The murky politics of Camp Ashraf

A former UN human rights chief in Iraq has issued a damning indictment on his former employers.

In an article published congressional newspaper The Hill, Tahar Boumedra alleges that the UN’s has failed to ensure that international norms of human and humanitarian rights are maintained for Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf, to the north of Baghdad.

He writes:

As hard as it might be for many to believe, as the United Nations serves the cause of human rights and world peace, this is a shameful story of hiding the truth and looking the other way when we knew there were violations: of complicity with wrongdoers, and neglect of human rights and humanitarian responsibilities.

His article explaining the reasons for his resignation includes a number of shocking allegations including:

  • In April 2011 a raid on unarmed refugees at Camp Ashraf took 36 lives and caused hundreds of injuries. The massacre saw men and women alike crushed to death by military vehicles or killed with one bullet at close range, yet Boumedra alleges that UNAMI never objected to the government’s attempts to block an inquiry, reporting instead that Iraq had met its international obligations.
  • Death threats in Farsi have been broadcast for 18 hours on most days through loudspeakers surrounding Camp Ashraf, and Iraq has issued nearly 200 arrest warrants against residents with no due process.
  • Special Representative Martin Kobler has enabled Nouri al-Malik’s agenda while falsifying information reported to senior U.N. leadership and the international community.
  • With 2,000 exiles at Camp Liberty to date, the United Nations has interviewed only a small number, and not one person has completed refugee processing.
  •  Foreign officials other than from the United Nations and a few consular officers have been denied access to both Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty.

According to Boumedra the temporary transit location to which many of the exiles have been transferred is not fit to accommodate 3,400 men and women to the extent that he writes that “it reminds me of the concentration camp I lived in as a child during Algeria’s war of liberation”.

Yet UNAMI responded to the former chief’s allegations with the following claims about the conditions at Camp Hurriya:

The 2,000 residents of Camp Hurriya live in residential  containers.  On average, there are between two and four people per  container, as allocated by the residents’ leadership. All rooms are  fully air-conditioned.

Residents are free to undertake renovation projects with the approval of camp management. They have completed a range of landscaping initiatives and refurbishment of buildings. They are also free to bring in external contractors to implement these projects, with the agreement of camp management.

The camp has a dining facility with an industrial kitchen, a fully equipped gym, a mosque, several community centres, and numerous
recreational spaces.A medical facility is staffed by 2 Iraqi doctors working in shifts; at least one doctor is present at all times. Two ambulances are on constant standby.

The GoI ensures movement of residents to any external medical appointments as necessary.Bottled drinking water is imported by the residents. In addition, each resident has at least 200L of water per day for hygiene and other uses. Basic humanitarian standards require 100L of water per day. In Iraq, the average person gets between 70 and 90L per day. A water pumping and purification plant is being installed in the camp.

Electricity is currently provided by 19 generators, half of which operate at any given time to ensure that electricity is provided
24 hours a day. The average Iraqi in Baghdad has access to 9 hours of electricity per day.Residents have cell phones, internet connection and satellite television.

Camp Ashraf  (also known as Camp New Iraq), home to thousands of Iranian exiles, many of whom are members of a group known as the People’s Mojahedeen of Iran (MEK), has been one of the main issues dealt with by UNAMI for more than 18 months.

The base was established in 1986 as a headquarters and training site for the MEK by Saddam Hussein.  In 1997 the MEK, including the 3,400 detainees at Camp Ashraf, was put on the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). MEK fighters had fought for Saddam Hussein and were captured by US troops in 2003. But by June 2004 residents at Camp Ashraf had been given “protected persons” status by the US under Article 4 of the Geneva Conventions.

The very public wrangling over these exiles centres on the

Earlier this year the Washington Times broke the story that former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell’s speakers’ bureau was being investigated by the Treasury Department for allegedly doing business with terrorists.

It was alleged the bureau had accepted fees for speaking out in support of humane treatment for unarmed members of MEK detained by the Iraqis, as well urging their de-listing from the FTO so that they could be safely relocate outside Iraq.

Rendell is in good company. Prominent former U.S. officials, military and intelligence officers…have been doing the same. These include: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former National Security Adviser James Jones, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Brig. General Phillips, former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, General Hugh Shelton, and R. James Woolsey. They are joined by eminent Democrats such as Howard DeanBill Richardson, and Patrick Kennedy.

Why would this illustrious group pay such attention to the plight of the inhabitants in a small camp 80km from the Iranian border? Well, the MEK are opposed to the current Iranian regime and in the struggles of geopolitics any enemy of my enemy can be my friend.

In March Foreign Policy reported that:

In recent weeks, retired U.S. officials and politicians — many of whom admit to being paid by the MEK or one of its many affiliates — have mounted a sophisticated media campaign accusing the U.N. and the U.S. government of forcing the group to live in subhuman conditions against its will at Camp Liberty, an accusation U.S. officials say is as inaccurate as it is unhelpful.

An ad in the New York Times quoted former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani calling Camp Liberty “a concentration camp” — a charge Giuliani made at an MEK-sponsored conference late last month in Paris.

The New York Times ad is only the latest in a years-long, multi-million dollar campaign by the MEK and its supporters to enlist famous U.S. politicians and policymakers in their efforts to get the group removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and resist Iraqi attempts to close Camp Ashraf, which the new government sees as a militarized cult compound on its sovereign territory.

7 ways to tackle GBV in refugee settlements

As conflict continues to escalate in both the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, neighbouring countries are increasingly having to find new and improved strategies for dealing with the influx of refugees.

In Uganda since 2008 the American Refugee Committee has been working with partners and refugee communities to specifically address the risk of gender-based-violence in refugee settlements.

The committee and the US Bureau of Population Refugee and Migration (BPRM) have implement a number of measures such as:

  1. Training health workers on clinical management of rape survivors (CMRS),
  2. Training partners at Kyangwali refugee settlement camp on caring for survivors of gender-based violence,
  3. Comprehensive supplies of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, and
  4. Train Refugee Welfare Committee and Community Activists on response and prevention of gender-based violence in the settlement;
  5. Train officials from the Office of the Prime Minister, police, and health workers on gender-based violence, gender-sensitive mediation skills, and referral pathways;
  6. Develop the Standard Operating Procedures in collaboration with other partners to guide the implementing partners in gender-based violence intervention (the Procedures have been agreed upon and signed by all partners and is in operation); and
  7. Staff an ongoing 24-Hour GBV Hotline, which serves as a direct information point to survivors who need support from ARC psychosocial support officers.

Australia’s conversation on asylum seekers

Watch the video here
“Go Back To Where You Came From” is a brave and powerful series broadcast on Australian TV. The show takes participants on a three-week journey to Afghanistan and Somalia, retracing the journeys undertaken by thousands of asylum seekers each year.

It’s refreshing to see that despite the country’s harsh policy on asylum seekers there is still space for issues surrounding refugees, asylum seekers and immigration policy to be discussed in a high-profile, mainstream setting. It would be very interesting to see a UK version of the show!

Syrian refugees report rise in child marriage

Netherlands Aid has an insightful report on how and why some Syrian refugees in Jordan are increasingly turning to child marriage for their daughters:

Difficult conditions in Jordan have many parents pushing to have their daughters married at an earlier age.   The issue has created a concern among many international aid organizations that the rise in child marriage has been brought on as a sort of coping mechanism to adjusting to life as a refugee in the country.

The majority of these young girls are in their early teens and are increasingly being married to older Syrian men as a form of financial and other security against a backdrop of conflict and instability.  Early marriage is against the laws of both Syria (minimum age of marriage at 17 for boys and 16 for girls) and Jordan.  However, in Syria, religious leaders may still approve “informal marriages” at  for girls  from 13 years-old and for boys from 16 years-old…

Hana Ghadban, a volunteer with the Syrian Women Association (SWA), told IRIN that in the Syrian cities of Homs and Dera’a many girls are married at the age of 13 or 14. “We know of so many girls who got married after moving to Jordan. Most of them were engaged in Syria.”

Regardless of the reasons for parents and families to seek early marriage for their children, it is not an escape, but a sentence. A girl who is married young is at a greater risk of abuse, which in extreme instances can result in death.  Girls who marry young consequently give birth young, and therefore have an increased risk for complications or even death in childbirth.

Child brides are also more likely to be voiceless in their marriage, regarding most, if not all, major decisions. Child brides are also less likely to compete their education, maintain social circles, In the developing world, it is estimated that one-third of girls are married as children.  Child marriage violate the rights of the child in many ways, but the most concerning violation is a girls right to consent, and this right is continually violated through the life of the marriage for most girls.

It is estimated that 10 million girls a year worldwide are victims of child marriage; therefore, this spike in child marriages by refugees must not be taken lightly.

Politics at play in Sabah resettlement of refugees

The deportation of refugees from the disputed territory of Sabah, a territory claimed in part by both Malaysia and the Philippines, has long been a political hot potato.

Over the last three decades, Malaysia has increasingly relied on the employment of a cheaper and more readily available, less-skilled foreign labour force from within the Asian region.

Sabah, in the northern portion of the island of Borneo, has one of the highest population growth rates in the Malaysia as a result of immigration from the Muslim-dominated southern provinces of Philippines. Many refugees were displaced by the war in Mindanao in the early 1970s. Over the years a number of misconceptions about both refugees and migrants, who are predominantly of Malay stock and of Islamic faith, have spread among the indigenous population.

This has apparently led to a growing perception among some Borneon Sabahan, who for the most part are Christians, that they have become minorities in their own homeland and refugees are commonly associated with social problems. Capitalising on these sentiment, Malaysia’s Prime Minister announced back in June that the federal government was establishing a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) to investigate problems related to refugees.

However the human rights group Lawyers for Liberty has warned that certain demands imposed on the Commission may have “serious repercussion” on the lives of some of the state’s most vulnerable people, including undocumented women and street children of refugee or migrant descent.

“While the issues at stake are serious and have far-reaching consequences, the citizenship and fundamental human rights of persons should not be sacrificed for the sake of political mileage or sensationalism,” said RCI co-founder Eric Paulsen in a statement.

He noted that there could be generations of migrants in Sabah who have permanently settled in the state, either through marriage or birth.

“These people may have properly acquired citizenship or permanent resident status and all the accompanying rights, along with acquiring a relevant and genuine link with Sabah and Malaysia,” he added.

SOURCE: The Sun Daily

Yet the recognition of refugees is a complex and controversial issue in Malaysia. Despite the work of international organisations such as UNHCR and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the fact remains that Malaysia’s refugee policy making takes place outside a human rights framework. The country has not ratified the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, nor has it established a system for providing protection to refugees and it does not provide protection against refoulement.

Rain is Beautiful: one refugee’s journey


Catch a glimpse of this stunning, touching and insightful documentary by Nick Francis ( & Marc Silver ( The film features Omar, a Somali refugee who fled the war in Libya last year to live in a camp on the country’s border with Tunisia.

This episode of his story, Rain is Beautiful, begins with emotional farewells at the camp as Omar leaves his friends behind to begin a new life in Sandviken in northern Sweden. He is met at Stockholm airport by the Swedish migration board, visits a doctor, gets his ‘right to remain’ signed and learns what margarine is.

Understanding GBV in Grenada

It’s interesting to observe how, when your mind is fixed on a certain theme you seem to see it everywhere. I’m sure there’s some sociological or psychological term for it but I never paid that much attention in my social science classes until it got to the final year when I specialized in film and television studies.

Anyway, that preamble is slightly by the by. Half way through my masters in violence, conflict and development (VCD)  my fellow students and I often joke that we’re in a VCD paradigm. Yet two weeks into my stay in Grenada, the island my parents hail from and which is generally remarked upon for its peacefulness I was astounded to hear of numerous “choppings” (hands being cut off with a machete during disputes).

When by the third week three women had been murdered in the space of eight days in so-called “crimes of passion” it became apparent that the violence the island was witnessing was beyond a chance happening (the previous year the murder rate was 11.5, what the .5 accounts for I’m not quite sure).

Yes, there is rising unemployment that would give weight to the arguments put forward by the likes of RB Freeman (I’m not a fan) but surely that can’t be the full picture? As the intro to my lecture on Unemployment, Labour Markets and Violence suggests: “Arguments that unemployment is a cause of violence and of large-scale armed conflict are common. Evidence that this is so is less clear.”

When talking to an local member of parliament and a senior media professional on the island about the spate of killings they were keen to file the issue away as an abnormality, in fact even the Prime Minister has labelled the killings as “un-Grenadian”. But there is a danger that in failing to assess the root causes of these crimes the opportunity to prevent other families from experiencing such a horrific loss. Which is why I was so pleased, just a few days later to see an advert placed by the Department for Social Development calling for a consultant to carry out research in the factors that may shape understanding of GBV on the island:

The Consultant will plan and conduct a baseline assessment that measures public knowledge of rights and responsibilities about gender-based violence and cultural beliefs, myths and practices that support gender-based violence. The findings of Baseline Study would be used to provide direction and insight into the way in which public sensitization campaigns should be tailored, measure the impact of the project following the implementation of all project activities and assess progress made towards the prevention and eradication of gender based violence in Grenada.


No prizes for correctly guessing that I’ve applied for the job but whether or not I get it is not really the point. This is a very valid piece of research that has the potential to provide a wealth of much need information. I look forward to reading it as it will add much to our limited understanding of this all-too prevalent form of violence in the Grenadian context. Let’s just hope that the NDC government lasts long enough for the project to be completed!

New blog – Marketing NGOs

Getting ready start posting again after a hiatus due to exams, work and a month in Grenada (pictures and posts to follow). I’ve had to siphon off some content that I would normally have posted here onto a new blog – Marketing NGOs. I’m not quite happy with the name (nor the header image) but it’s search friendly so guess it’ll have to do until something better springs into my mind. If you’re interested here’s what it’s about:

This blog is about helping small NGOs to bridge the information divide. Through news, trends, comment and interviews Marketing NGOs aims to show small and start-up organisations how they can “make big promises; overdeliver” (thank you Seth Godin for that one).

It’s aimed at all those organisations out there who are forging social change, changing lives and delivering results but who just don’t have the time, resources or know-how to let the wider world know just what a great job they’re doing.

The goal of this site is to provide you with the inspiration, knowledge and confidence to use marketing and communications to shout a little bit louder and bring even more support to your cause.

About me? After more than a decade in media working for publications including The Guardian, The New Statesman, New Internationalist, and Rolling Stone (Italy) I left to launch a non-profit organisation. This site is a synthesis of my experience in media, as a director of a small organisation that needed to make its presence felt and it’s underpinned by the insight into the international development industry gained while studying for my MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development.