Martin Kobler, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), has once again snubbed the former Ashraf City residents currently detained at Camp Hurriyah (AKA “Camp Liberty”) outside of Baghdad. The camp, which holds 3,100 Iranian political refugees in conditions described by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as being “synonymous with those of a detention centre,” earlier this month endured a deadly mortar attack orchestrated by the Iranian regime with the consent of Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki. Despite being heavily guarded by Iraqi security forces, and being less than a mile away from his office, Kobler refused pleas by the residents to visit the camp to inspect the destruction, citing “security reasons.” The refusal is the latest in a long line of failures by UNAMI’s chief to protect and support the refugees in Hurriyah, whose vocal opposition to the Iranian regime has made them a prime target for persecution.
Indeed, Kobler was complicit in the forced transfer of the dissidents from Ashraf City, a 40km² site where they had lived since the late 1980s, to the cramped and dilapidated conditions of Camp Hurriyah, which one former UN official said reminded him of a “concentration camp.” The Head of UNAMI has been exposed as having lied about the conditions at Camp Hurriyah in January 2012, when the residents of Ashraf City were being pressured to relocate there. He described the conditions as meeting “international humanitarian standards” just days after an internal UNHCR memo stressed that they could not verify the site’s compliance with even the most basic humanitarian standards stipulated for refugees.
During the same period, he also censored at least 80% of the photographs of Camp Hurriyah taken by UN inspectors, which were to be shown to the residents at Ashraf City, concealing from them the squalid reality of the 0.6km² site. Why? Because Kobler, it seems, cannot stop acquiescing to the demands of Prime Minister Maliki, who in turn is answerable to his puppet-masters in Tehran.
Kobler’s involvement hid from the international community the entire rationale driving the relocation; that moving the refugees to the camp would demoralize them, allow Iraqi authorities to monitor and control them and, ultimately, leave them vulnerable to attack.
Of course, this is old news for those familiar with the plight of the Iranian refugees and the pact between the Iranian regime, Maliki’s government and Kobler’s UNAMI to deny them their basic human rights. In the aftermath of the 9th February attack, Colonel Wesley Martin – the former US Commander charged with protecting Ashraf City – condemned the Iraqi PM as “the world’s greatest ventriloquist, because every time Kobler opens his mouth, Maliki’s words comes out.” Such is the obedience of UNAMI’s chief to the official Iraqi narrative of events.
Even closer to the ventriloquist’s dummy, Tahar Boumedra, former Chief of UNAMI’s Human Rights Office, gave his reasons for resigning in what is a shocking indictment of Kobler’s role in the oppression of the Iranian refugees, noting:
[The] fundamental rights of these exiles — humane living conditions, access to justice, humanitarian necessities including medical services for the ill and wounded, and freedom from threats of physical harm — have been repeatedly denied by the Iraqi government at the direction of the prime minister’s office. Special Representative Martin Kobler … has enabled the prime minister’s agenda while falsifying information reported to senior U.N. leadership and the international community.
With his deceit exposed by his former colleagues, human rights campaigners, and the people he was entrusted to protect, the UN should be asking itself, why has Martin Kobler still got a job?