Professor de Cara’s open letter to Mr. Kenneth Roth
Executive Director of Human Rights Watch
I have read the report by Human Rights Watch, released on May 19, « NO EXIT. Human rights abuses inside the MKO camps », which in fact concerns alleged abuses by the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) against its own members in Iraq.
Jean-Yves de Cara renowned professor of international law University of Paris
Mr. Kenneth Roth
Executive Director of Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor
New York, US
Over the past two years, I have closely followed the developments concerning the PMOI’s presence in Iraq. I made two visits to Camp Ashraf since the fall of the former Iraqi regime, and I was involved in the discussions with United States civilian and military officials in Washington and Iraq on the legal status of PMOI members in Camp Ashraf.
For these reasons, I think it is appropriate to write to you as a lawyer, as an academic and as a citizen committed in the defence of fundamental rights and freedom. I am sorry to have to express serious reservations on the HRW report in that matter, both from a legal and a personal point of view.
As a lawyer, it seems to me that human rights NGO also are subject to general principles and rules of law in their procedures. They should accept to apply to their own investigations those rules and principles the respect of which they fight to impose on public authorities and private bodies for the sake of human rights and liberties.
Regrettably, it appears to me that such standards have not been applied in drawing up the recent report which shows several procedural failures.
What the report described as « Methodology » is not legally satisfactory as regards the law of evidence. Firstly I am sure that you are aware of the diverse legislations, codes of practice, legal discussions and judicial decisions in relation to legal admissibility and evidential weight of information received through these modern means of communication. Therefore, I am surprised that a serious investigation could be conducted by telephone overseas. Telephone conversations may be admitted as evidence subject to certain conditions in some specific situations only. Secondly, the criteria for the selection of the interviewees do not appear clearly, while there are hundreds of former PMOI persons living in Europe and in America who could provide credible statements on the situation in PMOI camps in Iraq and on the identity and character of your witnesses. Thirdly, physical and psychological abuses are not here evidenced by medical or other reports. Finally, the report relies on « credible claims » – which has no significant meaning – of the witnesses, corroborated by « other evidence collected by HRW ». Bearing in mind that twelve hours of testimonies have been collected and that each of the twelve former PMOI members have been interviewed « several times » it does not give time for a thorough inquiry in every case. As for « other evidence », one cannot trace what they consist of, so long as you only refer to three books published by commercial publishers and a report by Amnesty International.
Although HRW, with many others, has rightly proclaimed that the right to a fair trial should be ensured to anybody in conformity with international standards, your organisation has not given the PMOI the slightest opportunity to reply to the serious allegations prior the publication of the report. As a recent HRW report stated : « confessions alone should never be the basis for convictions » (Aceh at war : Torture, III- Treatment and Unfair trials, Vol. 16, n°11 ©, Sept. 2004).
It is also regrettable that your report makes no mention of extensive investigations undertaken by a half-dozen United States government agencies in Camp Ashraf in the past two years. All PMOI personnel in Camp Ashraf were interviewed during this 16-month process, searches have been conducted on the premises at the camp, and at the end of the investigations the United States formally announced that all PMOI members in Iraq were recognized as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The U.S. also declared that the thorough screening did not come up with any grounds to bring charges against any PMOI members.
As you certainly know, in such a tragic situation as the present one in Iraq, the 4th Geneva Convention provides: « protected persons shall be at all time protected against insults and public curiosity » (article 27-1). I am sorry to have to say that the HRW report does not seem to be in conformity with this basic provision of humanitarian law and I am afraid it does not add to the credit of Human Rights Watch.
I would like to add some personal comments.
Keeping in mind my two visits to Camp Ashraf and long discussions with many members of the PMOI there, as well as U.S. military officials and lawyers, and Iraqi citizens from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, I was therefore astonished to read in your report claims by the twelve individuals (of whom the accounts of eight appear in the report) that the PMOI wantonly violated the human rights of its members in Iraq. In all my contacts with individual members of the PMOI in Ashraf, in all my discussions with the U.S. officials who kept a close eye on every aspect of life on the camp, and in all my discussions with Iraqi citizens who lived in the surrounding areas and had dealt with PMOI members for years, I did not come across any evidence that would suggest such abusive behaviour toward PMOI members by the movement.
On the contrary, I was deeply impressed by the level of personal sacrifice and the genuine commitment to the cause of freedom in their country that every one of the PMOI members I spoke to displayed.
While your report gives the impression to the uninformed reader that Ashraf is akin to a gulag or a concentration camp, where people are held against their will and severely maltreated if they wish to leave, I found nothing remotely resembling this. I have every reason to believe that the people in Ashraf are treated with decency and dignity. I attended performances of folkloric dancing and traditional Persian songs by PMOI members. The jovial mood and the camaraderie that were prevalent, the prominent role that women play in all leadership and administrative positions, and the opportunity for individual creativity to flourish, as one can see in the numerous works of arts, drama, and music, say a lot about the nature of this organization.
I am very much aware of the extensive demonization campaign that the Iranian regime has been waging against the PMOI. I, like many others, have been on the receiving end of some of the propaganda books and articles that are produced, often in the name of former PMOI members, to discredit the movement. It is therefore essential, in my view, that an investigation into allegations of human rights by the PMOI be conducted with scrutiny and care, lest one fall into the traps of Iranian intelligence.
As I read the report, my thoughts were with the many women and men in Ashraf with whom I had personally spoken. Every one of them had a tragic story of suffering and maltreatment at the hands of the Iranian authorities and every one showed a singular determination to continue the struggle for an end to the present theocratic regime. I find your report very demeaning of their personal and collective sacrifice and honour and for this, I believe, you owe the Iranian resistance movement an apology.
It is my firm view that Human Rights Watch must adopt the honourable step of withdrawing this report.
I look forward to receiving your reply.