 January, that they will do that in line with international and humanitarian law and 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 could be tortured.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is very important that we should be clear about the responsibility for this matter? Is it not right that back on 13 April last year, our ambassador in Baghdad called on the Iraqi Minister to seek new assurances that the residents of Ashraf would be treated humanely? Was that not an acknowledgement of the British Government’s responsibility for the welfare of the people of Ashraf? Indeed, how can the British Government avoid their responsibility for the welfare of the people of Ashraf when, first, they were a party to the invasion of—

I do not think I am being very long. First, they were party to the invasion of Iraq and, secondly, they were party—

My Lords, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The Companion reminds us that we should ask no more than two questions when questioning Ministers. I respectfully urge noble Lords to recall that.

I thank the noble Lord for the questions. I can assure him, as I did in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that Iraq is a sovereign and democratic state and, as such, has that responsibility. It has never been the case that the UK has responsibility for the residents in the camp. However, as I have said on a number of occasions, the UK works with the United States and the United Nations to ensure that the rights of the residents of Camp Ashraf are protected.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that these people are not non-protected persons under the Geneva Convention? If that is correct, do the Iraqis have the right to deal with them within internal Iraqi constitutional law? Have the results of the inquiry come out yet?

The view of the UK Government is that with the formal end of hostilities and the transfer of responsibility for the camp to the Iraqi authorities, any claim to protected person status by the camp’s residents under the fourth Geneva Convention has ceased to apply. That view is shared by the United Nations. The camp leadership have been given that information. As for the inquiry into the violence that occurred in July, we asked for a review of the events that took place. The ambassador met the Minister responsible on 27 January and reminded him of the need to send a copy of the report. We are still waiting to receive it. I will urge the ambassador to press again for a response from the Government.

My Lords, how does the Minister square her statement to the House that there is no evidence that the residents of Camp Ashraf are at risk with the statement from Amnesty International that they are at risk of,

“arbitrary arrest, torture or other forms of ill-treatment, and unlawful killing”?

My Lords, I can only reiterate what my noble friend Lord Brett said in the answer that he gave to that question. We have no evidence of intimidation or harassment in the camp. I am aware of the Amnesty International report. The recent UN mission reported that the camp is calm and that the residents have access to food, water and medical supplies. We have no evidence of intimidation, harassment and the other issues raised by Amnesty International.