(New York) - Iraq should ensure that a promised investigation into deadly clashes between the Iraqi army and Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq dissidents at Camp Ashraf be thorough, independent, and transparent, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 14, 2011, the United Nations said that 34 camp residents were killed and dozens wounded during clashes six days earlier, on April 8. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the army used excessive force against the unarmed Iranian dissidents.
Iraq's military initially said three Ashraf residents were killed and the Iraqi Defense Ministry said on April 12 that it would investigate the incident. Authorities have still not made public the results of an investigation into a July 2009 raid by Iraqi security forces on Camp Ashraf that killed at least seven Mojahedin-e Khalq members. No one is known to have been held to account for those deaths.
"The residents of Camp Ashraf don't need more lip service about yet another investigation," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Iraqi authorities need to reveal the results of the 2009 investigation and appoint credible independent experts to look into this latest incident."
UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said on April 14 that the UN team had seen 28 bodies at Camp Ashraf, and that most had been shot, including several women. Six bodies were missing, Colville said.
Details of the incident remain murky, with camp residents and security forces blaming each other for the deaths and violence in widely different accounts of what happened. The Iranian exiles said that Iraqi security forces invaded their camp, killing 34 unarmed civilians and wounding more than 300, in an unprovoked attack that involved security forces opening fire and crushing people under Humvees.
On April 14, Ali al-Dabbagh, the spokesperson for the Iraqi prime minister's office, told Agence France-Presse that "our security forces believe that the dead were killed by their own guards because they were trying to escape ... They had already committed similar acts in the past." Iraq's military had initially said three dissidents were killed when security forces responded to rock-throwing and threats by residents during an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers.
The deaths are the latest in a series of violent incidents at Camp Ashraf, where members of an Iranian dissident group, Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, have lived for over two decades. The Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein allowed the Mojahedin-e Khalq to base itself in Iraq in 1986. In 2011 more than 3,000 persons remained in Camp Ashraf, in Diyala province, north of Baghdad; they surrendered their weapons to US forces following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many Iraqis have alleged that the group's members actively participated in campaigns against opponents of Saddam Hussein's government, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government has indicated its intention to shut down the camp.
The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that "law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty." The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials "shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force" and may use force "only if other means remain ineffective." When the use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must "exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence."