February 25, 2018

What is a UN Promise Worth? The Cost of the UN’s Games


On July 24, the United Nations issued a press release stating that its mission in Iraq, UNAMI, has presented a “roadmap” to the Government of Iraq in dealing with the “temporary” relocation of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK)—a major opposition group to the mullah’s of Iran—to a squalid refugee camp called “Liberty,” 40 kilometers, near Baghdad’s international airport.  The press release goes on to laud its humanitarian efforts by stating that the roadmap consists of “a series of steps to complete the peaceful relocation of Iran exiles from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya [Liberty].”  Quoting the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq, Ambassador Martin-Kobler, it reads: “Our commitment is strictly humanitarian: to facilitate a voluntary, temporary relocation of residents to Camp Hurriya as a first step of resettlement to countries outside Iraq.” He asks that the Government of Iraq “be generous when it comes to the humanitarian needs of the residents.”

But this “strictly humanitarian” and “voluntary” effort comes at the point of a gun. It is aimed at the MEK residents of Camp Ashraf who have been understandably reluctant to move to Camp Liberty until the basic humanitarian needs of food, water, electricity, shelter and facilities for the disabled are met.  They have been attacked twice already by Iraq forces in the past two years and with causalities of nearly 50 dead and wounded.

If the UN commitment were “strictly humanitarian,” it would never have supported the move of the residents from the Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty.  No purpose is served by such a move.  For decades, the MEK lived peacefully at their home of Camp Ashraf, a small city that they built by themselves.

No guidance has been offered to those that are being asked to relocate as to the ultimate outcome. No measure of protection or guarantee for a peaceful future has been provided.  Instead they only have repeated threats to move without delay, or face bitter consequences.

After six months, during which this “temporary relocation” has been occurring, the best UNAMI has to offer is a “roadmap” that barely addresses basic human needs like water and power supply, while ignoring any serious guidance about the final outcome.

In fact, the “roadmap” only benefits the UN and the Government of Iraq.  The truth is the residents of Camp Ashraf remain in limbo as far as resettlement is concerned until they are delisted from the State Department Foreign Terrorist Organization list.  No country will be eager to take people who remain on that list.  And indeed, no country has stepped forward despite the fact that some 300 residents have already been given refugee status by the UNHCR.   The irony is that the UN places the onus on the MEK to ensure that the transfer is peaceful when senior UN officials have made clear that at the current pace, it will take 10 years to complete this “temporary” resettlement.

Is the provision of the most basic human rights to be considered a luxury, an act of “generosity” by the provider?  The UN seems to think so.  This is not about “generosity.”  Taking the clothes off a person’s back, stripping  one of his possessions, making him relocate across the Iraqi desert in 130 degree heat, while dangling the promise of assistance at the end, has nothing to do with generosity.

It would be one thing for the UN to act as a neutral mediator—a referee in the ring with the Government of Iraq and the MEK.  But when the UN gives license to the Government of Iraq to do as it pleases with the MEK, the UN is no better than the Government of Iraq, waiting for the MEK to exhaust itself in desperate pleas until they are left with no option but to be swooped up and be repatriated to Iran and the hangman’s noose.

If the UN is at all serious, it must begin by providing light at the end of the tunnel.   It needs to be reminded that the residents of Camp Ashraf are no less deserving of true humanitarian assistance.  Where precisely will these people be relocated?  How long will it take?  As things now stand, empty words and empty gestures will not only backfire on the poor residents of Camp Ashraf, but on the UN itself.

There is the matter of the integrity of what an organization says and does and if the UN cannot live up to its promise of humane and expeditious relocation, it can hang up its mantle as a beacon of hope to the oppressed.  For “humanitarianism” in UN parlance is only a sham for bidding for time as pressing real humanitarian needs are ignored.

*Allan Gerson is the Chairman of AG International Law, PLLC in Washington D.C. He is presently involved with other attorneys in representing the PMOI/MEK in its efforts to be removed from the State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organization