By Nooredin Abedian
The adoption of a bill acknowledging two genocides in the French parliament recently created a fuss in Paris as the Turkish government vehemently condemned the act, saying that such issues should be left to historians rather than politicians and legislators.
Such acts, described as "crimes against humanity" in most general terms, have happened on several occasions in 20th century, always leaving a feeling of general condemnation, as well as efforts to downplay or even whitewash the crimes in order to hide the ugly inhuman side. But in virtually every such act, a political will, or rather the absence of a political will has been fundamental to the happening of the horrible scenario.
Apart the perpetrators, international observers as well as countries that could have been influential in stopping the catastrophe have been present in virtually all the modern cases, with normally not having shown enough resolve to stop them. Critics have always followed the massacres, with the famous "never again" phrase being repeated again and again. Generally, a lack of international public attention to critical cases has permitted crimes against humanity to happen.
The French president admitted two years ago that "French errors had contributed to the Rwandan genocide which killed an estimated 800,000 people in 1994." The United Nations Security Council explicitly accepted responsibility for failing to prevent the Rwanda catastrophe. Council members acknowledged the finding that their governments lacked the political will to stop the massacres. Most of the 2,500 UN peacekeepers in Rwanda at the time were withdrawn after the deaths of 10 Belgian soldiers.
The UN shortcoming was not limited to Africa. The international organization later accepted partial responsibility for the mass killings of Srebrenica in 1995 - Europe's worst massacre since World War II. An estimated 7,000 men and boys were slaughtered in the so-called UN ''safe area'' after the Bosnian Muslim town was overrun by Serbs. In his report, the then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said ''safe areas'' should never be established again without credible means of defense. Mr Annan said the fall of Srebrenica was ''shocking" because the enclave's inhabitants had believed the UN and NATO would ensure their safety. Yet Serb forces ignored the Security Council, pushed aside the UN troops and overran Srebrenica with ease. Mr Annan said military force should have been used to halt the killings.
Political considerations, on the part of the UN, have always hindered the work of the organization. In a bid to have good relations with regimes in place, the international body has a history of being too generous and appeasing towards actions undertaken by those governments in breach of international law.
One such case is obviously the case of Iranian opposition members dwelling in Camp Ashraf north-east of Baghdad in Iraq. In 2003, following the Iraqi conquest, the United Stated signed an agreement with the camp residents, to protect them if they disarmed. Following a thorough one year process, the 3,500 people in the camp were all granted protected person status under the Geneva Convention. Every single resident of the camp received an official document signed by the US military command ensuring his or her protection by the coalition forces.
Following the signature of the Situation of Forces Act between the US and the Iraqi government, the latter took control of Camp Ashraf in February 2009 after having guaranteed in writing, the continued protection of its residents. A few months later, in July 2009, Iraqi forces supposed to "protect" the camp attacked the camp, killing 11 residents and wounding several hundred of them. The US forces present did not react, but just left the camp without raising a finger. In the wake of the international condemnation of the attack, Iraqi forces retired, only to renew their attack in April 2011 with the same repeated scenario. Again US officers present did nothing except leaving the camp a few hours before the onslaught. 36 unarmed protected persons lost their life, and about 500 were severely wounded.
The Iraqi government set a deadline, December 31, 2011, to relocate the camp residents to remote places inside the country, in mostly deserted areas in a dispersed manner, a step seen by most observers as a prelude to their annihilation through extradition to neighboring Iran or attacks by mercenary forces in Iraq.
The UN, through its special representative in Iraq, Ambassador Martin Kobler, managed to broker an agreement with the Iraqi government to postpone the deadline for a six month period in order to let the UNHCR adequate time to interview camp residents necessary for finding third countries willing to accept them as refugees. The agreement asked for the residents to be relocated in Camp Liberty, close to Baghdad airport.
A month after the agreement was signed by Mr. Kobler and the Iraqi government; the latter is evading its responsibility to the point that the whole plan seems to be dwindling. The new location's situation is reminiscent of a modern prison in which it is very difficult to ask the residents to settle, even provisionally before being relocated to third countries. The area devoted to Ashraf residents in Camp Liberty is not more than 3 to 4 percent of Ashraf's total surface area, and one cannot stop wondering how decent living conditions could be met for thousands of people in such a tight parcel of land. Fears are growing in the international community as to what the real intentions of the Iraqi government are, especially with the excellent relations the Iraqis have with the regime in power in Iran.
The UN special representative's role is a source of concern too. Like many of his colleagues in similar historic situations, Mr. Kobler seems too appeasing to the Iraqi government. In a country the UN was forced to leave in 2003 following the perishing of its first special representative after the 2003 occupation of Iraq, Sergio De Mello, in a huge explosion of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, the fate of 3400 Iranian dissidents seems of secondary importance to Mr. Kobler, willing to downplay the shortcomings in camp Liberty in order to push the residents to move quickly to the unprepared place, where the Iraqi government is not even letting them take along personal belongings like cars.
With praise heaped on the ambassador for having achieved the agreement in December, he clearly does not want to destroy that image with letting the problem linger on. Yet every aspect of a human catastrophe is in sight.
The Iraqis have continuously refrained to accept the responsibility of protecting the residents, while demonizing them by calling them "terrorists".
Special units of the Iraqi army formed mostly by mercenaries trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been kept in the vicinity of the camp since 2009, taking active part in the two bloody attacks on the camp (in a queer coincident with Srebrenica, the unit in charge, formed mostly by Farsi-speaking mercenaries, is called the "scorpion");
Commanders responsible for several killings in the two former attacks are still in charge of the situation around the camp, in spite of warrants issued against them by a Spanish court on charges of crime against humanity;
American forces remained silent during the two former attacks, so Iraqis are convinced they won't react in a third case especially that officially now they are out of Iraq.
In this situation, in spite of the fact that conditions on the ground call for a more active and neutral role by the UN, the special representative's biased position has further emboldened the Iraqi government.
If his fellow UN officials had been too lenient towards powers in place in former human catastrophes of our time, Mr Kobler has gone the extra mile of keeping good relations with the Iranian ambassador in Iraq, Hassan Danaifar. A former commander of the extra-territorial unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards force called the Quds force, Mr. Danaifar has been the real influential personage dictating the Iranian regime's demands on Ashraf to the Iraqi side. Mr. Kobler has had lengthy interviews with the ambassador, in spite of the much claimed independence of Iraq towards neighboring Iran. In an interview with Iranian media, Danaifar pointed to promises by the UN representative on more than a thousand Ashraf residents to be sent to Iran.
Unless there is urgent international intervention, genocide, very politically oriented, seems more than probable in this case.
This is Nooredin Abedian`s first contribution to Enter Stage Right.