October 24, 2017

Ex-UN official’s allegations raise pressure on US to delist Iranian terror group

THE HILL (Global Affairs)

The State Department is coming under renewed pressure to lift its designation of the Iraq-based People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) as a terrorist group after a former top human rights official accused the United Nations of lying about the group’s living conditions.

Tahar Boumedra was in charge of monitoring the living conditions of the group of Iranian exiles in a camp near the border with Iran before resigning from the UN in May. Over the past several days, he has begun speaking out and reaching out to U.S. lawmakers and others about what he describes as a deliberate attempt by the top UN official in Iraq to cover up the Iraqi government’s mistreatment of the exiles.

“It’s good to have somebody at his level spreading the word that there is a potential catastrophe that will take place unless we change direction and that [will be] brought about by sloppy work on the part of the U.S. government as well as the UN,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a lead co-sponsor of a House resolution urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to delist the MEK, told The Hill after meeting with Boumedra in California this week. 

“I think the Iraqis are totally justified in saying they want the MEK out of their country. If they’re not out of their country, it’s the fault of the United States and others, who will not eliminate the designation of this group as a terrorist organization, which then makes it impossible for them to be relocated outside of Iraq.”

The MEK was allied with Saddam Hussein in his war against the Iranian regime, making them foes of the current Shi’ite-dominate government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The State Department has said it’s up to the MEK, which renounced violence and gave up its weapons to the U.S. military in 2003, to work with the UN and the Iraqis and relocate to a camp near Baghdad before the terrorist designation can be lifted. 

“The United States has made clear that cooperation in the closure of Camp Ashraf, the Mujahedin-e Khalq’s (MEK’s) main paramilitary base, is a key factor in determining whether the organization remains invested in its violent past or is committed to leaving that past behind,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a June statement. “We fully support the path laid out by the United Nations for the peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf along with sustainable solutions for its former residents. The Camp residents and their leadership — both in Iraq and in Paris — should recognize this path as a safe and humane resolution to this situation.”

In an exclusive guest column for The Hill, however, Boumedra said he visited the new camp, a former U.S. base known as Camp Liberty, that’s supposed to host the exiles and compared it to a “concentration camp” unfit to accommodate 3,400 people. 

“The fundamental rights of these exiles — humane living conditions, access to justice, humanitarian necessities including medical services for the ill and wounded, and freedom from threats of physical harm — have been repeatedly denied by the Iraqi government at the direction of the prime minister’s office,” Boumedra wrote. UN “Special Representative Martin Kobler, unlike his predecessor, who maintained his mission’s independence and integrity even at the displeasure of Nouri al-Maliki, has enabled the prime minister’s agenda while falsifying information reported to senior U.N. leadership and the international community.”

Boumedra first aired his concerns publicly in an interview with the Washington Times on Tuesday. The paper quoted a spokesman for the UN Department of Political Affairs, which oversees the Iraq mission, as saying that the allegations offer a “distorted picture” of UN efforts “to resolve peacefully the situation of Camp Ashraf.”

Jared Kotler added that UN mission under Kobler’s leadership has worked “diligently and impartially to facilitate a peaceful solution that respects the rights and concerns of both the residents and the government of Iraq,” according to the Times. “These efforts are one of the main reasons why this very tense situation has not already spilled over into further violence.”