Sacrifice of Christ can alert us to plight of Iranians at Camp Ashraf

Tue, Apr 3, 2012, 01:00

RITE & REASON:This Holy Week marks a great betrayal. Sadly, it echoes with much more contemporary events

WHEN, IF ever, is it expedient that one man should die for the people? This is the week in which Caiaphas is remembered as the advocate of expediency, advising the Sanhedrin, in advance of the arrest of Jesus, that it was for the greater good that one man should die for the people. Where expediency is the doctrine, justice becomes the victim of collateral damage.

Until recently Camp Ashraf in Iraq housed 3,400 Iranians persecuted and in exile because of their opposition to the regime in Iran. At first welcomed as allies by Saddam Hussein in his disastrous war against Iran in 1986, the residents of Camp Ashraf became beached by the receding tide of a futile and abortive war.

Exiled from their own land they became caught up in the Iraq war of 2003. A ceasefire between the invading coalition forces and the mujahideen brought Camp Ashraf under the administrative control of the US army.

The residents of Ashraf have been pawns in the politics of the Middle East ever since.

In 2004, the US army designated the residents “Protected Persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Then, in 2009, security was transferred to the Iraqis.

Since then the residents have suffered repeated human rights violations. Camp Ashraf has been under siege, and there have been at least two bloody attacks apparently by the Iraqi military. In one, on April 8th, 2011, 34 unarmed people were killed and many more injured.

The new Iraqi government, in a bid to mend relations with Iran, has declared its intention to close Camp Ashraf and expel its inhabitants to Iran. Who can doubt but that persecution, imprisonment and even death would inevitably follow?

Meanwhile, a new camp has been opened, Camp Liberty, to house all 3,400 people plus 150 Iraqi soldiers. It is said to lack running water and electricity at night. Recently the sewage works broke down, flooding many dwellings. Vipers infest the area and residents have access neither to doctors nor lawyers.

The Ashraf residents have accepted Iraqi demands that they leave Iraq. On September 13th, 2011, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees issued a statement indicating that the Ashraf residents have filed requests for the determination of their refugee status – the first step towards voluntary resettlement in third countries.

In the same statement, the UNHCR declared that the residents are now, formally, asylum seekers, which, under international law, requires that they benefit from basic protection. Three batches of 400 Ashraf residents have now been transferred to Liberty.

The UN, the US and the EU have all expressed worthy sentiments about securing the residents’ legitimate demands for protection. But all without result.

Instead, they insist that the same Iraqi government that brought about the deaths of 34 people last April remains responsible for the safety and security of all the survivors.

One is reminded of repentant pastor Martin Niemoller who, being anti-communist, initially supported the rise of Hitler. Later he was imprisoned for not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement. He wrote: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

The people of Camp Ashraf represent tens of thousands throughout the world who, being powerless, are deemed expendable.

If, in this Holy Week, it seemed expedient in the estimation of the powerful that one man should die for the people, why not 3,400?

Who speaks out for the expendable and against expediency?


Archbishop Alan Harper is Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland