GENEVA – The U.N.’s human rights chief called Friday for an independent probe into the deaths of at least 34 people during last week’s Iraqi military raid on a camp housing Iranian exiles, some of whom she said appeared to have been crushed to death.
The April 8 operation against the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which seeks to overthrow Iran’s clerical leaders, drew sharp rebukes from Baghdad’s Western allies.
“It now seems certain that at least 34 people were killed in Camp Ashraf, including seven or more women,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said. “Most were shot, and some appear to have been crushed to death, presumably by vehicles.”
“There is no possible excuse for this number of casualties,” said Pillay. “There must be a full, independent and transparent inquiry, and any person found responsible for use of excessive force should be prosecuted.”
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry on Thursday called the raid a “massacre,” saying the Iraqi government should “hold accountable the responsible parties and ensure that there will be no sequel to these horrific events.”
Iraq has already pledged an investigation into the raid, which authorities say came after Ashraf residents pelted troops with rocks. Their probe may be considered sufficient if it meets international standards for credible and transparent investigations, said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for Pillay’s office.
The PMOI won refuge at Camp Ashraf during the regime of Saddam Hussein but has fallen out of favor since his overthrow as Iraq’s new Shiite-led government tries for closer ties with Iran.
Over the years the camp’s 3,400 residents have repeatedly clashed with authorities. New York-based Human Rights Watch said Friday that Iraqi authorities have yet to make public the results of an investigation into a previous, July 2009, raid by security forces in which seven camp members died.
“The Iraqi military were well aware of the risks attached to launching an operation like this in Ashraf,” Pillay said.